Spring, 1 Credit, 5-week Session 2

Instructor: Gunars Platais

Course Information

Successful economic development has been an elusive target in many countries of the Global South. Considerable intellectual effort has been spent on this issue over many decades with mixed results. A recent and alarming trend shows that inequality has deteriorated across all countries, rich and poor alike. For example, the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Human Development Report 2014 states that “although poverty is declining overall, almost 800 million people are at risk of falling back into poverty if setbacks occur.” Fittingly, the UNDP’s 2019 Human Development Report will focus precisely on this topic: inequality. According to the UNDP, almost 1.5 billion people are living in poverty in 91 developing countries with poor to almost non-existent health and education systems resulting in unacceptable living standards.

We know that countries can improve the standard of living and the quality of people’s lives even under adverse circumstances, and that countries have made great gains to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) despite only modest growth in income. At the same time, some countries with strong economic performance over the decades have failed to make similarly impressive progress in life expectancy, poverty alleviation, schooling, and overall living standards.

Course Description  

The course will address main development topics based on a theoretical framework applied to practical real-life examples with a focus on the contribution of engineering to these solutions. The format of the class will be guided by analysis and in class discussions in order to provide a multi-sectoral approach. Students will be introduced to basic economic theory and how it applies to economic development in order to better understand the conditions of poverty. Furthermore, students will also examine how the role of engineering intersects the solutions space. Some of the questions to be addressed include: Why do developing countries have poor health, high child mortality, face extreme poverty, low levels of education, and high levels of child labor?  Which, if any, policies are effective in alleviating these problems? Emphasis will be placed on analyzing current economic issues and policies in their historical context. The course is organized around a series of key themes, which will be explored with reference to particular societies and their histories. The process of economic reform, agricultural and industrial development, income distribution, health and education and international economic relations will all be scrutinized on a macro level in order to identify the negative and positive advances that have been accomplished internationally thus far.

The key cross-cutting themes are:

  • Theories of economic development: What are the causes of economic growth as well as the barriers to development? How do we best explain sustained economic development, and what are the limitations of these theories? How does engineering intersect in this space?
  • International development assistance (aid): Its critical role and how this has contributed (or not) to assisting countries improve their circumstances and of their people. The differences between different donor government agencies will be explored.
  • Modalities of development assistance: Supporting economic development through programs, budget assistance and projects. Logical Framework Approach and capacity building tools.

Summary Content

In the spirit of an integrated analysis the course covers, amongst other things, and in varying degrees of depth, the following topics: an understanding of the difference between growth and economic development; the meaning and measurement of economic development; major growth theories; sustainability; poverty and income distribution; inequality; significance of agriculture in developing countries; poverty and population issues; international trade; and the importance of foreign aid; the role of geography and institutions; fertility and population growth; social and environmental impacts; the role of credit markets and microfinance; health and nutrition; education; female empowerment.

Learning Goals

  • Students will have a broad understanding of the central themes and issues of economic development and growth.
  • Students will recognize poverty, its underlying causes and formulate solutions.
  • Students will be able to extend this knowledge into their fields of expertise in engineering and demonstrate how engineering can contribute to finding solutions.

Textbooks and Materials

All required readings will be provided through Canvass.


Critical Responses

(Graded as pass / fail / partial credit, each are 6% of final grade, 30% total)

The weekly critical responses are one-page essays related to the reading for that week. These pieces are not meant as a summary of the readings, but rather as an opportunity to engage with and explore key questions or concepts in the readings. Students are expected to read the response pieces sent in by other class members, and the responses will serve as a starting point for class discussions. All acceptable critical responses (i.e., responses that are approximately 500 words in length and that engage substantively with the readings) will receive full credit. Critical responses should be posted to the appropriate thread in Canvas and are due Monday at 11:59:59pm of the week the readings are due. Responses that are very short, that merely summarize the readings without engaging with them substantively, or that are delivered after the deadline will not receive more than half-credit. Students do not have to submit a critical response the week that they are facilitating the class discussion.

Discussion Facilitation

Each student will be responsible for facilitating a discussion of the week’s readings and lectures. Plan on facilitating discussion for approximately 30-45 minutes. You are encouraged to be creative in your facilitation (i.e., you are welcome to incorporate additional materials, case studies, or formats to facilitate conversation), but at a bare minimum plan on having five to ten substantive questions. The instructors are happy to talk with you beforehand if you would like to discuss ideas for facilitating the conversation.

