Fall 2017

Professors: Kim C. Border, Phillip T. Hoffman
Email: kcb@caltech.edu, pth@hss.caltech.edu

Ec 140: Economic Progress

Tuesdays & Thursdays, 2:30–3:55 p.m. // 237 Baxter

Why are some societies rich, while others are mired in poverty?

This course will investigate some of the theoretical, empirical, and historical literature on economic progress.

Required Course Work

The course will consist of roughly one part lectures to two parts class discussion of readings. On days scheduled for discussion, you are required to show up in class and make reasoned, insightful comments.

You are also required to write a half-page summary of each paper that is listed for discussion, and submit it via e-mail by 9:00 am of the discussion day. Please include the string "Ec 140" in the subject header of your e-mail. Make sure your name is on your summary and that you clearly identify the paper you are summarizing. The preferred formats for submission are ASCII, PDF, or RTF.

The article summaries should be more than a restatement of the abstract. They should be useful to someone contemplating whether to read the paper. You should try to indicate how the paper fits in with the course—is it an extension of a previous paper, an attack on a previous paper, or does it raise new questions? You should mention the paper's key ideas or results, the nature of the data if the paper is empirical, and the structure of the model if the paper is theoretical. You are encouraged to make judgments on the reasonableness of the paper. The fact that a paper has been published does not make it correct or true, but it might be.

You will be required to lead the discussion on one of the topics to be covered. This will entail preparing a handout on the topic and raising questions that will encouage discussion.

There will be two half-term exams, one during midterms week, and the other during finals week.

You will be graded on the basis of your participation in discussions, the two half-term exams, your summaries, and your performance as discussion leader. An equally weighted geometric mean (Cobb–Douglas production technology) of these normalized scores will be used as the basis for the course grade. Note that a zero on any part gives a zero geometric mean.


1. Tuesday, September 26


Introductory remarks by the professors, an overview of the topic, and a visual presentation of economic growth by Hans Rosling and the BBC's Joy of Stats. (Flash video)

2. Thursday, September 28

Measuring growth and some history

Lecture by Prof. Hoffman.

Definition and measurement of economic progress. Growth accounting. Correlates of growth. Some history of growth.

3. Tuesday, October 3


Reading for discussion

4. Thursday, October 5

Introduction to the theory of economic progress

Lecture by Prof. Border.

Early theories of economic progress: Marx, von Neumann, Harrod–Domar, Solow. The Cobb–Douglas production function. Technical change and growth. The convergence hypothesis.

Background reading

5. Tuesday, October 10

The role and measurement of technological change

Reading for discussion

6. Thursday, October 12

More advanced theory of economic growth

Lecture by Prof. Border.

Pontryagin's Maximum Principle. Endogenous saving.

Further reading

7. Tuesday, October 17

Empirical tests and challenges to the theory

Reading for discussion

8. Thursday, October 19

The Industrial Revolution

Lecture by Prof. Hoffman.

9. Tuesday, October 24

Industrial Revolution

Reading for discussion

10. Thursday, October 26

Some difficulties

Reading for discussion

First half-term exam

11. Tuesday, October 31

Growth and demographic change

Lecture by Prof. Hoffman.

12. Thursday, November 2

Endogenous growth theory models

Reading for discussion

13. Tuesday, November 7

Modeling the demographic transition

Reading for discussion

14. Thursday, November 9

Biology, culture, and growth

Reading for discussion

15. Tuesday, November 14

Politics, institutions, and growth

Reading for discussion

16. Thursday, November 16

History and Growth

Reading for discussion

17. Tuesday, November 21

More big obstacles to growth

Reading for discussion

Thursday, November 23

Thanksgiving Holiday

18. Tuesday, November 28


Lecture by Prof. Hoffman.

19. Thursday, November 30

Is growth slowing?

Reading for discussion

Second half-term exam

Further Reading

These may not be assigned, but you may find them relevant.

Historical Perspectives on Growth

The Aggregate Production Function

The Theoretical Classics


Evidence on convergence

Econometric issues

Politics and development

Corruption and development

Natural Resources

Technology adoption

Human capital

Endogenous growth, increasing, returns


More empirical work

Geography and Growth

Some control theory

· Division Home Page ·

Updated Thursday, 14-Sep-2017 14:02:05 PDT by KC Border.