Seminar: Economic and Political Development in Latin America

Course content

Latin America has left behind a long era of structural political instability and disappointing results in terms of economic development. Poverty has declined, and income distribution has gotten less unequal in almost every country during the last decades, essentially due to a combination of better macro performance and successful social policies for redistribution. Most of Latin American countries, though, still face important obstacles to consolidating this trend of progress, especially in terms of implementing necessary reforms in key areas like education, democracy and governance; and in closing still large inequality gaps in several areas. The purpose of the seminar is getting a deeper understanding of specific economic and political aspects of development in Latin America, based on short empirical studies that look at different angles of development and mechanisms at work, in a comparative perspective.


MSc programme of Economics
The seminar is primary for students at the MSc of Economics

Learning outcome

Each participant will write a short empirical paper. Everyone in class will read each other’s paper, and everyone will present her or his work in a meeting that resembles an academic seminar. The class will discuss each paper in detail, and an opponent will provide written feedback in the form of a referee report. After the presentations, each participant will have the chance to incorporate the feedback she or he received during the seminar, and will have the option to resubmit the final version of the paper.

Throughout the seminar, each participant and the whole class will learn:

  • about research design (data collection) and causal inference,
  • how to present empirical research results, and discuss others’ work, and
  • to benefit from critical reviews on one’s work.


Participants can choose any topic as a frame for her or his individual paper. Examples of these topics are:

  • Government and democracy
  • History and institutions
  • Civil conflict and the state
  • Education
  • Health
  • Economic growth and inequality
  • Conditional cash-transfers and microfinance
  • Impact evaluation and field experiments
  • Growth diagnostics


The seminar aims at taking an empirical look to different aspects of economic and political development, in a comparative perspective. Participants are welcome to write about any topic in economic and political development in Latin America, and expected to make a country, cross-country, or cross-regional empirical analysis of it, taking advantage of the increased data availability and the focus of several recent studies on all these topics.

The seminar will consist of a coordination meeting, lectures at the beginning of the semester, and a group meeting for all presentations and discussions.

First meeting: Monday September 5, 2016 from 13-14. Room: CSS 35-2-01
Lectures: Monday September 12 and 19, from 13-15, Room CSS 35-2-01
Upload of the paper, draft version: Monday October 31, 2016

Government and democracy

  • Chang, Roberto, Constantino Hevia and Norman Loayza (2010), “Privatization and Nationalization Cycles”, NBER Working Paper No. 16126.
  • Scartascini, Carlos, Ernesto Stein and Mariano Tommasi (eds., 2010), “How Democracy Works: Political Institutions, Actors, and Arenas in Latin American Policymaking”. IADB and David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard University.
  • Baland, Jean-Marie, and James A. Robinson (2008), “Land and Power: Theory and Evidence from Chile”. American Economic Review 98(5), 1737-1765.


History and institutions

  • Dell, Melissa (2010), “The Persistent Effects of Peru's Mining Mita”. Econometrica 78(6): 1863-1903.
  • Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson (2008), “The Persistence and Change of Institutions in the Americas”. Southern Economic Journal 75(2), 282–299.


Civil conflict and the state

  • Dube, Oeindrila, and Juan Vargas (2013), “Commodity Price Shocks and Civil Conflict: Evidence from Colombia”. Review of Economic Studies, Feb 2013.
  • Acemoglu, Daron, James A. Robinson and Rafael J. Santos (2009), “The Monopoly of Violence: Evidence from Colombia”. Mimeo, Harvard University.
  • United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2010), “The destabilizing influence of drug trafficking on transit countries: The case of cocaine”. Ch. 3 in World Drug Report 2010. UN Publications, New York.



  • Urquiola, Miguel, and Eric Verhoogen (2009), “Class size caps, sorting, and the regression- discontinuity design”.  American Economic Review 99(1), 179-215.
  • Calderón, Valentina, and Miguel Urquiola (2006), “Apples and oranges: Educational enrollment and attainment across countries in Latin America and the Caribbean”. International Journal of Educational Development 26: 572-590.
  • Urquiola, Miguel (2006), “Identifying class size effects in developing countries:  Evidence from rural Bolivia.” Review of Economics and Statistics 88(1), 171-177.
  • Hsieh, Chang-Taim, and Miguel Urquiola (2006), “The effects of generalized school choice on achievement and stratification: Evidence from Chile's school voucher program.”  Journal of Public Economics 90, 1477-1503.


Conditional cash-transfers and microfinance: impact evaluation and field experiments

  • Calderón, Maria Cecilia, and Jere Behrman (2009), “Case Study on IFPRI and Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) and Non-Conditional Cash Transfer (NCCT) Programs”. Impact Assessment Discussion Paper no. 30, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
  • Karlan, Dean, Margaret McConnelly, Sendhil Mullainathanz and Jonathan Zinmanx (2010), “Getting to the Top of Mind: How Reminders Increase Saving”. Mimeo, Yale University.
  • Karlan, Dean, and Jonathan Morduch (2009), “Access to Finance”. Ch. 2 in Handbook of Development Economics, vol. 5, Dani Rodrik and Mark Rosenzweig, eds.
  • Conger, Lucy, Patricia Inga and Richard Webb (2009), “The Mustard Tree: A History of Microfinance in Peru”, Editorial Universidad de San Martín de Porres, Lima.


Growth diagnostics

  • Rodrik, Dani (2010), “Diagnostics before Prescription.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 24(3): 33-44.
  • Velasco, Andrés (2008), “Why Doesn’t Latin America Grow More, and What Can We Do About It?” Working Paper 2008-0115, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University.
  • Hausmann, Ricardo, Dani Rodrik and Andrés Velasco (2008), “Growth Diagnostics”, in J. Stiglitz and N. Serra, eds., The Washington Consensus Reconsidered: Towards a New Global Governance, Oxford University Press, New York.

There are no formal requirements, but courses on quantitative methods (2nd year level), development economics, comparative development, political economy, and economic growth, are clearly an advantage.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
A written seminar paper in English.
All aids allowed

All aids are allowed for writing the final seminar paper.

Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
up to 20 % censorship at the seminarpaper
Criteria for exam assessment

The student must in a satisfactory way demonstrate that he/she has mastered the learning outcome of the course.

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Seminar
  • 22
  • Exam
  • 1
  • Project work
  • 183
  • English
  • 206