Winter 2021 course: JSIS B 331 – Political...
JSIS B 331: Political Economy of Development takes an historical approach to understand how different schools of thought and individual thinkers have conceptualized the problems of development and sought answers to the most pressing questions about economic growth and development. Key topics include: growth, income distribution, and economic development in less-developed countries today, as well as policies concerning trade, industrialization, the agricultural sector, human resources, and financing of development.
In Winter Quarter 2021, JSIS B 331 was taught by Dr. Jeffrey Begun. The Center for Global Studies interviewed Dr. Begun to learn more about his perspectives on the course and the importance of studying development.
“Though tremendous progress has been made over the past few decades in reducing the percentage of people living in poverty and improving health and educational outcomes, COVID-19 has reversed some of the progress that has been made, particularly for those working in the informal sector with little government support. It is thus urgent that we continue to explore ways to reduce poverty and improve people’s quality of life.”
CGS: Why is this course particularly significant today?
JB: Though tremendous progress has been made over the past few decades in reducing the percentage of people living in poverty and improving health and educational outcomes, COVID-19 has reversed some of the progress that has been made, particularly for those working in the informal sector with little government support. It is thus urgent that we continue to explore ways to reduce poverty and improve people’s quality of life, since despite earlier progress there are still hundreds of millions of people around the world living in extreme poverty. Around 800 million people are still undernourished, more than five million children under five died in 2019 (mostly from preventable causes and treatable conditions), around half of the 10-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries still cannot read and understand a simple text, and more than half of the people living in Africa still do not have access to electricity. Given the large impacts of global warming on low-income countries it is also particularly important these days to explore ways to limit greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric concentrations and adapt to the impacts of a changing climate, while at the same time promoting development.
CGS: What are some key insights that you hope students will take away from this course?
JB: Despite all of the challenges outlined above, I try to help students realize that with the right policies tremendous improvement in people’s living standards are possible over time. Throughout the course we explore the role that investment, education, infrastructure, health care, etc. play in furthering development, with a focus on the role of government in facilitating growth and reducing poverty rates. I hope students realize that differences in institutional quality can help explain why some countries have been able to drastically reduce poverty and move to middle-income status, while other countries with lower-quality governmental institutions have made little progress or have even sunk deeper into poverty over time. I also want them to realize that outside help can play an important role in improving outcomes (such as helping to cut malaria deaths nearly in half from 2000 to 2015), but poorly structured foreign aid can help keep autocrats in power and further impoverish local populations.
CGS: How has studying and teaching about this topic impacted your life?
JB: Reading about poverty and income inequality around the world, and seeing the most pernicious effects firsthand while living in Brazil is what motivated me to get a Ph.D. in economics and study development in the first place. Further study and teaching over the past decade has only solidified the importance of development in my mind as one of the most important fields in economics and political economy. On a personal level, studying and teaching about some of the world’s poorest citizens has made me better appreciate all of the material abundance that exists in the rich world, and realize that we often take this abundance for granted without considering how it came about or what we can do to best ensure that it will last.
Dr. Begun specializes in international economics and political economy, economic growth and development, China, and environmental issues. He received his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Washington and is the co-author of several articles including “Red Obsession: Foreign Conglomerates Battle over Chinese Wine” and “In Search of an Environmental Kuznets Curve in Sulphur Dioxide Concentrations: a Bayesian Model Averaging Approach.” He has done field work in China and has taught political economy at Renmin University in Beijing. He was part of the “5 + 2” Initiative Delegation in Taiwan and has served on the editorial board of the International Journal of Sustainable Economy. He has many years of teaching experience in interdisciplinary programs and has taught courses in a variety of areas including international environmental policy, economic development, research methods, international political economy, and China’s economic rise. He speaks conversational Spanish and Mandarin.