Facilitation Review Sheet

(20% of final grade)

As part of facilitating discussion, you will need to provide your classmates with a one-page synthesis of the key ideas, concepts, and issues raised by the week’s readings and lecture. Please email your synthesis and questions for discussion to the instructor by Monday at 11:59:59pm.

Detailed Paper Outline

(10% of final grade)

Final Paper with presentation

(40% of final grade)

Group Work

Some of the assignments will be completed on an individual basis, but some will involve group work. For group efforts, all group members will receive the same grade. Each student will also receive a participation grade for the course that will be based in part on that student’s contributions to the group efforts. Peer evaluations, instructor observations, and other related methods may be used when determining the participation grade.

Late Policy

The grade for late assignments will be reduced by 10 percentage points (on a 100 point scale) per day that the assignment is late. We may agree to make exceptions to this policy on a very limited basis, provided that the reason is very compelling and provided that you ask us in advance.

Extra Credit  

(TBD points)

Extra credit assignments are not anticipated but may arise as the course progresses.


There will be no exams in this course.

Course Calendar




27 Aug

Introduction and Overview

Introductions, course outline, expectations, grading

Engineering and economic growth: a global view. A report by Cebr for the Royal Academy of Engineering. 2016. https://tinyurl.com/y49pdvvo

29 Aug

Growth, Development and Wealth

What does “development” mean? How does it differ from “growth”?  Where have growth and development occurred around the world, and where has development progress been more limited? What is wealth? How does it relate to growth and development? Discussion of key development theories.

Dwight Perkins, Steven Radelet, David Lindauer, and Steven Block, Economics of Development, 7th edition, 2012 (W.W. Norton and Co.), Chapters 1, and 2.

Where is the Wealth of Nations? Measuring Capital for the 21st Century. http://hdl.handle.net/10986/7505

The Changing Wealth of Nations 2018 : Building a Sustainable Future

03 Sept

Patterns of Economic Growth

Why do some countries grow fast, while income remains stagnant in others? We will briefly review the basic concepts underlying standard models of economic growth and examine empirical patterns of growth. We will also examine other measures of development, including the human development index.

Commission on Growth and Development. The Growth Report: Strategies for Sustained Growth and Inclusive Development (2008). Overview and Part I (pp 1 – 31).

Transcending capitalism: Policies for a post-growth economy. Samuel Alexander. AQ: Australian Quarterly. Vol. 89, No. 2, 2018  https://www.jstor.org/stable/26450118

05 Sept

Growth, poverty, and income distribution (Human Capital)

Does economic growth lead to poverty reduction? What does it usually imply for equity and the distribution of income? And what’s the difference between poverty and income distribution? We will explore the relationships between growth, poverty, and equity, and explore recent changes in the global distribution of income.

Poor economics: A radical rethinking of the way to fight global poverty. A Banerjee, E Duflo. 2011

Fighting Poverty One Experiment at a Time: A Review of Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo's Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty. Martin Ravaillon.  https://www.jstor.org/stable/23269972

The Divide. Jason Hickle. 2018

A (critical but friendly) review of Jason Hickle’s book, Divide. 

Piecing together the Poverty Puzzle. Poverty and Shared Prosperity. World Bank. 2018.

10 Sept

Man-made capital

We will examine the importance of Infrastructure Investments on growth and development and its social and environmental impacts.

Engineering and economic growth: a global view. A report by Cebr for the Royal Academy of Engineering. 2016. 

World Development Report 2004: making services work for poor people. World Bank Group.

12 Sept

Structural Transformation: Rural – Urban Transformation

We will examine the typical pattern of structural transformation during the growth process, and the rural – urban transformation dynamics including the social and environmental impacts.

Dwight Perkins, Steven Radelet, David Lindauer, and Steven Block, Economics of Development, 7th edition, 2012 (W.W. Norton and Co.), Chapters 16 – 18.

World Development Report 2009: Reshaping Economic Geography. World Bank.

17 Sept

Trade, Development and Foreign Aid

What is aid? Does it work? What is it trying to achieve? Does it do more harm than good? We will look at current controversies and debates about foreign assistance and development.

