ECON 156: Poverty

The Economics of Poverty was initially written for a one semester University-wide undergraduate course at Georgetown University, ECON 156: PovertyDrafts of EOP were the textbook for that course. The course does not assume that students have done economics before, although most have done a first-year principles course. Nothing more than standard high-school maths is used. (No calculus!) And there is a remedial lecture and class to make sure nobody is left behind.

The course comprises about 35 hours of lectures, 10-12 hours of tutorials (“recitations”) and one-on-one meetings with students (the latter optional but encouraged). Over the three semesters that the course has been offered at Georgetown the average class size per semester was about 100. There is a principle lecturer (Martin Ravallion), a Head Teaching Assistant (Caitlin Brown for the first three semesters of the course), and two junior Teaching Assistants drawn from prior students in the course.

Here is a tabular outline of the course in Fall 2015: ECON 156 Fall 2015.

Adapting the course

Not all of EOP is covered in ECON 156. The course typically does a shorter version of Part 2, skipping Chapters 5 (after Section 5.3) and 6, and ECON 156 does not cover any of the more technical boxes (indicated by a * in EOP).

Another difference is that the course includes a more detailed treatment of one or two case studies on the evaluation of a direct intervention against poverty. In Fall 2015, the case study (in the last few lectures) was India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The case study is used to illustrate points made earlier in the course and treated in EOP in more general terms.

EOP can also be used in more advanced courses. EOP also proved useful as background reading for more advanced courses, including Ravallion’s course on development economics for PhD students at Georgetown (ECON 621), and his annual Masters-level course on evaluating public policies at the Paris School of Economics. The more advanced material in EOP (as indicated by a *) is more suitable for those who have done intermediate economics.

Because ECON 156 is being taught in the U.S., the supplementary topics chosen for class discussions (see the “Media Links” page) were naturally slanted toward poverty and inequality in the U.S. Washington DC often got special mention during the course (noting especially that, by most measures, DC has the highest inequality of any major metropolitan areas in the US, with a Gini index for income inequality of 0.60.)  In adapting the course to other settings a similarly local focus is recommended.



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