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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Judith A Thornton
ECON 495
Seattle Campus

Economies in Transition

Analysis of the interaction between institutional change and economic performance in the transforming socialist economies. Resources allocation in command economies. Market institutions. Primary focus on empirical comparison of growth, productivity, and social institutions in former socialist economies in Asia, Europe, and Central Asia. Prerequisite: minimum grade of 2.0 in ECON 301.

Class description

Introduction What is a transitional economy? We use this term to characterize former socialist economies engaged in the process of establishing market institutions, but it may also distinguish any economy, which attempts to expand the roles of private ownership, investment, and entrepreneurship and to provide market-supporting governmental and legal institutions. Transitional economies are characterized by rapid and significant changes in institutional arrangements. Members of the society face changes in relative prices and in the structure of economic activity combined with high risk and uncertainty. The Twentieth Century was an era in which, briefly, almost half of the world’s population was governed by Marxist states. These states transferred the ownership of land, resources, and physical capital stocks to the government and established centralized administrative mechanisms for managing production. Today, most of these Soviet-style economic systems are gone as major economic reform programs evolve in dozens of formerly command economies to put in place institutions underpinning what their policy-makers define as a “normal economy.” By “normal”, they mean a system in which independent individuals may enjoy private ownership of land, housing, and assets and are free to establish independent enterprises. Individuals may enter into voluntary, mutual exchange in markets at market-determined prices and enjoy the benefits of investing in productive assets and activities. After twenty years of experience, there is great variation in the institutions of public governance in these countries and in their economic performance. What can we learn from this mammoth social experiment? How did some transitional economies embark on a path of rising growth and welfare while others suffer stagnation and poverty? To understand the role of institutions in economic performance, we look at the incentive features of administrative and market institutions and the effects of economic arrangements, focusing on macroeconomic stabilization, market liberalization, property rights, enterprise governance, and the role of the state in providing public infrastructure and rule of law.

Student learning goals

1. Applied Goals The goal of the course is to survey the historical experience of a sample of economies undergoing rapid institutional change. We apply microeconomic principles to an understanding of the choices and constraints policy-makers face and the performance outcomes they experience. Explore how institutional choices of policy-makers impact economic growth, poverty, and welfare and how economic performance influences formation of institutions. Understand how administrative decision-makers collect information and make decisions in non-market environments and how individuals and firms make choices subject to market constraints. Understand how government policies affect the allocation of resources in a command economy and in a market economy. Understand how prices in a market system inform the decisions about what to produce, how to produce it, and who gets it.

2. Problem-Solving Goals Apply microeconomic theory to an understanding of the role of institutions in a variety of administrative and market systems. Understand how economic arrangements influence the behavior of decision-makers, focusing on incentives, constraints, and sources of uncertainty. Understand how institutional constraints and incentives impact the economic environment faced by individuals. Use game theory to explain the strategic choices of individuals when outcomes depend on the strategic actions of more than one player. Use the theory of risk to understand how individuals respond to uncertain economic outcomes. Understand how market structure influences the allocation of resources.

General method of instruction

Lecture, discussion, and problem-solving

Recommended preparation

ECON 300 and ECON 301

Class assignments and grading

Course Requirements Class lectures and discussions follow the syllabus, below. Grades are based on 4 quizzes, some of which include a take-home question, together with a brief final essay. Each quiz counts 20% and the essay counts 20%. The last quiz and essay are cumulative. Students are encouraged to develop expertise on one of the transition economies

If you wish to do so, a limited number of students may arrange to take this course for writing credit, “w”. In this case, a student will meet with the instructor to select a topic and present a writing proposal by Thursday, July 29. The student will submit a preliminary discussion of his or her topic by Thursday, August 14 and a research essay in place of the final essay on Thursday, August 21.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Class Information
Last Update by Judith A Thornton
Date: 07/16/2008