SOSC 4040 Issues in Business and Society. Discussion Questions: Instructions and questions

SOSC 4040 Issues in Business and Society. Discussion Questions: Instructions and questions

SOSC 4040  Issues in Business and Society. Discussion Questions: Instructions and questions


This document provides discussion questions on the assigned readings. The questions are to help guide your reading. They will highlight some of the main ideas and help you orient the readings in relation to each other and the overarching themes of the course. I will also draw your attention to debatable points or ask you to interpret statements that can only be understood in context (in other words, if you guess what they mean you are sure to guess wrong!).

You should read the discussion questions before tackling the assigned readings. They will help you get your bearings and focus your attention on key points. However, you should not read by skimming the articles looking for the “answers” to the questions.

I expect everyone to attempt the readings each week and to consult the week’s discussion questions. I expect panelists to do the readings thoroughly and thoughtfully. Most of the readings are challenging and cannot be skimmed. Moreover, your understanding of the readings, and how well you answer the discussion questions, will depend on how well you have assimilated the previous assigned readings and learned from (and retained) the main ideas discussed in previous classes.


Answering discussion questions

Panelists have to answer the discussion questions for the current class when they are on deck and the questions from one of the previous four classes. Each paper is thus worth 15% and included 2 sets of answers worth 7.5% each.  In marking you on the current class’s questions I’m giving you credit/incentive for grappling with material that has not yet been discussed in class and for preparing to lead discussion on that material as a panelist. In marking you on the previous class’s questions, I’m giving you credit/incentive for learning from class discussion. I expect you to do better on the previous week’s questions than on the current questions, since you have the benefit of class discussion.

My grading criteria are as follows:

How well do you understand the reading?

How well can you explain the ideas in the reading?

How well do you understand the reading in the context of previous readings and in the context of the course as a whole? This can be displayed by making explicit reference to previous readings (and sometimes you will be asked to do so). But it can also be displayed simply by answering the question with a level of sophistication that depends on having assimilated what has come before.

How well can you analyze and critique the readings? This task is where creativity, originality etc., come in, but it presupposes solid comprehension. Ideally, I’d like us to spend much of the class time debating the merits of our authors’ arguments, but that is only possible if we all fully understand what those arguments are. Otherwise we’re just rehashing our old opinions without learning anything new.

You can only meet those criteria if I can tell from your answers what you think the reading is saying. That is why I want you to answer the questions in your own words, as clearly as you can. If most of the answers are more or less verbatim from the readings (whether direct quote or close paraphrase) I can’t tell what you think or understand. If the verbatim material is irrelevant to the specific question, I can infer you don’t understand it, but even if it is relevant I can’t tell how well you understand it or how well you can explain it. This also goes for giving me back verbatim my (or other students’) explanations when you are answering questions about the previous weeks’ readings.

I also can’t tell how well you understand the reading if I can’t understand your answers, because they are written in obscure, vague, convoluted, language with indeterminate syntax and words that seem to have been pulled at random from the dictionary (or words and phrases pulled at random from the readings and seemingly arranged in random order). If you clearly don’t understand the reading you will not get a high mark, but you will get a higher mark than if I can’t tell whether you understand it or not.


Grading criteria rubric

1) Attempts to address questions and demonstrates some familiarity with relevant readings.

2) Questions answered in own your words, not mostly cobbled together from quotes and paraphrased points from readings.

3) Adequately written—not so awkward as to obscure the sense of what is being written.

4) Answers are clear, coherent and self-explanatory, and accurate at the level of general ideas (so that someone reading the questions and answers would learn something about the topic); demonstrates adequate comprehension of reading under discussion and grasp of concepts previously covered in the course.

5) Skillfully written—well organized, with clear, economical, precisely worded sentences.

6) Demonstrates a firm grasp of the reasoning (inferences, role of evidence, conceptual distinctions, comparisons, critique of rival positions etc.) in the reading under discussion and in relevant previously covered  course content.

7)  Features original analysis, synthesis and/or critique indicative of accurate comprehension of, plus thoughtful engagement with, the course material under discussion.



A+:   criteria 1-7, to a high degree

high A:  criteria 1-7, including 5 and 6 to a high degree and 7 to some extent

low A: criteria 1-6

B+: criteria 1-4 and 5 or 6

B: criteria 1-4, and 5  or 6  to some extent

C+: criteria 1-4

C: criteria 1-3

D+: criteria 1-2

D: criteria 1




Rationale for discussion question assignments and grading criteria

The objectives of the course are for you to gain some substantive knowledge about the topic, but (more importantly) to build your comprehension, analysis and explanation skills. Research shows that skills building requires repeated deliberate practice with feedback. For most of the course, you will be submitting discussion question answers and engaging in panel discussion every three weeks. The discussion question assignment has two parts: i) readings from the one of the previous two weeks and ii) on the current week. That means you get practice on i) explaining materials with the benefit of having already participated in, or at least having listened to, a discussion of those materials, and ii) doing so without the benefit of previous discussion. In other words, you get practice working through and understanding materials on your own, and also practice revising your understanding of those materials on the basis of hearing what I and your classmates think. You will get the most learning benefit from these exercises by trying to meet the criteria set out above and to by trying to take into account feedback on previous assignments. Doing so will, of course, also result in a better grade than not doing so.




