Example Course 4: A Historical Perspective on Economic Success

Examining how thinking about the objectives of the economy has evolved in different societies across time and place

Example Courses

In this chapter, we demonstrate how to create actual courses using the Economy Studies design toolkit, showing various example courses. Each of these courses flows from our central philosophy: teach students how to study the economy, rather than teaching them one form of economic thinking in the abstract. In terms of our principles, they vary: some of these example courses focus more on pluralism, others on real-world economics, others yet on thinking about values. As for the building blocks, each of the example courses uses at least one of the ten building blocks, while most use more than one.

These courses are described rather briefly in this chapter, as full syllabi, slides or exam questions would take up too much space in a physical book. More extensive course descriptions, syllabi and teaching material can be found in the online database of our partner organisation Exploring Economics.

The courses shown here are highly diverse, and mainly intended to inspire and to show the range of possibilities. Depending on the knowledge available within a department, the courses designed there could be vastly different from the examples shown here.

Example Courses:

  1. The Challenges of Our Time (Main BB1, Additional BB2, BB3, BB8, BB9, BB10)
  2. Argentina and the IMF (Main BB9, Additional BB2, BB3, BB6, BB8, BB10)
  3. The Economics of Oil (Main BB8, Additional BB3, BB6)
  4. A Historical Perspective on Economic Success (Main BB4, Additional BB1, BB6)
  5. The Digital Economy of South Korea (Main BB2, Additional BB3, BB5, BB6)
  6. Agent-Based Modelling (Main BB7, Additional BB4, BB9)
  7. The World of Production (Main BB8, Additional BB2, BB3, BB4, BB5)
  8. The Political-Economic System of India (Main BB6, Additional BB2, BB3, BB10)
  9. Economics for a Better World (Main BB10, Additional BB1, BB2)
  10. Coordination and Allocation Mechanisms in Norwegian Agriculture (Main BB5, Additional BB2, BB3)
  11. The Economics of Financial Crises (Main BB8, Additional BB3, BB4, BB6)

Example Course 4: A Historical Perspective on Economic Success

By Jamie Barker, Rita Guimarães, Ben Pringle and Cecilie Christensen (Rethinking Economics UK, Portugal, and Denmark)

Course outline:

Week 1: Clarifying what we mean by the ‘aims’ or ‘objectives’ of an economy. Covering the main actors within the economy, looking at who does the ‘aiming’ when we ask what our economy is aiming for. For example, what objectives do governments, businesses, trade unions and civil society groups have in their economic activity?

Week 2: Discussion between students about what ‘economic success’ means to them, and what it could potentially mean for others. Review of the different goals that different societies have around the world now (Gross National Happiness, Gross Domestic Product, full employment, sustainability, etc.).

The rest: Progressing chronologically through different historical societies around the world, probably starting with the Ancient Greeks. For each society we investigate the historical context it was situated in, what they considered to be economic success, the power dynamics and values which influenced this view, and the policies and institutional structures that were created as a result. Students would also discuss their own views on the objective(s) of that economy and consider what people from that society would think of our economy now.

The final week: Proposals for objectives that have not yet been widely adopted such as the Genuine Progress Indicator, or Kate Raworth’s Doughnut.

Assessment: Group presentations on each society to start each week, as well as a take-home exam at the end of term.

Required background knowledge:

None, this is an introductory course.

Nominal workload:

7,5 ECTS (225 hrs)

This course uses the following building blocks:


  • History of Economic Thought (BB4)


  • Introducing the Economy (BB1)
  • Political-Economic Systems (BB6)