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Foundations of Economic Prosperity

Foundations of Economic Prosperity

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Foundations of Economic Prosperity

Course No. 5642
Professor Daniel W. Drezner, Ph.D.
Tufts University
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Course No. 5642
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  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is not heavily illustrated, featuring a variety of visuals designed to aid in your understanding of the course material. Among these are portraits of economic thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, and Ayn Rand; a graph illustrating how CDOs work in relation to the sub-prime mortgage crisis; and charts that detail the eventual slowing of America's GDP back to 19th-century levels by 2050. There are on-screen spellings and definitions to help reinforce material for visual learners.
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Course Overview

Prosperity has transformed the world. Defined as the ability to afford goods and services beyond basic necessities, prosperity is now a way of life for most residents of developed countries—so commonplace that few people realize what a rare and recent phenomenon it is.

A mere two centuries ago, most people lived at a subsistence level, in or near the edge of poverty, as the overwhelming majority had since prehistoric times. Then the Industrial Revolution began and per capita income shot up. It is still rising today.

But the story of prosperity is far from simple—or complete. Many people in the developed world fear that their children will be less prosperous than they are. Meanwhile, new economic titans such as China and Brazil enjoy year after year of rapid growth and an ever-rising standard of living. Elsewhere in the world, millions are still trapped in poverty, despite the best efforts of organizations such as the World Bank to help lift them out of it.

Fostering and sustaining economic prosperity—whether at the individual, national, or global level—is a multilayered endeavor that reaches far beyond economics into the political and social spheres. The complexity of the phenomenon raises equally complex questions:

  • Why is prosperity distributed so unevenly?
  • Why isn’t the path to prosperity predictable?
  • What, if anything, can be done to lift more people out of poverty?

Foundations of Economic Prosperity gives you an unrivaled overview of one of the most pressing issues of our day, in 24 half-hour lectures taught by Professor Daniel W. Drezner of the prestigious Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Professor Drezner takes you behind the headlines and into the debates to dispel some common myths about prosperity and get at deeper truths.

In this stimulating, wide-ranging course, Professor Drezner shows that achieving prosperity involves more than economics. Psychology, sociology, political science, and history also come into play. By taking this broad view, he leads you to fundamental insights about how the modern world works and a deeper understanding of the functioning of the U.S., European, Chinese, and other major economies, as well as an appreciation for the special problems faced by underdeveloped nations.

Mysteries and Myths of Prosperity

Foundations of Economic Prosperity begins with an explanation of basic economic concepts. These are then applied to an increasingly wider sphere, covering prosperity on individual, national, and global scales. Noting that prosperity is surprisingly difficult to understand, Professor Drezner addresses some of the mysteries that surround the subject, including these:

  • Why England? The Industrial Revolution started in England, but scholars disagree about why, since other nations were also primed for change. Was England’s position in world politics the key factor? Or its institutions? One theory argues that the distinctive demography of the British gave them a crucial edge.
  • Riddle of the two Koreas: Few nations vary so radically in prosperity as North and South Korea. Yet both have the same natural resources, ethnicity, and culture. For the first 25 years of their existence, both countries showed remarkably similar growth patterns. What caused them to diverge so dramatically?
  • Easterlin paradox: A controversial finding by economist Richard Easterlin shows that there is no correlation between increasing prosperity and happiness in the developed world. How accurate is this conclusion? Does the effect change with levels of affluence? How much happiness can money buy?

In his quest to uncover the principles that guide the accelerating improvement of material life, Professor Drezner also refutes widely believed myths about prosperity, among them:

  • Myth—China is prosperous: China is economically powerful, but the view that it is prosperous is mistaken. By several different standards, China is still a developing country, ranking with nations such as Jamaica, Turkmenistan, and Belarus in per capita income, health, education, and other measures of prosperity.
  • Myth—Character is all: While individual behavior matters a great deal, people can’t entirely control their own economic destiny. National and global conditions matter. For example, Steve Jobs could not have built Apple Computer in a country that did not offer educational opportunities and a technology infrastructure.
  • Myth—Prosperity is self-sustaining: The idea that once achieved, prosperity is self-sustaining is a misconception. Many factors can derail prosperity, from pandemics to financial crises. Professor Drezner uses Argentina as a case study of a once-prosperous nation that went into a prolonged economic decline.