Discussion Questions by Class


1]Mon. April 29. Introducing some perspectives on economic growth

Andrew Haldane (2015)  “Growing, fast and slowBank of England

Ada Palmer “On Progress and Historical Change4 Jan 2017

What does Haldane mean in describing human history up to 1750 as the Malthusian era? What does he think happened after 1750 to change this, and why does he think it happened?  Why does he think standard neoclassical macroeconomic growth models are inadequate to explain this change?  What does he mean by “patience” and why does he think it is so important in this context? Are you persuaded by his evidence and reasoning? Why/why not?

Compare and contrast Haldane’s and Palmer’s explanations for why “progress” and “growth” started when and where it did (assuming for the present purpose that these concepts largely overlap). Critically analyze Haldane’s discussion (p. 14-15) of the relationships between education, inequality and growth.

What does Palmer mean by the distinction between “great forces” and “great persons” explanations in history?  Give some examples of “great forces” and “great persons” explanations (in Palmer’s sense)  for social change that you have encountered (not necessarily in this course). What are examples of both from Haldane and Palmer?


2] Wed. May 1:Growth and progress: are we having fun yet?

Charles Kenny “2015: The best year in history for the average human beingThe Atlantic 18 Dec. 2015

Gapminder [we will use the Gapminder World bubble chart to explore data in class]

Benjamin Friedman (2006) “Moral Consequences of Economic Growth: The John R. Commons Lecture, 2006,” American Economist, 50

Christian Berggren 2018 “Good Things on the Rise: The One-Sided Worldview of Hans Rosling”

Palmer’s criterion of progress is “the decrease of pain in the human condition over time”. What is the relationship between economic growth and progress so defined? Consider the Kenny article and the Gapminder bubble charts. Why does Benjamin Friedman think that the benefits of economic growth are not only economic (i.e. prosperity)?  To what extent have the social and cultural trends he described in 2006 persisted today, and if they have not, to what extent is that consistent with his over allthesis?

What is Berggren’s main criticism of Rosling [the creator of the Gapminder website]? To what extent do the trends discussed by Berggren undermine the optimistic perspective represented by Kenny and Rosner? For another critique of the optimistic take on inequality and poverty reduction, see these short items by J. Hickel (2019) “Global inequality: do we really live in a one-hump world” and “How bad is global inequality, really”.




3]Mon. May 6: Ancient economic thought I: Aristotle

 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics Book I: chaps. 1 & 5;  Book IV chap. 1; Book V chap 5 ;The Politics Book I: part 8-10; Book II part 5

Note:Aristotle (384–322 BCE) was an important ancient philosopher and social and natural scientist. He was a student of Plato and a teacher of Alexander the Great. His thought was particularly influential in the middle ages; many of the leading medieval thinkers such as al Farabi (872-950), Ibn Rushd (1126-1198), Maimonides (1135-1204) and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) built on Aristotelian ideas. Aristotle wrote about almost all topics; we are concerned with his remarks on wealth, production, exchange, money and justice. Although he wrote in a very different socio-economic context from our own, and some of his views will strike us as odd or abhorrent, his work on these topics remains relevant because of its historical influence, and because it raised abstract issues that continued to be discussed by much later thinkers such as Bentham and Marx. Other interesting ancient thinkers on political economy, such as Kautilya (c. 350-275 BCE) and the participants in the Salt and Iron Debate (Yan Tie Lun, 81 BCE, discussed next class), also touched on some of these topics but in the context to specific policy issues facing the rulers of agrarian empires so their thoughts are less directly generalizable.]

Qustions: How would you characterize (i.e., sum up, interpret) Aristotle’s view (in Book I of Nicomachean Ethics) of the relationship between economics, politics and ethics? In answering, consider the following issues. What does he mean by a “final end” (or “final good”)? What does he think the final good is, and what is the relation of wealth or economic activity to that final good?

What, according to Aristotle (in Book IV of Nicomachean Ethics) is the virtue of “liberality”, and to what vices is it opposed? How does his view here relate to his discussion of the proper purposes of wealth getting in the other assigned selections from the Ethics and the Politics?

What does Aristotle mean by “Money, then, acting as a measure, makes goods commensurate and equates them; for neither would there have been association if there were not exchange, nor exchange if there were not equality, nor equality if there were not commensurability” (NE book V chapter 5)?

