The Wealth of Nations: Why Are Some Countries Richer Than Others?

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
July 08, 2019 - July 19, 20197/08 - 7/19M-F 8:30A-11:20AOpenBalazs Zelity

Course Description

This course explores the vast inequalities in economic development over space and time. The richest countries in the world today are as much as 60 times more prosperous in terms of GDP per capita than their poorest counterparts. A consequence of this is that living standards across the globe differ staggeringly: in 35 countries still less than half of the population has access to electricity. What explains these inequalities? What led some countries to be so much more well-off than others? What are the key factors behind prosperity?

In addition to the huge present-day differences in wealth among countries, the 18th-21st centuries saw an unprecedented explosion of economic growth and prosperity throughout much of the globe. Economic output per person grew as much as 60-fold from the early 1800s to today in the world's leading economies, but it has merely doubled in the worst-performing economies. Technological change has transformed lives like never before in human history. As we will see in this class, this growth explosion is partially at the root of present-day income differences. But where did it all originate from? Why did some countries benefit from it more than others?

This course starts with an overview of what we mean by and how we measure economic growth with a focus on the most popular metric, GDP per capita. We then proceed to answer the questions raised above in two modules. First, we consider what explains present-day differences in wealth among countries without much regard to the distant past. We will explore the role of physical capital such infrastructure or machines, of population and its growth, of education and health. We will then move on to the discussion of productivity, a tricky concept which encompasses a variety of things from technological progress to efficient governance. To finish up this module, we discuss the role of integration into the global economy via international trade.

In the second module of the class we will dig deeper and ask what exactly gave rise to differences in physical capital, population growth, education, and so on. Geography for instance is a factor that has for centuries been hypothesized to strongly affect economic development. Is there any credence to this? We will also explore the role of institutions and culture, and we will see how these forces can shape both each other and economic development.

Students will be applying the insights learned in class by delivering a presentation.

In this class, students will learn about how economists think about the world. The course is a good introduction into economic logic and thinking, which will prove useful in more advanced college-level classes as well. In addition, students will also be exposed to statistical research methods in economics such as how we test hypotheses, and how we can distinguish correlation from causation. This will be extremely useful for future econometrics and applied economics classes.

Prerequisites: Comfortable with algebra and statistics.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEEC0940
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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