01 October, 2006

What I learned this week in Spy School, 29/9/2006

Spy School is back! Oh the excitement, the fun of trekking out to DCU to learn things about stuff.

This week I had two classes. One was notionally on the theory and practice of Development, though it was actually an overview of how the social science produces knowledge. The lecturer talked about the academic community, the importance of academia's independence from vested interests, and the role of theory in shaping understanding of the world. Deadly stuff, though over pints afterwards some felt that maybe he could have cut most of this out and got us straight into a discussion of where Development is at these days; it was even argued that academic theorising is responsible for all the ills of the world.

The second class was on International Political Economy - the study of how the world economy works and stuff, though more from a world politics point of view than a rigourously economic one. This class was introductory, outlining some of the general theories in the area (basically, Realism/Nationalism/Mercantilism, Liberalism, and Marxism (with its friends Critical Theory, Dependency Theory, Structuralism, et al.); attentive readers will already have some understanding of this) before going on to say that no one pays any of them that much attention any more. He then bombed through some theoretical discussions of why countries trade, beginning with Adam Smith's theory of absolute advantage and David Ricardo's comparative advantage. The more sophisticated Hecksher-Ohlin theory was then outlined, with this adding in factors of production costs, a massive leap from Smith-Ricardo models; unfortunately, empirical evidence has not been favourable to its predictions that countries like the USA with lots of capital and not so much labour would exclusively export industrial manufactures and exclusively import commodity goods. There was then some theory about intra-industry trade in advanced markets with monopolistic competition between companies manufacturing differentiated products, but this seemed a bit too woolly to count as a full on theory.

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