How, in Book I of the Politics (see also Book I of  Nicomachean Ethics for his framework of thinking), does Aristotle distinguish between “household management” (oeconomia) on the one hand and “wealth-getting” (chrematistic) and “retail trade” (kapelike) on the other? Why is the former “natural” and the latter not? What does Aristotle mean when he says (Politics II:5)  that “[p]roperty should be in a certain sense common, but, as a general rule, private”? Why does he disagree with communism (like that advocated by Socrates, according to Plato)?



4]Wed. May 8: Ancient economic thought II: Mengzi (Mencius)

Mengzi  Gong Sun Chou I: pt 3, 5-7;  Teng Wen Gong I: pt.3; Gaozi I: pt 1-2, 6-9,

Han Feizich. 49 and ch. 50]

Salt and Iron Debates (Yan tie lun): Chapter I. The Basic Argument

Note: Mengzi (Mencius, 372–289 BCE) was a Chinese contemporary of Aristotle, and the most influential Confucian philosopher of the Chinese middle ages. The “nine-squares system” of land allocation discussed in the second assigned Mengzi reading is also known as the “jingtian” or “well-field” system.

Han Feizi( 280 – 233 BCE) was the leading exponent of the hard-nosed and authoritarian “Legalist” (or statist) political philosophy in ancient China, which rejected the feudalistic and virtue-oriented Confucian tradition.  Han Feizi’s ideas guided the the regime of First Emperor Qin Shi Huang(259-210 BCE), who unified China under a single absolutist state. Qin’s dynasty was unpopular and short-lived. Although the subsequent Han dynasty (and all the succeeding dynasties until modern times) officially embraced Confucianism, many elements of Han Feizi’s Legalism continued to inform government policy and practice. In 81 BCE the emperor convened a debate on economic policy, between legalist-influenced officials (in particular, Lord Grand Secretary Sang Hongyang)—who had instituted a number of revenue generating interventions to strengthen the state—and their Confucianist critics, influenced by Mengzi, who favoured a smaller central government and a feudal agrarian economy.  In the assigned excerpt, these Confucian critics are referred to as “Literati” (i.e. scholars).


Questions: Discuss one passage from each of Menzi and Han Feizi that you found particularly interesting, and relate them if possible to the themes of the course. Briefly compare and contrast Mengzi and Han Feizi on human motivation, and, if you can, compare both to modern neoclassical economic theory. To what extent are the views of each thinker reflected in the arguments of the officials and the literati in the Salt and Iron Debate. What do you take to be the attitudes of each side in the debate to commerce (markets, “capitalism”) and to the role of the state. (In answering these questions, especially the last, do not rely on secondary sources and do not assume that positions and oppositions line up the same as they do in today’s political and economic debates).



5] Mon. May 13: [panel 1]: Classical political economy on wealth, markets and the origins of capitalism

Adam Smith (1776) The Wealth of Nations Book I Introduction- Ch.3

Why does Smith think we address ourselves to the self-love, not the humanity, of the butcher, brewer and baker when grocery shopping, and how does this relate to his view of human nature? [In answering this, pay close attention to Smith’s reasoning and language in the context of (i.e., the text surrounding) this remark, and try not to be too influenced by what you may have heard/been taught about Smith’s ideas.]

Explain the first 2-sentence paragraph of Chapter II.

Schematically reconstruct Smith’s account of the causes of “opulence” (i.e., what we would call economic growth). Which of the following factors cause/effect which, and which are in Smith’s model exogenous (i.e., affecting, but not being caused by, other factors)?


-division of labour


-population density

-propensity to exchange

-saving time spent switching tasks

-size of market

-water transport

In doing so, again pay close attention to the logic of Smith’s model

Why does Smith think that people’s innate talents differ less than they seem, and what might be the implications of this view?



6]Wed, May 15 [panel 2]:Pre-industrial growth episodes

Paul Erdkamp (2016) “Economic growth in the Roman Mediterranean world: An early good-bye to Malthus?” Explorations in Economic History 60: 1–20

Mark Koyama Why did the Roman Economy Decline?, and “The Poverty of the Peasant Mode of Production

Lemin Wu (2015) “If Not Malthusian, Then Why?” Sec 1-2, 3.6- 4.3, 5-6 (pp.1-6, 16-23, 33-42)

Kent Deng (2013) “Demystifying growth and development in North Song China, 960–1127” (pp. 4, 18-28, 30-31)

As we have seen, according to Malthusian models, no significant per capita economic growth did or could occur in pre-industrial societies; by contrast, according to Smith we should expect per capita economic growth to occur whenever population density and/or cheap transportation allows a scale of production sufficient to support a fine division of labour. Today’s readings address the historical question of whether episodes of significant per capita economic growth occurred in pre-modern societies, and if so why.

