SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Politics of the "Miracle" Economies

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1

The purpose of this module is to examine the effects of political factors on economic and social transformation (and vice versa) with reference to some of the most successful developing economies. It focuses on two main issues. First, how did political factors (i.e. types of regime and the conditions of their formation) facilitate the transformation of certain developing economies towards upper middle-income status during the GATT or pre-globalization era (c. 1950-90). This section concentrates the varying results of attempts to foster the “capitalist developmental state” in the pursuit of economic take-off (the inter-relationship between political and economic governance). Second, the module will examine how upper middle income economies are facing up to the challenges of the globalization era, notably mobile capital (financialization and the emergence of global value chains) and the complex of constraints that constitute the “middle income trap”? Given the vastly changed conditions of the contemporary era, can they learn anything relevant lessons of political and economic governance from the experience of those former late-developers that have already made the transition to high income status? The illustrative cases will be drawn primarily from those cases of upper middle economies that experienced long periods of sustained growth (notably South Korea, Brazil, Chile, and China) that led to their characterization as “miracle economies”. The literature will also introduce students to the principal analytical approaches to the study of political economy such as rational choice theory, new institutional economics, historical institutionalism and Marxism.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Students will gain insights into how the differing combinations of political and economic factors produce different "pathways" of development and how those pathways have altered in light of globalization of the past three decades.
  • The knowledge gained from this module will provide students with skills for analyzing the interaction between politics and economics in other country and regional environments.
  • Apart from providing students with a critical introduction to the theories and case studies of political economy, this course will also improve students' general skills of research and presentation of arguments in both verbal and written forms. 


2 hours lecture per week

1 hour tutorial per week

Scope and syllabus

  1. Introduction: concepts, case studies and analytical approaches 
  2. Late-industrialization and the ‘capitalist developmental state’
  3. Case studies of class developmental capitalism: South Korea and Brazil
  4. Development controversies (1): corruption
  5. Development controversies (2): regime type
  6. Opportunities and constraints under globalization (1): mobile capital and global value chains
  7. Opportunities and constraints under globalization (2): “middle income trap”
  8. Case study of contemporary rising economies (1): China’s investment-driven path
  9. Case study of contemporary rising economies (2): Chile’s “developmental network state”
  10. Conclusion: prospects for convergence with advanced capitalism?

Method of assessment

Assessment is 40% coursework (one 1500 word essay) and 60% unseen examination (2 hours).


Suggested reading

  • Meredith Woo-Cumings (ed.), The Developmental State (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999).
  • Richard F. Doner et al. ‘Systemic Vulnerability and the Origins of Developmental States: Northeast and Southeast Asia in Comparative Perspective’ in International Organization 59 (Spring 2005): 327-61.
  • Fred Block, ‘Swimming Against the Current: The Rise of a Hidden Developmental State in the US’ in Politics & Society 36(2) (2008): 169-206.
  • Peter Kingstone, The Political Economy of Latin America: Reflections of Neoliberalism and Development (London: Routledge, 2010).
  • Kyung-Sup Chang et al. (eds), Development Politics in Transition: The Neoliberal Period and Beyond (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2012).
  • Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Originsof Power, Prosperity and Poverty (London: Profile Book 2013).
  • Richard F. Doner and Ben Ross Schneider, "The middle income trap: more politics than economics:, World Politics 68(4) (2016): 608-44.
  • Alvin Y. So and Yin-Wah Chu, The Global Rise of China (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016).
  • Jonathan D. Ostry, Prakash Lougani and Andrew Berg, Confronting Inequality: How Societies Can Choose Inclusive Growth (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018).
  • Robert Wade, Escaping the Periphery: the East Asian "Mystery" Solved. WIDER Working Paper 2018/101 (2018). 


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules