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Foundations of Economic Prosperity

Foundations of Economic Prosperity

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Foundations of Economic Prosperity

Foundations of Economic Prosperity

Course No.  5642
Course No.  5642
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

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.

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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
  • 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

Lecture Titles

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Daniel W. Drezner
Ph.D. Daniel W. Drezner
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 Securities Markets. He has also worked for the RAND Corporation; consulted for various for-profit, nonprofit, and public-sector agencies; and provided expert testimony for both houses of Congress. Professor Drezner was a nonresident fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow, and a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University's John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies. Professor Drezner is the author of four books, including All Politics Is Global. He blogs daily for Foreign Policy magazine, for which he is a contributing editor, and he has published articles in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He has provided expert commentary on the global political economy for the BBC, C-SPAN, CNN International, MSNBC, Fox News, and ABC's World News Tonight.
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Rated 4.5 out of 5 by 13 reviewers.
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
Rated 5 out of 5 by A ray of light in a tangled subject Audio download. Every day we are swamped by news of crisis and conflict. And since the organizations supplying this information assume that most of us cannot absorb anything disruptive unless it is also entertaining, much of it is massaged into leadership blame or morality tales. Occasionally, however, larger "structural" issues are mentioned, long-term trends affecting our economic well-being# Is the trend up, as it was generations ago? If not, why? This is where the debate degenerates into personal anecdotes or strongly-held political biases# Economic concerns deeply interest us, but as a discipline, economics • can either feel as theoretical and math-heavy as quantum physics, or • seem highly ideological, with quasi-theological debates that never achieve consensus# Dr Drezner's FOUNDATION OF ECONOMIC PROSPERITY tries to avoid these two foibles by starting with "prosperity" defined in simple, quantifiable terms# Think of it as a 6-box grid where prosperity is explained on 3 levels: personal, national and global# And then further presented from 2 points of view: developed and developing economies# #3 levels X 2 points of view = 6 boxes#. Having established this grid, PROSPERITY then introduces a set of "factors" usually kept separate in most news reports, as they bring up too many apples-and-oranges comparisons. — PSYCHOLOGY: Is prosperity a constant, once achieved? Or must it grow to mean anything? Is it like a mirage, forever receding out of our grasp? What about the "keeping-up-with-the-Jones" syndrome? — INSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK: Man-made rules on education, public debate, economic transactions, capital investment and technological innovation can foster or impede prosperity. — POLITICS: Countries are both entities on autopilot, relying on established procedures, and a perpetual struggle for power among tiny elites. This struggle remains important in democracies and autocracies, but its influence on collective prosperity can vary. — CULTURE: How do national values and resources affect the path to prosperity? Can foreign aid make a difference? — DISASTERS: What about wars and natural catastrophes? What Drezner's FOUNDATION offers in other words, is a conceptual framework that allows you to intelligently discuss, or explore in a time-effective way, a very tangled set of important issues. Ethical, political and parochial preferences often keep us on the sideline in these debates. They are also very relevant in a practical way, if you are involved in international business, diplomacy or NGO projects. Does Drezner "solve" these issues in a way you or I will agree with on every point? Of course not. 24 lessons can open your eyes to the complexity of the issues without bogging you down in math or jargon. That is already a good use of your time. You want more? FOUNDATION is a great primer, no more. Move on to its excellent bibliography to go further. _________________ PRESENTATION was very clear, especially if you read the guidebook before or after each lesson. The audio format was fine for me in this case. Another TTC course, CUSTOMS OF THE WORLD: USING CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE TO ADAPT, WHEREVER YOU ARE, goes extremely well with FOUNDATION if international work is your specialty. Strongly recommended, even if you have no background in economics. March 2, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Wonderfully insigtful must have course This is an absolutely must have course that provides a broad overview of the means by which individuals, nations and the international community can secure prosperity. The key plusses about the course are: 1. Superb presentational style of the Professor who delivers each lecture with excellent clarity and verve. 2. It has really excellent and detailed lecture summaries in the course guidebook; arguably the most comprehensive and helpful ones in any course I have heard to date. 3. It offers a balanced overview of competing theories relevant to each topic/lecture; the final lecture for example looking at the ethics of global prosperity is flawless in this regard. 4. It is very up to date referring to events to the end of 2012 so is particularly pertinent to anyone interested in this area. I have two caveats to add to what nevertheless remains a 5 star course a) it was helpful that I had completed Professor Timothy Taylor's courses on Economics and America and the World Economy. They gave me a grounding to better understand this course. If you have very little or no grounding in economics I would recommend doing this first before undertaking this course. b) It would have been ideal if this course was spread over 36 lectures; this would have allowed slightly more depth to cover for example economic history as well as the competing theories relating to global prosperity for example. Truly excellent course and highly recommended. October 21, 2013