Questions:  Discuss some evidence presented by Erdkamp that ancient Rome experienced intensive growth. How does Erdkamp explain why this happened? How does Deng explain the period of strong intensive growth in medieval China (around 1000-1200)? Relate both the Rome and Song examples to Wu’s more abstract theoretical explanation for how intensive growth can happen in a pre-industrial economy.

Why does Koyama think farmers produced greater surpluses during the Roman Empire than after the fall of Rome. How is his criticism of Brown’s explanation related to his criticism of Wickham?  How might Wickham criticize Koyama’s explanation of Roman productivity (while avoiding the weaknesses of Brown’s specific explanation)?  Why might Koyama argue that his explanation of Roman growth is relevant to the rise of modern capitalism?



Monday May 20 Victoria Day (no class)



7] Wed. May 22 [panel 3]:Marxian perspectives on the origins of capital and the growth imperative

Karl Marx (1867) Capital vol1Chapter Twenty-Six: The Secret of Primitive Accumulation; and  Chapter Twenty-Seven: Expropriation of the Agricultural Population from the Land]

Ellen M. Wood (1998) “The agrarian origins of capitalismMonthly Review 50(3)

What, according to Marx, are the preconditions for capitalist production (including the distinctive classes of capitalism), and how does he think these preconditions come about? What commonly expressed opinion about the origin of classes does Marx ridicule as “insipid childishness” in today’s reading, and where in a previously assigned reading have we seen someone express an opinion similar to the one Marx ridicules above?

What, according to Wood, is the difference between capitalist production and commerce in pre-capitalist societies? Why and how did the capitalist mode of production get started in English agriculture but not in (e.g.) France, according to Wood’s account? What made capitalism particularly conducive to increasing productivity?  Contrast Wood and Koyama (last week) on early market economies; in particular, how would Wood criticize Koyama’s critique of Wickham on peasant production?


8]Mon. May 27 [panel 4]: The “Great Divergence” debate

Jack A. Goldstone (2002) “Efflorescences and Economic Growth in World History: Rethinking the “Rise of the West” and the Industrial Revolution” Journal of World History 13(2): 323-389

Steven Broadberry “Accounting for the great divergence” VoxEU16 November 2013

Jan Luiten van Zanden “Before the Great Divergence: The modernity of China at the onset of the industrial revolutionVoxEU 26 January 2011

What, according to Goldstone, the distinguishing features of the following kinds of growth: i) extensive (Malthusian), ii) Smithian, iii) Schumpeterian, and iii) modern (Kuznetsian)? Considering the  “efflorescences” examined by Goldstone (Dutch “golden age”, northern European “cathedral age”, mid-Qing China, and the English “first industrial revolution) and those examined last week (Rome and Song China), what would you say is the relative importance of each kind of growth in each?

What is original or distinctive about Goldstone’s definition and dating of the “Industrial Revolution”, and how does he explain it? Compare his explanations with those of Haldane and Palmer. Why, given his explanation of the industrial revolution, do you think Goldstone is so concerned to undermine most claims about the distinctiveness of early modern Europe? Given the data in Broadberry and van Zanden,  assess Goldstone’s claims about a mid-Qing efflorescence (1700s)—how do Broadberry’s per capita GDP numbers challenge Goldstone’s argument? What does Van Zanden think were the main economic similarities difference between “golden age” Holland and the Yangzi delta in the high Qing period discussed by Goldstone?


9] Wed. May 29 [panel 5]:Explaining the Industrial Revolution: the high wage hypothesis

Robert Allen (2009) “The Industrial Revolution in Miniature: The Spinning Jenny in Britain, France, and India” Journal of Economic History 69(4): 901-27

Robert Allen (2011) “The Spinning Jenny: A Fresh Look” Journal of Economic History 71(2): 461-64

Judy Stevenson (2016) “Spinning little stories: Why cotton in the Industrial Revolution was not what you think

Vincent Geloso (2016) “Testing the High-Wage Economy (HWE) Hypothesis

Anton Howes (2015)  Inducing Ideas for Industrialisation”,

Describe Allen’s high wage demand-induced innovation explanation for the British industrial revolution, and compare it with institutional, cultural and innovation-supply focused rival explanations. In doing so, address the following issues: Why, according to Allen, was the spinning jenny invented and adopted in England rather than France or India? Why is it important to Allen’s argument that the spinning jenny was a relatively simple device and that its inventor was not highly educated?

Drawing on Geloso, Stephenson,Howes and your own analysis of Allen’s articles, identify what you think are the strongest critiques of or challenges to Allen’s arguments. E.g., why does Howes think economic incentives such as relative factor prices might have biased the adoption of, but not induced, invention, and what does he think did induce invention? Be sure to reconstruct and clearly explain in your own words the logic of the critiques and how they relate to the logic of Allen’s argument. Why do critics say his thesis is incompatible with the “industrious revolution” thesis, and how does Allen attempt to respond to this challenge in his 2011 piece? What is the significance of the path-dependency of technical innovation, and in what respects does path-dependency support and/or undercut Allen’s general emphasis on factor prices in explaining innovation?


