Economics 230

ECON 230: History of Innovation and Economic Growth

Prerequisites: None

Credit hours (3)

This course reviews the historical impact of inventions and innovation on economic activity, from pre-historic times to the modern age. We tell the story of economic evolution/revolution as it has occurred. The source of key transitions in our economy's history has always been based on innovation - the development of new technologies and strategies which increase how efficiently we use our scarce resources to produce goods and services. These innovations have changed the core productive activities in the economy. As the economic base of society changes, the institutions which serve the economy also change. We will discuss these changes and their implications for humanity in the past, present, and future.

Detailed Description of Course

Karl Marx's idea of "historical materialism" focuses on the notion that the key to understanding society is to look at the "economic base" - the way we use scarce resources to produce good/services. Upon this base is a "superstructure" - the institutions, customs and ideals that make up society (our laws, our government, our ethics, our culture, our art, etc.). Big shifts in the economic base cause revolutions in the superstructure. Historically, these dramatic shifts have been associated with innovation - new technology/techniques that change the way we produce. We can then trace-out the evolution (and revolution) of the modern economy and its companion society by looking at these moments of innovation. In this course, students will encounter, discuss and explore the historical development of the modern economy via moments of innovation. Topics covered will include:

1) History of economic growth and what it means for the common person and modern businesses:
    a. Pre-civilization - the Economics of Hunter-gatherers;
    b. Agriculture - Horticulture, Pastoralism and Agriculture;
    c. Industry - The Industrial Revolution
    d. Information - The Digital Age

2) Central role that innovations played in the process:
    a. Innovation milestones and how they impacted the life of the common man;
    b. Comparing the quality of life across time and how the gap was closed;
    c. Understanding the difference between inventions and innovations;
    d. The entrepreneurship and the innovation process in modern business;

3) Understanding and evaluating growth and productivity:
    a. Trends in employment and income
    b. Trends in welfare, justice and equality
    c. Shifts in market activity (the rise and fall of industries)

4) The role played by factors such as institutions, the rule of law (establishment of property rights and IPRs), savings and investment, financial markets, education and health, among others.

5) The meaning of prosperity, looking at the past to understand the opportunities for the future.

Detailed Description of Conduct of Course

The following teaching strategies may be employed: lectures, video and/or audio presentations, weekly probelm sets and/or written assignments, and in-class engagement activities. The students are expected to participate in classroom discussions, create a final presentation, project, or paper (at the instructor's discretion) and will visit local businesses to see innovation in action.

Goals and Objectives of the Course

Students who complete the course will be able to:

1) Identify key historical events (turning points, revolutuions, etc.) in economic history.
2) Describe the general impact of innovation on markets and on the economy.
3) Describe the innovation process in modern business.
4) Evaluate how changes in technology have produced changes in standards of living over time (by exploring economic data).
5) Connect important institutions (legal systems, financial systems, etc.) to economic growth and prosperity.

Assessment Measures

 May include: Tests, quizzes, problem sets, written assignments, presentations (oral and AV), class participation. Grade assignments and percentages will depend upon individual professors.

Other Course Information



Review and Approval

April 21, 2017