PP448      Half Unit
International Political Economy and Development

This information is for the 2024/25 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Lloyd Gruber


This course is available on the Double Master of Public Administration (LSE-Columbia), Double Master of Public Administration (LSE-Sciences Po), Double Master of Public Administration (LSE-University of Toronto), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Hertie), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and NUS), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Tokyo), MPA in Data Science for Public Policy, Master of Public Administration and Master of Public Policy. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course has a limited number of places (it is controlled access) and demand is typically very high. Priority is given to students from the School of Public Policy, students from other programmes will be considered if places remain.

Course content

Whenever experts get together to debate development policy, the questions that get them most excited‍ – the questions we are used to hearing them argue about – are ‘should’ questions.  What policies should a country’s government be adopting (or discarding) to stimulate growth and reduce poverty?  Which new trading arrangements or foreign aid strategies should policymakers in the industrialised world be pursuing to help poorer countries succeed?  What new policy measures should world leaders be implementing today to address climate change in the future?  Yet even when the answers offered by the experts align and it’s clear to everyone, not just the experts, what new policies are urgently required, the relevant political players – the people who hold positions of power – just keep doing what they have always done, which is the very thing the experts tell them they should not be doing.  The problems get worse.  The crises deepen.  And still, year after year, election cycle after election cycle, the ‘necessary’ evidence-based reforms being urged on politicians get nowhere.

All these experts may be well intentioned.  The experts may also be right.  The policy proposals they’re advocating may be every bit as urgent and necessary as the experts say they are.  If implemented effectively, these measures really would improve the living standards of poor families.  Or they would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Or they would incentivise underperforming schools and universities to lift their games.  Or they would spare civilians caught up in a bloody war of attrition.  All of this may be true, but that doesn’t mean any of these proposals will get adopted in time to make a difference.  Most will never make it onto the political agenda, let alone into legislation that endures for long enough to improve people’s lives.

Rather than let this reality be a source of frustration, students who take this course will come away with a deeper understanding of the political incentives that drive the process of development forward, or sometimes backwards, in the real world.  Although evidence-based policy reforms may not get adopted as often as we might like, positive changes do happen occasionally.  We need to understand the political roadblocks and minefields that keep those reforms from getting through the system most of the time, but also why, every now and then, good development policies do burst through – and we are all the better for it.

PP448 students will be exposed to a wide variety of political economy concepts along the way, a theoretical toolkit we’ll use to understand several concrete cases of development management and mis-management.  If you are ever in a position to improve the way developing countries deliver public services, these theories can tell you how to go about it, or (to back up a step) they can tell you what you’d need to do to put yourself in that position, to make yourself an important development policymaker.  Do good development outcomes require democratic institutions, or can autocratic regimes deliver similar results?  And what about international regimes?  Do supranational entities like the World Bank, the United Nations and the World Trade Organization really benefit all nations, or just rich ones?  Some would argue that geopolitics is the real driver of development.  If so, what does that mean the world’s poor?  Are they trapped in a global balance of power that favours wealthier nations, or is China’s rise a global game-changer?


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures and seminars totalling a minimum of 30 hours across Autumn Term.

Formative coursework

Every student will deliver one practice presentation during the first several weeks of the course.  Students will receive feedback on the substance of these presentations as well as their delivery (presentations will be videoed where possible).  Each student will also be invited to submit an individually-authored ‘practice’ policy memo.

Indicative reading

1. Martha Finnemore and Judith Goldstein, eds., Back to Basics: State Power in a Contemporary World (Oxford, 2013)

2. Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (Crown, 2012)

3. Lloyd Gruber, Ruling the World: Power Politics and the Rise of Supranational Institutions (Princeton, 2000)

4. Anne Applebaum, Autocracy, Inc.: The Dictators Who Want to Run the World (Random House, 2024)

5. Robert Wade, Governing the Market: Economic Theory and the Role of Government in East Asian Industrialization (Princeton, 2003)

6. Barbara F. Walter, How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them (Crown, 2022)

7. Elize Massard da Fonseca, Kenneth C. Shadlen, and Helena de Moraes Achcar, ‘Vaccine Technology Transfer in a Global Health Crisis: Actors, Capabilities, and Institutions’, Research Policy, vol. 52, no. 4 (2023).


Presentation (20%) and policy memo (20%) in the AT.
Take-home assessment (60%) in the WT.

Student performance results

(2020/21 - 2022/23 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 22.9
Merit 71.4
Pass 5.7
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: School of Public Policy

Total students 2023/24: 40

Average class size 2023/24: 14

Controlled access 2023/24: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills