CSS 391 - Senior Seminar

College of Social Studies

Fall 2012

Political Economy
(aka Public and Private:  The Logic of Social Order)


Note:  This is only a partial syllabus.



Professor Gilbert Skilman
M-W 1:10-2:30
Location:  PAC 422

Office:  PAC 325
Office Hours: Th 1:30-3 and by appointment
Phone:  (860) 685-2359
E-mail:  gskillman@wesleyan.edu


This course studies political economy from the vantage point of a broader distinction between the public and private spheres of social life: we consider what that distinction might mean and how it matters, how the two spheres are manifested and interrelate in actual societies, and how the appropriate boundary between the two spheres might be determined.  There are a number of lines of social inquiry out there that touch on this distinction, but perhaps none that is exactly fitted to our purposes in this course.  There is, however, an analytical framework that seems well suited to our inquiry:  game theory is a superficial-sounding name given to this important framework, one that will, in a broad way, serve as the foundation and common denominator for our inquiries. 

One of the difficulties in conducting this course is that the class is relatively large for the intended seminar format.  We’ll accommodate this difficulty by combining interactive lectures (at first) with instructor-facilitated class discussions.  In any case, broad-based student involvement is essential to making the course work, so class participation will be an important part (10%) of the final grade.  Attendance and, as past experience has proved, punctuality are important aspects of class participation, prompting the following policies.  First, regular attendance is noted and strongly encouraged (given that it’s difficult to participate when you’re not there) although not required.  Absences necessitated by medical and family emergencies or employment interviews will of course be completely excused.  Second, if you do choose to attend class, please show up on time, as late arrivals impair focus and disrupt the flow of discussion.  Consequently, repetitive late arrival will count against the class participation portion of the grade.

The course will proceed as follows.  It’s my responsibility to inform you of the material to be covered for each upcoming week, and to indicate the key questions that are likely to be addressed.  Please try to have the indicated reading done before it is taken up in class.  Course assignments will include a series of exercises or “opportunities for focused thought” (OFTs), a group presentation, and a 15-25 page term paper.  Final papers are due on Sunday, December 11th by 12 midnight. 

Required Texts (you should go ahead and purchase the boldfaced ones soon): 

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Economic Origins of Dictatorship & Democracy

Kaushik Basu, Prelude to Political Economy: A Study of the Social and Politica
     Foundations of Economics

E. Ostrom, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action

Albert Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty

William Keech, Economic Politics: The Costs of Democracy

Charles Lindblom, Politics and Markets:

Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia

John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement

James Scott, Seeing Like a State

Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom

Brian Skyrms, Evolution of the Social Contract

Donald Wittman, The Myth of Democratic Failure:Why Political Institutions are Efficient

Charles Wolf, Markets or Governments:Choosing Between Imperfect Alternatives

Bruce Wydick, Games in Economic Development

All of these texts will be available for purchase at Broad Street Books.  Additional readings will be made available by suitable means, e.g. on course reserve at Olin Library or distributed directly to your CSS mailboxes.  I reserve the right, with due notice, to add required texts as deemed appropriate for the evolving needs of the course.

Course Outline

I.   Initial Considerations

      A.  Some Basic Questions

            Basu Preface, 1

      B. Social Situations as Games

          Basu, 2, 3.1-3.2, 4.5; Wydick 2; Skillman “Social Situations as Games”

      C. Equilibrium and Optimum

           Skillman, “Equilibrium in Rational Choice and Evolutionary Games”; Basu, 9,10;
           Skyrms, Preface, 1; Rawls, Part I; Nozick, 3; Haidt, The Righteous Mind, Part I      

      D.  Public and Private

            Hirschman1-4, 9; Rawls, Parts II-III; Kenneth Arrow, Social Choice and Justice, Ch. 8:
            “Some Ordinalist-Utilitarian Notes on Rawls’s Theory of Justice”

II.    Social Order in Anarchy (under construction)

III.   Freedom, Rights and the Extent of the State (under construction)

IV.   Collective Choice and the Form of the State (under construction)