My political economy of development midterm

My syllabus is here. I’m excited about these midterm questions, especially question 6. Students get all six questions 2.5 weeks in advance, will get three on the in-class midterm, and get to choose two to answer.

  1. Looking back over the past two centuries, have more democratic and efficient institutions naturally emerged over time? Is the answer any different for the coming decades, and why? Argue the case for and against, drawing on the theories and ideas in the course readings as much as possible.
  1. By the 15th century, Western Europe was in a position to dominate Africa and the Americas economically and militarily. At a family gathering, your uncle tells you this is because Africa and America had an inferior culture, maybe even inferior genetics. In plain language (as if you were talking to a layperson) how would you respond? What other explanations would you lay out for the difference in development levels and trajectories between Europe and Africa/the Americas around 1400 A.D.?
  1. Think about various 21st century conflicts: the US invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan, the collapse of Syria, conflicts between ISIS and various states, the fighting in Ukraine, or war in central Africa. Pick one from this list (or another 21st century conflict you’re more familiar with). Why didn’t both sides strike a bargain, divide the spoils, and avoid costly fighting altogether? That is, examine the conflict through the lens of rationalist bargaining. You should feel free to highlight alternative explanations as well.
  1. Imagine 100 years from now that technology change drastically concentrates the means of production among a few elites or firms. Is democracy likely to persist, or would you expect to see more authoritarian and extractive institutions to emerge? Explain why or why not, drawing on ideas and theories from the readings. Consider both sides of the argument.
  1. I want you to describe two examples of a state capacity-building interventions advocated by Western governments or domestic reformers in current or recent years. What, to you, is a good definition of state capacity and what it is about these two interventions that we should expect them to build the capacity of a weak state?
  1. A U.S. Department of Justice report on the Ferguson Police Department (FPD) made the following observations:

Ferguson has allowed its focus on revenue generation to fundamentally compromise the role of Ferguson’s municipal court. The municipal court does not act as a neutral arbiter of the law or a check on unlawful police conduct…

FPD has communicated to officers not only that they must focus on bringing in revenue, but that the department has little concern with how officers do this. FPD’s weak systems of supervision, review, and accountability…have sent a potent message to officers that their violations of law and policy will be tolerated, provided that officers continue to be “productive” in making arrests and writing citations…

Officers expect and demand compliance even when they lack legal authority. They are inclined to interpret the exercise of free-speech rights as unlawful disobedience, innocent movements as physical threats, indications of mental or physical illness as belligerence. Police supervisors and leadership do too little to ensure that officers act in accordance with law and policy, and rarely respond meaningfully to civilian complaints of officer misconduct. The result is a pattern of stops without reasonable suspicion and arrests without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment; infringement on free expression, as well as retaliation for protected expression, in violation of the First Amendment; and excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Racially, in 1990 the city of Ferguson was 74% white and 25% black. Just 20 years later the percentages had nearly inverted, 29% white and 67% black. The government and police force has tended to remain predominantly white.

Ferguson thus resembles a predatory state, with coercive extraction of the population. Yet the city of Ferguson exists within a rich and advanced democracy where the formal, written institutions in principle should constrain rulers or threaten their hold on power, and where the population in principle can move to a less coercive city.

I want you to speculate on the following questions: What could help explain why a predatory state can exist for so long in a democracy? Shouldn’t the rule of law have constrained the city government? Shouldn’t exit or voice have prevented this level of predation?

Try to either draw on the readings and ideas in class as much as possible, but feel free to also identify the weaknesses or incompleteness of what we have covered and speculate on alternative explanations. I do not, however, expect you to need to research Ferguson or alternative answers for a good answer. The situation above and your impressions from the course material are sufficient.

Thanks to Alex Tabarrok for inspiring question 6.