Review of PS3238 – International Political Economy

For other reviewed modules, check here.

(Alternate title: PS3238 – I never knew economics could be this interesting)


I had been somewhat wary of taking another economics module after the disaster of EC1101E, but this module intrigued me. There were other modules that I had hoped were offered this semester – unfortunately they weren’t. So I figured a PS student should at least have some basic knowledge in whatever this field of political economy was, and decided to take it in combination with GL2102 for module synergy (hoping that most of the course content would be the same so I could study for one module and go for two exams).

What I expected

I’ve never really heard of political economy before…perhaps it was discussed briefly in PS2237, but that was so long ago and political economy wasn’t the focus of that module anyway. I’ve certainly heard of moral economy but political economy…nope.

Anyway, I guessed it would be something about politics and economics and…went in determined to do my best. Because if I failed to learn the content I’d probably screw up two PE (political economy) mods, but if I did well I’d have one less module to study for.

What I got

A very in-depth crash course into the basics of how the international trade and monetary systems work, as well as the political battles behind economic decisions and problems. There is surprisingly NO math in this module, which is what JC students that have done economics will absolutely love – it’s a lot of talk about theories and learning their applications + implications, but no number crunching or math equations to be used. One learns about the impact of economics on politics and vice-versa: It’s like a virtuous cycle of money affecting political decisions and political decisions creating new economic winners and losers.

The first third of the course looks at the international trade system before moving into multinational companies and their politics. The second third focuses on the international monetary system (there’s a difference!) and the politics of their functioning before the last half considers development, international financial systems and the impacts of globalization. In short, a good foundational module for those unaware of what this field is, for it has no specific module prerequisites.

I took this module under Prof Kim, who is of the same nationality as Prof Han (of PS2238 and PS3271) but vastly different. While Prof Han is extremely calming (one might even say serene) in her manner of speaking, Prof Kim’s energy and passion really comes out in the way she teaches. In a sense, Prof Kim strikes me as a sort of ‘female Yoda’ because of her knowledge and slight accent (which poses absolutely no problems in comprehension), but in her teaching she is clearly the opposite of Yoda – she speaks very fast and is very sharp (not curt, but analytically precise). At least, that ‘paradoxical kinda -like but not completely female Yoda’ description was what I wrote down in my notes due to the strong impression she left on me after the first lecture had begun. I quite enjoy her style as well – it certainly keeps the class going through awkward silences and there’s always something new being taught (even if some had trouble keeping up with her pace of speaking).

It should be noted that Prof Kim has suggested speaking with her colleague Prof Park to set PS2237 (which he teaches) as a prerequisite in the future for this module, so future juniors should check whether this will be implemented for their batch.

[Webcasted?] Nope.

[Course Materials?] An (fre)e-Textbook (International Political Economy – 5th Edition by Thomas Oatley) was used, along with PDF readings.

Assessment & Workload

One is assessed as follows:

  1. Class participation (25%), based on attendance and meaningful participation in discussions. There is an extra credit option for those who choose to do a single presentation on a country of their choice later during the semester.
  2. Policy Position Papers (45%), three in the whole semester. She offered students a choice of differing paper weights (5%, 15%, 20% or 15% for all three) and the option with the most votes won, which was 15% for all three papers. They were due in Week 4, 8 and 12, with questions being taken from the textbook. Generally one has about two weeks to complete a 1000 word policy position paper based on a country one picked in Week 2 (and has to stick to for the rest of the papers), and argues for different policy options based on their country’s economic and political situation.
  3. Semester Finals (30%), a closed book paper of 120 MCQs in 120 minutes (for an average time of 1 minute per question although most finish much faster). One of the very few PS modules to offer MCQs (and a full MCQ finals at that) as a form of examination, which is wildly attractive (at least to me, since so many other PS modules I’ve done require essay writing for finals).
    1. There are occasional ungraded MCQ quizzes for one to test their knowledge of the course material, but these questions generally don’t appear in the finals. For the finals, the MCQs are naturally of varying difficulty, but one should generally have enough time to finish early if they are familiar with application of the course’s concepts.