10] Mon. June 3 [panel 1]:Industrial revolution: relations of production and shift to fossil fuels

Andreas Malm(2013) “The Origins of Fossil Capital: From Water to Steam in the British Cotton Industry.” Historical Materialism 21(1):15–68.

What, according to Malm, is the conventional Ricardian and Malthusian explanation for why British industry turned from water to coal power in the early 1800s? What is Malm’s alternative explanation, and with what evidence does he support it? How does Malm think proponents of those views might respond to his critique, and how does he reply?

Why does Malm think that fossil fuels allow a transformation of “concrete” to “abstract” space and time?

Assuming that the shift to fossil fuels ultimately generated vast increases in productivity, what does Malm’s thesis imply about the adoption of productivity enhancing technologies? Compare and contrast Malm’s and Allen’s explanations for key technical innovations in the industrial revolution? What do Malm and Wood have in common?



11] Wed. June 5 [panel 2]:The industrial revolution: cultural explanations

Joel Mokyr (2016) A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern EconomyChapter 1 Culture and Economics

Anton Howes (2015) How Innovation Accelerated in Britain 1651-1851   

Why does Mokyr think social instititutional explanations can account for Smithian growth but not modern growth? What does he think accounts for modern growth? What does he mean by saying that Smithian growth pertains to social relations but not relations with nature? How do his views compare to Palmer’s in week 1?  Compare Mokyr’s explanation for the industrial revolution with Allen’s. How might Ellen Wood respond to Mokyr? What did Howes find to be the social basis of accelerating innovation in early modern and industrial revolution Britain?


12] Mon. June 10 [panel 3]:Testing cultural explanations: (pre) industrialization in Asia

Justin Lin (1995) “The Needham Puzzle: Why the Industrial Revolution Did Not Originate in ChinaEconomic Development and Cultural Change 43(2): 269-292

Brad DeLong (2018) “Why was the 20th century not a Chinese century

PriyaSatia (2018) “Guns and the British EmpireAeon 14 Feb 2018

Briefly compare the answers offered by Elvin, Needham and Qian to the question posed in the title of Lin’s article, and indicate why Lin finds each of those answers unpersuasive. What is Lin’s explanation for why technology and productivity advanced faster in China than Europe until the 1300s but fell behind Europe thereafter and why the scientific and industrial revolutions did not start in China? Compare his approach with Mokyr’s.

How does DeLong account for the lack of industrialization in China? Compare his tentative explanations with those discussed by Lin.Compare his assessment of the economic conditions in China around the time of England’s industrial revolution with those of Goldstone and Broadberry—which of those does DeLong most agree with? What factors does DeLong discuss that our previous authors have not? Why does he think Japan eventually industrialized before China?

In what ways does (and/or does not) Satia’saccount challenge Mokyr’s explanation for why the industrial revolution and exponential economic growth began in Britain?  Compare Satia’s explanation for the divergence in growth between Europe and Asia with that of Wood, Allen, Mokyr, Lin, Goldstone and Broadberry. Assess the relative strengths of each account in light of the evidence and arguments adduced in support of the others.


13]Mon. June 10 [panel 3]:Explaining growth and (under)development: institutional hypotheses

Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson, and James Robinson (2003) “Understanding Prosperity and Poverty: Geography, Institutions and the Reversal of Fortune”

Francis Fukuyama (2012) “Acemoglu and Robinson on why nations failThe American Interest March 2012

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (2012) “Response to Fukuyama’s review

Jeffrey Sachs “Government, geography and growth: the true drivers of economic developmentForeign Affairs Sept.Oct 2012

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (2012) “Response to Jeffery Sachs

Jeffery Sachs (2012) “Reply to Acemoglu and Robinson’s response to my book review

Nathan Nunn (2017) “Understanding the long-run effects of Africa’s slave tradesVoxEU 27 February 2017

Explain Acemoglu et al’s institutionalist theory for economic growth, and compare it to geographical, cultural theories. Assess the strength of the theory, taking into account criticisms and debates between Acemoglu and his critics (Fukuyama and Sachs).

Of the various authors we have read so far, which author has given the most convincing argument for why the western Europe (specifically England) industrialized first? How does their conclusion compare with that of an author from a previous or subsequent week (for example, comparing Wu’s and Clarke’s selection arguments, or Acemoglu vs Broadberry on “reversal” vs “divergence”). What, if anything, is the relation between the English revolution of 1688 and the industrial revolution?

Discuss Nunn’s findings regarding the effect of the slave trade on economic growth in Africa, in light of Acemoglu’s institutional theory, Mokyr’s comments on the cultural-institutional role of trust, and Broadberry on the economic effects of demographic collapse.