Dwight Perkins, Steven Radelet, David Lindauer, and Steven Block, Economics of Development, 7th edition, 2012 (W.W. Norton and Co.), Chapter 19 (Trade and Development). Chapter 14 (Foreign Aid).

19 Sept

Sustainable Development

What is SD? What is SD in the face of ever-expanding consumption? Does the economy need to continuously expand? Are there alternatives? Steady State Economy?

Systems integration for global sustainability. Jianguo Liu, Harold Mooney, Vanessa Hull, et al. Science 27 Feb 2015: Vol. 347, Issue 6225.

Criteria for Assessing Sustainable Development: Theoretical Issues and Empirical Evidence for the Case of Greece. Dimitra Vouvaki and Anastasios Xepapadeas. NOTA DI LAVORO 59.2005.


24 Sept

Presentation of papers


26 Sept

Presentation of papers






Grades will be recorded in Canvas throughout the semester. At the end of the term, the scores on all assignments are weighted by the percentages given above to determine a semester score. Student grades will be determined as follows based on their semester score rounded to the nearest single decimal place:

A+: 100 to 97.0 percent

A: 96.9 to 93.0 percent

A-: 92.9 to 90.0 percent

B+: 89.9 to 87.0 percent

B: 86.9 to 83.0 percent

B-: 82.9 to 80.0 percent

C+: 79.9 to 77.0 percent

B: 76.9 to 73.0 percent

C-: 72.9 to 70.0 percent

D+: 69.9 to 67.0 percent

B: 66.9 to 63.0 percent

D-: 62.9 to 60.0 percent

F: 60.0 to 0 percent




The most up to date course calendar, readings and assignments will be posted in Canvas. Critical responses and assignment submissions will be through Canvas.

Accommodation Statement

If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please submit your accommodation letter from Disability Services to your faculty member in a timely manner so that your needs can be addressed.  Disability Services determines accommodations based on documented disabilities in the academic environment.  Information on requesting accommodations is located on the Disability Services website. Contact Disability Services at 303-492-8671 or dsinfo@colorado.edu for further assistance.  If you have a temporary medical condition or injury, see Temporary Medical Conditions under the Students tab on the Disability Services website.

Religious Observances

Campus policy regarding religious observances requires that faculty make every effort to deal reasonably and fairly with all students who, because of religious obligations, have conflicts with scheduled exams, assignments or required attendance.

Classroom Behavior

Students and faculty each have responsibility for maintaining an appropriate learning environment. Those who fail to adhere to such behavioral standards may be subject to discipline. Professional courtesy and sensitivity are especially important with respect to individuals and topics dealing with race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation or political philosophy.  Class rosters are provided to the instructor with the student's legal name. I will gladly honor your request to address you by an alternate name or gender pronoun. Please advise me of this preference early in the semester so that I may make appropriate changes to my records.  For more information, see the policies on classroom behavior and the Student Code of Conduct.

Discrimination and Harassment

The University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) is committed to fostering a positive and welcoming learning, working, and living environment. CU Boulder will not tolerate acts of sexual misconduct (including sexual assault, exploitation, harassment, dating or domestic violence, and stalking), discrimination, and harassment by members of our community. Individuals who believe they have been subject to misconduct or retaliatory actions for reporting a concern should contact the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC) at 303-492-2127 or cureport@colorado.edu. Information about the OIEC, university policies, anonymous reporting, and the campus resources can be found on the OIEC website.

Please know that faculty and instructors have a responsibility to inform OIEC when made aware of incidents of sexual misconduct, discrimination, harassment and/or related retaliation, to ensure that individuals impacted receive information about options for reporting and support resources.

Honor Code

All students enrolled in a University of Colorado Boulder course are responsible for knowing and adhering to the Honor Code. Violations of the policy may include: plagiarism, cheating, fabrication, lying, bribery, threat, unauthorized access to academic materials, clicker fraud, submitting the same or similar work in more than one course without permission from all course instructors involved, and aiding academic dishonesty. All incidents of academic misconduct will be reported to the Honor Code (honor@colorado.edu); 303-492-5550). Students who are found responsible for violating the academic integrity policy will be subject to nonacademic sanctions from the Honor Code as well as academic sanctions from the faculty member. Additional information regarding the Honor Code academic integrity policy can be found at the Honor Code Office website.