The workload for the module consists of regular weekly readings from the IPE textbook and the occasional PDF reading that aren’t too heavy – one could clear them in an hour and a half, perhaps two hours for those that read slower. There are about two to three readings per week and because they’re mostly in the form of a textbook format, they can be somewhat deep but are very easy to understand, cutting down the time needed to learn new concepts. Planning for the regular Policy Position Papers would take some time, but after the first is done the latter two require less time to plan and write because one is more familiar with the structure and purpose of such a paper. Finally, preparation for tutorials can be cleared in about 15 to 30 minutes because they are discussions of lecture materials and concepts – if one already knows what they are (from having done their readings) they don’t have to learn on the spot and would be better prepared to take discussions to a greater depth.

Overall, I would say the module has a light to moderately light workload – approximately two and a half hours every week would suffice for a decent (B+) grade. Beyond that one needs to see how stiff competition is, but overall this is clearly one of the lighter PS modules I’ve taken workload-wise.

Expected Grade

I wasn’t sure how much my class participation would be because there were a couple of talkative (and one very well read student) in my tutorial group, but I received an A-, B+ and A+ for my first, second and third policy position papers respectively. So I expected a B+ at worst and an A- at best, having missed out on the opportunity to get extra credit in tutorial participation and finding the MCQ finals of an appreciable difficulty.

Actual Grade

Most surprisingly, God blessed me with a straight A. I hadn’t expected to get such a good grade since it seemed like competition was pretty tough but…well, that’s why I’m surprised. TGBTG 🙂

Unexpected, though not unwelcome.

Conclusion & Tips

This module is a pretty good module for those that have even a slight interest in economic theories and their impact on political decisions (and vice-versa), or those who view it as being an important foundation for their degree/major even if they aren’t particularly interested in economics. With a relatively light workload and MCQ FINALS, one doesn’t have to worry about fluffing so much because when it comes to MCQs, it’s either one knows it or they don’t, so spending more time thinking about the answer won’t help – one can leave an hour and twenty minutes into the paper as I did and return home early to rest or study for the next paper without feeling ‘if I had more time I could’ve gotten/written a better answer’ – nope. Prof Kim is an engaging instructor, so I would highly recommend this module for anyone with an inkling of interest or who wishes that this was what EC1101E taught instead – more theory less math.

  1. For the country one argues from in policy position papers : Don’t be an idiot like me and pick a difficult country for yourself. It’s based on a first-come, first-served basis and popular countries will generally have several students vying for it, so all students are told to come up with two or three countries in case they don’t get their first choices. Someone picked North Korea and the Prof jokingly mentioned there probably weren’t many articles on it for citation, so they picked South Korea instead. Me? I picked Ethiopia or something like that for my first choice and Eritrea for my second because I figured I could use my knowledge of Africa (having done a module of it the previous and current semester) to my advantage, but chose Eritrea in the end because I was curious and “haven’t heard much about it – it would be an interesting country to research on and argue from.” Imagine my dismay when I found out Eritrea was labelled the “North Korea of Africa” – that extended to the paucity of journal articles about its economic situation too, which makes my decent grades for my position papers all the more surprising given the handicap I laid upon myself.
    1. In short, picking a country you’re pretty familiar with and curious to argue from which also has a decent size of publications about it would go a long way towards cutting down your research time and giving you more to work with in your paper.
  2. For the module in general: As usual, clear your weekly readings so that you can always engage in lecture and tutorial discussions – ask the Prof or her TA (they’re really nice people) if you need clarification on a concept or you’re just curious to learn more, and you’ll do just fine.

No materials to preview unfortunately 😦

Here are my personal notes I’ve taken though ^^


4 thoughts on “Review of PS3238 – International Political Economy

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