Wed. June 12. Reading Week. No class.



14]Mon. June 17 [panel 4]:   Export-led growth in settler colonies: the staples thesis

Mel Watkins (1963) “A staple theory of economic growth” Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science 24(2): 141-58

Jim Stanford (ed) The Staple Theory @ 50 Reflections on the Lasting Significance of Mel Watkins’ “A Staple Theory of Economic Growth” Canadian Centre for Policy Aternatives. p.31-50, 127-33

  1. Leach “Why building a massive oil sands refinery would be a bad ideaMacleans 8 Oct 2014

[D. Drache and Philip Cross (2013 interviews) “The Staples Trap – falling off the bitumen cliff” CBC radio

What is the “staples thesis”: what does “staples” refer to, and what kinds of economies does the thesis describe? How does it what it describes differ from what is described in conventional economic growth theories? What are “backward”, “forward”, “final demand” and “fiscal” linkages? Try to come up with your own examples not from the readings.

What is a “staples trap”? In what respects has Canada escaped the staples trap, and in what respects has it not? How do staples theorists reply to the criticism that staples theory is no longer relevant to Canada since the natural resource sector now directly accounts for only a small share of GDP and employment here?

Why has the staples trap been harder to escape in developing countries?

Compare Leach and staples theorists on Alberta bitumen exports: How might staples theorists argue for and/or against building refineries in Alberta, and how might they respond to Leaches argument that Alberta is better off exporting raw bitumen than investing in refining?



15]Wed. June 19 [panel 5]:Knowledge and growth: the market and the state

F.A. Hayek (1945) “The use of knowledge in society” The American Economic Review 35 (4): 519-530

Amy Kapczynski, “Intellectual property’s leviathan” (2014). Yale Faculty Scholarship Series. 4916. 

  1. Baker, A. Jaydev and J Stiglitz (2017) “Innovation, intellectual property and Development: a better set of approaches for the 21st century”  ch 2 and 5.2

Maria Mazzucato and GregorSemieniuk (2017) “Public financing of innovation: new questionsOxford Review of Economic Policy, 33(1) 24–48

Note: Austrian  economist  F.A. Hayek is one of the key intellectual originators and promoters of what has come to be called neoliberalism. It is crucial to keep this in mind while reading the article—that the whole point is to demonstrate the superiority of markets as a way of allocating resources and coordinating economic activity.


Questions: What is the “price system” and how does it allow society to use dispersed knowledge, according to Hayek? Discuss his claim that the price system is “taken for granted” and that “if it were the result of deliberate human design” it “would have been acclaimed as one of the greatest triumphs of the human mind” (p. 527). What does the claim that economically relevant information is dispersed throughout the population have to do with Hayek’s neoliberal position on economic policy?

What is the “public goods problem” regarding information that intellectual property (IP) law is intended to address? Which of the four main ways of addressing this problem discussed by Baker et al ch. 2  is favoured by neoliberal theorists and why? How is this neoliberal argument influenced by the reasoning in the Hayek article? Why does Kapcynski disagree with the neoliberal argument, and why does she think that this neoliberal argument does not actually justify IP law in practice?

With reference to each of the “three key features” emphasized by Mazzucato and Semieniuk (see the first paragraph of the conclusion if you are unsure what this refers to), explain how their account differs from the conventional neoclassical “market failure” explanation (both the neoliberal version and that of Baker et al) for the public financing of innovation. Briefly compare and contrast how M&S’s approach and the market failure approach would address the role of government in promoting renewable energy (see also Baker et al chapter 5.2)






16] Wed. June 26 [panel 2]:Slowdown: causes and effects

Robert J. Gordon (2012) “Is U.S. Economic Growth Over? Faltering Innovation Confronts the Six Headwinds”NBER Working Paper No. 18315

  1. Janeway (2017) “Which productivity puzzle?” Institute for New Economic Thinking

Eileen Appelbaum (2017)  “Domestic outsourcing, rent seeking, and increased inequality” Review of Radical Political Economics 49(4): 513-28

Summarize and assess Gordon’s argument that US economic growth is likely to taper off to pre-industrial levels over the next few decades. What are Janeway’s criticisms of Gordon’s arguments? How might Gordon respond? How does Appelbaum account for Janeway’s “productivity paradox” by reference to factors that neither Gordon nor Janewayaddress? What light does Appelbaum’s analysis shed on increasing inequality?


Mon.July 1 Canada Day. No class.