Successes and Failures

Foundations of Economic Prosperity follows dozens of case histories that illustrate what works and doesn’t work in the drive to increase economic growth. A superb storyteller, Professor Drezner reaches back to examples such as the statue-building culture of Easter Island that prospered centuries ago, until its mammoth public-works effort destroyed the island’s ecosystem—a cautionary tale to all developed societies. In another lesson from the past, Professor Drezner describes the economic policy called mercantilism that trapped European powers in growth-killing trade practices from the 16th to 18th centuries.

You will also learn about the following intriguing examples of prosperity won or lost:

  • Financial bubbles: The Dutch tulip mania in 1637 saw the value of a single tulip bulb rise to 45 times Holland’s per capita income. The price soon crashed in a boom/bust scenario that has been replayed many times, for instance in the “dot com” bubble in 1999–2000 and the housing bubble that led to the 2008 financial crisis.
  • Globalization: The trend toward an integrated world economy is not a recent phenomenon. The era of globalization that started in the 1850s and ended with World War I brought far more dramatic changes than those seen today—in communication, transportation, productivity growth, and financial innovation.
  • Politics versus prosperity: After the breakup of the Soviet Union, many economists predicted a bright economic future for Ukraine—because of its well-educated workforce, heavy industry, and productive farmland. But Ukraine did not do well. The missteps made by its politicians illustrate the enormous power of the state to get things wrong.

Prosperity Tips You Can Use

How can individuals capitalize on long-term trends in the growth and distribution of prosperity? Professor Drezner—whose experience extends beyond academia to include positions with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the RAND Corporation, as well as extensive international travel and consulting—is full of insight on this question. He suggests, for example, that developments since 1980 underscore the increasing importance of human capital over physical capital—the value gained from investing in people over physical assets. Human capital is the product of education in all its forms, from elementary literacy to job training to undergraduate and graduate studies, and it is more important than ever to a person’s economic prospects.

As a start on your own road to greater prosperity, take this step to invest in an unparalleled explanation of the prerequisites to achieve it in the Foundations of Economic Prosperity.