Rated 4 out of 5 by A Prosperous Use of One's Time This truly is an awesome course with lots of data and research studies to support the different "political economy" perspectives presented. If I could, I would have rated this course 4.5 stars overall. While "as is" this is a very good course with a few refinements it could be truly excellent. In the first couple of lectures Dr. Drezner gives definition to prosperity both on a national and individual level and discusses the difference between prosperity and happiness. An interesting tidbit here is how T. Jefferson changed the text in the Declaration of Independence from "inalienable rights to life, liberty and property" (property nearly equated to prosperity in the 18th century) to ", liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Dr. Drezner then goes on to discuss the importance of entrepreneurship in individual prosperity. Quite useful is his demarcation of entrepreneurship into three classes: productive, unproductive, and destructive. Clearly entrepreneurship which results in new goods or services valued by the general population adds to the overall national productivity and is therefore productive. Just as clearly illegal drug dealing and extortion are example of destructive entrepreneurship. Dr. Drezner uses largely historical examples to explain unproductive entrepreneurship where corruption, bureaucracy or political power are used to gain excessive profits or what economists call "rents". A more current example he could have used is Mortgage Backed Securities where risky subprime mortgages were bundled, securitized and sold to investors as having the "implied" (but not real) backing of the US Government through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Clearly these (and other) derivative products are designed to provide their peddlers extra profits in the form of fees while adding no productive incremental value to the economy. Long Remember the Great Recession!! Next Dr. Drezner examines the difference between how individual prosperity is achieved in the developed world vs the developing world. In the former, physical capital in the form of trustworthy credit and human capital (skills and education) are key elements of prosperity. In developing nations individual prosperity is hindered by a lack of the rule of law (ie bad governance, corruption, etc) leading to lack of trust or credit, and lack of information (education) among the populace to make informed decisions even about such things as appropriate health care options. As for National Prosperity, Dr. Drezner does a very good job of explaining the importance of policy for the public good (and well intended policy for good which turns out bad), the need for credit and trust, and the importance (particularly to developed nations) of technological innovation. He covers poverty in some detail in several lectures with various options for solutions with the somewhat obvious conclusion that economic growth is the key to eliminating it. He explores income inequality showing both its issues and merits. Special topic lectures include one on Prosperity and the environment which shows the value of sustainability practices. Throughout the lectures he mentions the theories of many historical economists (Adam Smith, Schumpeter, Keynes, Friedman, Hayek, Marx, etc) and the research of current economists. He does show the failures of philosophy and theory put into practice along ideological lines both on the left: ex: Mao and Stalin and the right:ex: Peron. He gives examples of thriving economies that have failed and developing economies who are moving up, including the one with the highest growth rate among them all (Hint: It's not China but an African country). This is a very balanced course presenting not only various perspectives and national economic histories, but also lots of supporting data. With the review above one might wonder why I didn't give the course 5 stars. Well I thought about it but there were a few things that I feel it could use to improve it to that level. First and foremost, though Dr. Drezner presents lots of great data in the form of charts (line, bar and/or pie) to reinforce his points, these data often do not include the source. While I don't doubt that the data are valid, standard practice for graphical data presentation is to include a mention of the sources. In addition, the course guide does not include any of these charts. These would have been an excellent reference to have available in hard copy. Speaking of the course guide, while the lecture summaries are quite good and the bibliography is detailed, the guide does not include a glossary or biographical sketches of the various personalities mentioned in the course. A timeline of events would also have been a nice to have. Dr. Drezner is obviously using a teleprompter. He does use this relatively effectively and as such is always looking at the viewer. While his facial expression and intonation does provide appropriate emphasis to his points, his hand motions are quite repetitive and somewhat distracting. He keeps his elbows locked to his chest and moved his hands around in repetitive circular motion and/or side to side. I found after a few lectures that I could actually mimic and anticipate his hand motions. This may seem like a nit but it is an area for improvement. All in all, I heartily recommend this course. Dr. Drezner presents valuable information about the complexity of economic prosperity. He correctly demonstrates that there is no simple answer, no singular policy, or economic or political theory that can comprehend this complexity. On the other hand, the unmistakable rise in prosperity since the advent of the industrial (and agricultural) revolution does demonstrate the value in improving prosperity of productive entrepreneur-ism and technological innovation. There is much to learn in this course for beginning students of economics to lifelong learners who have experienced many of the world events highlighted in the course. October 18, 2013
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