17] Wed July 3 [panel 3]:Inequality trends: causes and consequences

ThomasPicketty and Emmanuel Saez 2014 “Inequality in the long run” Science 23 May 2014:
Vol. 344 no. 6186 pp. 838-843 

  1. Cassidy “Picketty’s inequality story in six chartsThe New Yorker 26 March 2014

Seth Ackerman “Picketty’s fair-weather friendsJacobin 29 May 2014

  1. Gordon (2013) Canadian vs American median income trends

According to Picketty and Saez, “Capital is back because low growth is back.” What do they mean, and why do they think so? How does this point relate to Picketty’s famous claim that inequality tends to increase because over the long run “r > g”? What are the implications of these claims in light of Gordon’s arguments? Why did Kuznets think inequality diminished in the mid-twentieth century, and why do Picketty and Saez think this happened?

What does Ackerman think is the problem with Picketty’s emphasis on unearned returns in explaining the resurgence of wealth inequality since 1980? Why does he think that the distinction between earned income (wages, salaries, bonuses etc.) and unearned return on capital investments (interest, dividends, capital gains etc.) less relevant to the problem of inequality today than in the past?

How would you describe the difference between Canadian and American median income trends, and how might you explain these differences?


18] Mon July 8 [panel 4]:Inequality, stagnation and financialization.

AtifMian (2019) “How to think about finance” Economists for Inclusive Prosperity research brief #7

Gideon Kalman-Lamb. (2017) “The financialization of housing in Canada: intensifying contradictions of neoliberal accumulation”, Studies in Political Economy, 98(3): 298-323.

What does Mian think is driving the increase in debt and the increased role of finance as a share of economic activity. How might these trends relate to rising inequality and slowing real productivity growth (as effects and/or causes)? How does Mian suggest that risk could be more fairly shared between lenders and borrowers, and what broader economic problems might that ameliorate?

What does Kalman-Lamb mean by “debtfare”?  How does his account jibe with that of Mian regarding the new role of credit in the neoliberal era? What has the paradoxical effect of policies to make housing affordable via finance been on the affordability of housing in Canada?  Who, according to Kalman-Lamb are the winners and losers? How well supported do you think is Kalman-Lamb’s claim that the housing price inflation in Canada (especially Vancouver and Toronto) is driven by speculation? What other explanations does he overlook? Compare CMHC’s recent risk-sharing proposals (p. 312-3) with those proposed by Mian. How do they differ with respect to what risk is to be shared, and among whom?



19] Wed. July 10 [panel 5]:Measuring growth and wellbeing

Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen and Jean-Paul Fitoussi (2009) The Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress RevisitedColumbia University, IEP OFCE Working paper N° 2009-33

Explain Samuelson’s 1950s joke (p.6) about what happens to the GDP when the prof marries his housekeeper. What point is Samuelson making about the purposes and limits of GDP as an economic metric? How does this point relate to other issues raised in the reading, such as that of “imputed value” (see p.17) and the problem of using GDP to compare US vs German standard of living (see p.22)?

What is the difference between GNP and GDP? Why do you think GDP replaced GNP around 1990 as the most widely used metric for comparing the economic performance of countries? What difference does it make?

What are some of the ways in which economic measures used in the literature we have examined in the past 8 weeks might underestimate and/or overestimate the effects of pre-industrial “efflorescences” and/or modern (post industrial revolution) growth on societal well-being?What do you think on balance would be the best way of measuring economic performance for comparing how well off people are across time and between countries, and why?


20]Mon. July 15 [panel 1]:Social Limits to Growth

  1. Frank (2004) “How not to buy happiness” Daedalus Spring 2004 69-79
  2. Frank (2008) “Should Public Policy Respond to Positional Externalities?” Journal of Public Economics, 92(8-9): 1777-86.

These two articles by Robert Frank overlap quite a bit but I advise reading both, because they are not too long, each makes some points the other does not, and each takes a slightly different approach to explaining the overlapping ideas. Keep in mind that when the first article refers to “conspicuous consumption” the point is that the goods in question are what the second article calls “positional”, not that they are conspicuous per se.

How does Frank explain the paradox that while richer people in a given societyare happier than poor people that society,  that average happiness in a society does not increase as average income/ GDP per capita increases (beyond certain point)? Distinguish between explanations based on subjective adaptation and those based on misallocation due to positional competition. How is the latter explanation based on the distinction between positional (e.g. “conspicuous”) goods and non-positional goods? How does his explanation undermine efficiency arguments for the market?

In what respects is higher education qualifications a positional good (i.e., generates positional externalities), and in what respects is it not? Why might some argue that insofar as it is a positional good,  expanding access to higher education socially wasteful?  If it is, would Frank support taxing rather than subsidizing university tuition? How else might we address the problem he identifies?



21]Wed. July 17 [panel 2]: Introducing Biophysical limits to growth

Herman Daly (2005) “Economics in a full worldScientific American 293:100-107

KateRaworth (2012) “A safe and just space for humanity”. Oxfam Discussion Paper [for more technical background see Will Steffen et al 2015 “Planetary boundaries: guiding human development on a changing planetSciencevol 347 issue 6223:

Jason Hickel (2018): “Is it possible to achieve a good life for all within planetary

boundaries?”, Third World Quarterly

Why does Daly think that economic growth must end?  Why does he think that continued economic growth will do more harm than good.