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24 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
Year Released: 2013
  • 1
    The Foundations of Economic Prosperity
    Begin the course by contrasting the relative prosperity of North and South Korea. What explains the marked disparity in a region with the same geography and culture? Next, define prosperity and examine some widespread myths about how and why individuals and countries achieve affluence. x
  • 2
    Does Economic Prosperity Make You Happy?
    Explore the connection between income and happiness, focusing on the Easterlin paradox, proposed by economist Richard Easterlin in 1974, which holds that no correlation exists between happiness levels and per capita income across the developed world. Evaluate evidence for and against this conclusion. x
  • 3
    Varieties of Entrepreneurship
    Examine three types of entrepreneurship: productive, which includes innovation and expansion into new markets; destructive, which involves coercion or violence; and unproductive, such as monopoly-seeking. Today, the first is universally seen as the most desirable, but the other two were long regarded as legitimate or even prestigious. x
  • 4
    Individual Prosperity—The Developed World
    Probe the most effective strategy for ensuring individual prosperity in the developed world. First, study how wages and income are determined in a free market. Then, learn why the developed world puts a premium on human capital, which is synonymous with education. x
  • 5
    Individual Prosperity—The Developing World
    Developing countries vary widely in affluence, but common characteristics of their economies make it difficult for individuals to escape from poverty. Learn how the rule of law and modern capital markets are preconditions for fostering productive entrepreneurship in these nations. x
  • 6
    Foundations of National Prosperity
    How can countries as a whole prosper? Evaluate the ways that incentives for individuals often work against sustainable national prosperity. Study the limitations of gross domestic product as a measure of economic strength, and review the steps that propelled China into its present phase of rapid growth. x
  • 7
    Perils to National Prosperity
    Survey three popular explanations for the failure of many nations to prosper, discovering that counterexamples cast doubt on these theories. Then investigate the distinction between public goods that enhance growth, and public “bads” that inhibit it. The latter category includes overtaxation, excessive regulation, protectionism, and war. x
  • 8
    Political Foundations of Prosperity
    Turn from economics to politics, investigating the truth behind the view that democracies tend to contribute more to prosperity than autocracies. While authoritarian political institutions can, at times, lead to short bursts of prosperity, democracies have the advantage over the long term. Learn why here. x
  • 9
    Mysteries of the Industrial Revolution
    The graph of per capita income over time remained flat throughout human history, until 1800 when it took off due to the Industrial Revolution. Why was England the seedbed for this radical transformation? Study theories that try to explain why the English were in the right place at the right time. x
  • 10
    Sources of Poverty
    Probe the challenges facing the world’s estimated 1.25 billion poor people. Some economists believe that a “poverty trap” condemns the poorest nations to the bottom of the economic ladder. What is the evidence for this theory, and are there effective measures to break the cycle of poverty? x
  • 11
    Reducing Poverty with Economic Development
    Trace some of the big ideas that have guided the World Bank in its promotion of economic development in poor nations. Despite a wide range of approaches, no broadly effective formula has yet been found. This suggests that the developed and underdeveloped worlds obey fundamentally different economic models. x
  • 12
    National Prosperity in the Developing World
    Most economic development formulas fail miserably, but there are two proven pathways to prosperity. Learn how natural resource exploitation and export promotion allow some countries to break through to prosperity. Focus on the pitfalls that must be avoided for these approaches to work. x
  • 13
    National Prosperity in the Developed World
    As societies become developed, socioeconomic and sociopolitical changes create new impediments to continued economic growth. Investigate the challenges presented by four big problems: a decline in innovation, a demographic slowdown, a shift away from income maximization, and the paradoxical drawbacks of political stability. x
  • 14
    Can Prosperity Be Lost?
    Once attained, can prosperity be lost? Probe the circumstances that cause a developed country to lose economic ground. Focus on Argentina, which a hundred years ago was one of the ten richest countries in the world. What precipitated its decline, and what other factors threaten any nation’s hard-earned prosperity? x
  • 15
    Inequality and Prosperity
    Intuitively, one would expect that poverty and economic inequality go together, but history suggests that the opposite is true. Survey the rise and fall of inequality in a range of nations, including the United States. Is there a tipping point after which inequality can harm mass prosperity? x
  • 16
    Globalization and Global Prosperity
    Globalization is a cluster of technological, economic, and political innovations that have transformed the world economy. Investigate why globalization is not a new phenomenon and why it leads to greater prosperity. Then probe some of the myths about globalization, and analyze its role in promoting economic growth. x
  • 17
    Great Powers and Global Prosperity
    Address the importance of global public goods, which are services provided to other nations without profit, typically by a superpower, or hegemon. Great Britain played this role during the height of its empire. More recently, the United States has been the guarantor of global public goods. x
  • 18
    The Washington versus the Beijing Consensus
    Weigh the strengths and weaknesses of two competing forms of capitalism: the Washington consensus, developed by the United States during the cold war; and the Beijing consensus, which represents China’s approach to economic development since the 1980s. Which model better promotes global prosperity? x
  • 19
    Political Challenges to Global Prosperity
    Begin a series of lectures on challenges to global prosperity. The biggest threat to any nation’s prosperity is war. Look at three broad explanations for why war is now on the wane and what could reignite conflict on an economically ruinous scale. x
  • 20
    Financial Challenges to Global Prosperity
    As an example of financial challenges to global prosperity, focus on the housing bubble that triggered the 2008 financial crisis. Study different asset bubbles, including the 17th-century tulip mania. Also learn the five phases in the life cycle of a bubble—from the enthusiastic takeoff to the inevitable clean-up. x
  • 21
    Will the Developed World Stagnate?
    In the past few decades, the developed world has seen a general slowdown in per capita income growth. Is this a permanent trend? Review the factors that boost prosperity, then examine how each of these drivers of growth reaches a point of diminishing returns. x
  • 22
    Global Prosperity and the Environment
    Probe the environmental challenges of prosperity, focusing on the concept of negative externalities, which are costs not transmitted through price and which arise when dealing with environmental effects. Explore strategies for correcting externalities with market forces. In this context, address the problem of climate change. x
  • 23
    Ideological Challenges to Global Prosperity
    Study the critics of prosperity, who object to key elements of capitalist society. Investigate the four “R’s”: the romantics, the reactionaries, the revolutionaries, and the radicals. Among the thinkers you examine are Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Friedrich von Hayek, and Ayn Rand. x
  • 24
    The Ethics of Global Prosperity
    Review the key conclusions reached in the course. Then close by looking at the ethical dimension of prosperity: What, if anything, do the globally prosperous owe the global poor? Test your own views against libertarian, contractarian, and cosmopolitan approaches to this question. x

