Introduction to Political Economy

Introduction to Political Economy
Last edited by Jan Kinney about 2 years ago

Introduction to Political EconomyPolEcon Introduction Graphic

Welcome to Introduction to Political Economy! This short course presents an excerpt from Political Science 270 (Introduction to Political Economy) a five-credit, undergraduate course offered online through University of Washington Educational Outreach. The full-length course was created by Anthony Gill, Professor in the Political Science Department at the University of Washington.

In this short course, you will begin to learn the basic concepts of political economy—a rapidly expanding and increasingly diverse field of inquiry in political science—from the point of view of rational choice theory.  This type of analysis is contrasted frequently with cultural and psychological perspectives on human behavior, though they are not necessarily incompatible. Rational choice theory emphasizes how humans respond to incentives based on cost-benefit calculations, while the cultural perspective focuses on norm-based behavior, and the psychological perspective concentrates on cognitive understandings of the world.

Course Objectives

By the end of this short course, you will be able to

  • define political economy;
  • summarize the history of the study of political economy;
  • distinguish between interests and ideas as motivators of behavior;
  • explain political economy from an individual and from a societal point of view;
  • define some basic terms and concepts of political economy;
  • explain the function of prices and the price mechanism;
  • define and explain the concept of emergent order; and
  • state some of the problems of the market system.

Getting Started

When you're ready to begin, press the "Modules" button on the left-hand side of this page, and click on Lesson 1! Be sure your speakers or headphones are turned on so you can hear the narration.

About the Lessons

Each of the four modules in this short course includes a narrated PowerPoint lesson. Each module also includes a short quiz to test your knowledge of the new material discussed in the lecture; Modules 2, 3, and 4 also each include an activity that will help you apply your knowledge to the real world, or a discussion topic you may wish to explore with your friends.

Lesson 1: What Is Political Economy?

Welcome to political economy. This lessons warms you up to political economy with a tasty example and a few other tidbits to whet your appetite for all things related to costs and benefits!

Lesson 2: The Big Questions

We introduce the big questions being addressed by social scientists and political economists. Our attention then turns to the major theoretical perspectives used to answer these questions, highlighting the differences between the fields. This leads us to a discussion of the difference between interest-based and ideational explanations, with several examples.

Lesson 3: Political Economy: Breaking It Down

A discussion of the background of political economy and how economists view the world. We discuss the concepts of surplus and scarcity, the production possibility frontier, and indifference curves.

Lesson 4: Allocating Resources

This lecture introduces you to how economists view the allocation of resources in society. We look at markets and the price mechanism, providing several examples to illustrates how markets convey information about societal preferences. We also briefly review an article by Frederick Hayek and discuss how interference with the price mechanism can lead to distortions in the economy. We finish with a discussion of the limitations of markets.

Getting Started

If you're ready to begin, press the "Modules" button on the left-hand side of this page, and click on Lesson 1! Be sure your speakers or headphones are turned on so you can hear the narration.

About the Developer

Anthony Gill received his Ph.D. in political science from UCLA, where he specialized in political economy, comparative politics, research methods, and religion. His scholarship focuses on the intersection of economics and religion, using a rational choice framework to understand religious behavior, both institutional and individual. Prof. Gill authored Rendering Unto Caesar: The Catholic Church and the State in Latin America, and The Political Origin of Religious Liberty. He was the recipient of the UW's Distinguished Teaching Award in 1999 and is currently a full professor at the University of Washington and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion. Prof. Gill created and hosts the weekly podcast series Research on Religion that frequently contains topics related to the economics of religion. He has completed two marathons, holds a black belt in martial arts, and loves all things western including camping, fishing, shooting, and rodeos.