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Below are 6 sample essay questions. The actual midterm will present you with up to 3 of these questions. You will need to answer each question in no more than two 8.5 x 11 pages per question, single spaced, in 12-point Times New Roman font.
On April 21st I will tell you which questions compose the midterm. You will need to upload an electronic copy of your answers to Chalk before class begins on Monday April 24th.
Students, not TAs, are responsible for ensuring proper electronic delivery. The late penalty is one grade level per day, starting from the beginning of class on April 24th. Sickness or other late excuses must be accompanied by a doctor’s note or similar.
You should study by preparing draft answers. I recommend a document with each question, where you add thoughts and notes throughout the semester as you read or listen in class.
Your answers should draw as much as possible on the course material, referencing the ideas as much as possible (informally, such as “According to Sawyer…”). You do not need formal citations but it should be clear when you are referencing the arguments of others.
In your written answers, we will reward brevity, good organization, and getting to the point.
Original insights and independent work will be rewarded. Note that an original insight can be a linkage to a reading or argument of another social scientist, appropriately referenced.
You may discuss questions and answers with your classmates, but by no means should you share your preparatory notes and answers with a classmate, nor should you ask a classmate for their notes or detailed answers.
You should write in complete sentences. I encourage you to use headings and subheadings to organize your answers. You may also sparingly use bullet points—clear, coherent ones—in your answer, the same way a policy note or memorandum would include short lists or points.
- In class, we talked about the demand for order, and how warlords and mafias fulfill that demand by reducing transaction costs. What does that mean? What are transaction costs and how (and under what circumstances) do warlords reduce them?
- Some would argue that joining the US army is not individually rational. You have to put your life on the line, but the pay and other incentives (such as tuition) is modest. Clearly many people voluntarily join. How might the US army incentive people to join and risk their lives on a daily basis? I encourage you to use a social scientific approach, in that you clearly link any factor to a soldier’s decision calculus (or explain any departures from the normal calculus).
- Suppose USAID wants to encourage democracy in Eastern Europe. Discuss two policies it could take and illustrate their logic using the Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (EVL) model. For each one be prepared to write out the extensive form game and the equilibrium before and after the policy.
- Pick a conflict and show how the different theoretical frameworks we have discussed (irrationality, rationality that ignores social costs, rationalist warfare) help explain why the conflict occurred. Do not discuss the wars in Liberia or the American Revolution, since we used those in class as examples.
- Suppose, in 1900, Nate Silver wanted to build a model for predicting autocracy—that is, which countries in the world would end up more or less democratic in 2000. Knowing everything you know today, what do you think would be the five most influential variables that would help Nate predict dictatorship versus democracy? These can be historical, geographic, cultural, political, economic, or something else—it is entirely up to you. They just have to be 1900 or pre-1900 measures. And you must justify your choice of these five variables and link them to the readings or lecture material.
- You are a special advisor to the President of Liberia. A World Bank official encourages you to get the President to focus on increasing tax collection. The US ambassador wants you to strengthen the army and police. What is it about these two interventions that we should expect them to build the capacity of a weak state like Liberia? In what ways could these interventions fall short of helping the state build capacity? In what way are they complements and in what ways are they substitutes? How might each affect the development of representative institutions?