What are “planetary boundaries” and what, according to Raworth, do they imply about growth as a means of attaining sufficiency for all? How, in general terms, does Raworth propose that social foundations be achieved without exceeding planetary boundaries?

Hickel, building on the work of other researchers, tries to fill in Raworth’s model with data. On the basis of Hickel’s paper, are you as confident as Raworth is that it is possible to achieve a good life for all within planetary boundaries?  Why/why not?  Are there factors and forces that Raworth and Hickel do not address which might make it harder to do so? What and how?



22] Mon. July 22 [panel 3]:Energy quality limits to growth

Lambert et al (2014) “Energy, EROI and quality of lifeEnergy Policy 64(1): 153-67.

  1. Hall et al (2014) “EROI of different fuels and the implications for societyEnergy Policy 64(1): 141-52.

What is the difference between EROI and energy per capita? How strongly are the two related to each other? Compare how strongly each is related to various measures of human development. Should we worry about declining EROI so long as (net) energy per capita remains high, and if so why? (I.e., what problems might declining EROI pose even if it does not immediately threaten net energy production and consumption?)


23]Wed. July 24 [panel 4]:Is growth sustainable? The decoupling debate.

John Quiggin “Doing more with less: the economic lesson of Peak PaperAeon 12 February, 2016

UNEP (2011) Decoupling natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth, A Report of the Working Group on Decoupling to the International Resource Panel: executive summary

Nate Aden “The roads to decoupling: 21 countries are reducing carbon emissions while growing GDP” World Resources Institute 5 April 2016

  1. Wiedman et al (2015) “The material footprint of nationsPNAS 112(20): 6271–6276
  2. Schweickart 2008 “Is sustainable capitalism an oxymoronSynthesis/Regeneration 47

Why does Kovel think capitalism is not ecologically sustainable? Why does Hawkins and Lovins think it is, and under what conditions? What does Schweickart think is the main sustainability problem for capitalism and what is his solution? What is the difference between capitalism and Schweikart’s version of market socialism? Explain and assess his argument that the latter avoids the growth imperative of the latter.

What, according to Quiggin, is the “lesson of peak paper”? To what extent is it possible for an economy to dematerialize into an “ethereal” state in which growth can continue based on innovation and information alone? (Keep in mind Schwieckart’s point that 3% growth rate entails a 16 times larger GDP in 100 years, meaning either producing and consuming 16 times as much stuff and energy, OR getting 16 times as much consumer value out of each kilo of stuff and watt of energy consumed.)   To what extent do the findings reported in Wiedman et al challenge the notion that growth and material use are decoupling (much less dematerializing)? How (if at all) is it possible to reconcile the decline in resource prices mentioned in the UNEP paper with Daly’s thesis about the implications of the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

There are 3 decouplings indicated in Fig. 1 of the UNEP report. Two are labelled and one is not. What might you label the one that isn’t? Which of the 3 decouplings is absolute, and which 2 are relative? In Fig. 2 of the UNEP report, which category of resource extraction has increased the most since 1900? Which countries, according to the data reported in Aden, have experienced the decoupling betweenGDP and GHG emissions? Which country decreased its GHG emissions by the greatest total amount?  What caveat would Wiedman suggest in interpreting the data in Aden (see the point in Aden about “leakage”).



24]. Mon July 29 [panel 5]:Post growth futures

William Rees (2014) Avoiding Collapse: An agenda for sustainable degrowth and relocalizing the economy. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

John O’Neil (2008) “Living Well Within Limits: Well-Being, Time and Sustainability”

Jason Hickel (2019) “Degrowth: a theory of radical abundanceReal World Economics Review 87: 54-68

Compare/contrast Epicurian and Aristotelian conceptions of happiness with each other and with the conception of welfare or utility characteristic of modern economics. Why does O’Neil favour the Aristotelian conception? Why does he think that economic growth (e.g. in terms of GDP per capita) has ceased to yield increases in either Epicurian or Aristotelian happiness (see also Schweickart’s discussion of the same topic)? Do you agree? Why/why not?

To what extent do the policies advocated by Rees fit with either the ecosocialist or the ecocapitalist views (see Schweickart on these contrasting views) of whether a steady-state (i.e. no growth) capitalist economy could work? What policies would help make steady-state capitalism compatible with general prosperity? Compare, contrast and assess the economic changes advocated by Rees,  Hawkins/Lovinses and Schweickart.

What does Hickel mean by “While austerity calls for scarcity in order to generate more growth, degrowth calls for abundance in order to render growth unnecessary” (p.66)? How does his argument build on Ellen Wood contrast between pre-capitalist and capitalist markets and her contention that the only the latter impel growth?