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Your professor

Daniel W. Drezner

About Your Professor

Daniel W. Drezner, Ph.D.
Tufts University
Dr. Daniel W. Drezner is Professor of International Politics at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He earned his B.A. in Political Economy from Williams College and his M.A. in Economics and Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford University. Beyond academia, Professor Drezner served as an international economist in the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of International Banking and...
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Rated 4.5 out of 5 by 16 reviewers.
Rated 4 out of 5 by Foundations of Economic Prosperity As the other reviews have stated, this is an interesting mix of political science and economics. Well organized and presented. A little dry, but that comes with the territory. Just be aware that this is NOT a pure economics look at prosperity. And for that reason, I'd recommend it. November 22, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by Interesting Blend of Economics & Political Science This course is equal parts economics and political science. As a preliminary statement, I wish the Great Courses would recommend "prerequisites" for certain classes. For this one, the Great Courses should recommend its Economics course first as the professor assumes the listener is familiar with basic economics concepts and terms. If you are weak on the basics, take the Economics course before this one. The general theme of the course is the spread of economic prosperity throughout the world. Each lesson focuses on a distinct topic and most lessons were fascinating and eye-opening. The topics range from the definition of economic prosperity to ways that individuals and nations can achieve prosperity. He discusses how prosperity goals often shape political positions and explains how politics and economics are interconnected. The professor gave many interesting statistics about the development of prosperity, focusing on both a historical perspective and modern events. For example, for the lesson economic bubbles, he began with the Dutch Tulip Mania of 1637 and ended with the housing bubble that triggered the 2008 Great Recession. All-in-all, this was a fascinating course and well-worth taking. August 18, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by A course on capitalism This course provides a sober, quite academic view of what the conditions are for reaching Prosperity. Prosperity in what sense, and for whom? These are important questions that Professor Drezner tries to answer as the course evolves. In Prosperity, he focuses almost exclusively on Economic Prosperity (as the title in fact promises). Professor Drezner is a Political scientist, not an Economist. Large parts of the discussion are therefore set aside for the political aspects; discussing the role of government in providing public goods, foreign relations, and international organization that targeted at accelerating global prosperity aong other topics. The discussion of Prosperity is divided to three different levels: personal, national and global. He argues that it is really quite hard for the average person to prosper personally if the country one lives in is not prospering. If the country is prospering, there is a very simple rule: education is the single most predictor for economic prosperity and this is a very well proven case. Another important factor is personal health. At the national level, there must be a strong respect for law and order. Involvement of government must be kept relatively low in the market place as this is usually inefficient and invites corruption and, as he terms it, "unconstructive entrepreneurship". The discussions on global prosperity, and how to create prosperity in developing countries were fascinating and quite new to me altogether. My reservation has to do with the choice to discuss Economic prosperity – that is how to make as much money as possible be it at the personal, national or global scale. As Professor Drezner notes, Economic prosperity is only one measure of Prosperity, and one could think of other measures that could potentially be just as interesting, such as maximizing happiness and/or health. Though Professor Drezner does mention these options in the beginning of the course, these other forms of Prosperity are discarded quite quickly with the reason given that they are harder to quantify and to discuss. So the discussion is really all about how to create a thriving, liberal capitalistic environment in which everyone has a good chance of maximizing their potential financially. One could have chosen to study other formulas of prosperity in which, for example, more stress is given to maximizing each individual's ability to maximize their potential. This is a formula that social democratic countries in Europe took as their goal. The discussion is very interesting, valuable and profound as long that it is understood that this choice is not just for the sake of convenience but also has to do with focus and political agenda. I found the Professor's lecturing style to be quite dry. There was not a lot of humor inserted into the lectures and they just did not feel so lively or dynamic. He has a tendency to intonate many sentences as if they are questions, even when he is simply making a statement. I found this habit slightly irritating… Personally, however, this is excused because the course content is really interesting and profound, many of the aspects presented were new to me, and the material was presented in a clear and well-argued manner that enabled a highly rewarding learning experience. May 18, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by Money is not everything Practical course on economics, what works and why. Prosperity is more than having money it is individual achievement for the common good. February 19, 2015
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