Bard MBA

Political Economy of Sustainability

Spring 2013
3 Credits

The key learning objectives for the course are to understand:
  • The foundational relationship: system prosperity requires political stability and a social contract
  • How rising inequality is a defining feature of globalizing economies, declining state power, and the limits of Keynesian demand management
  • The evolution of business forms, as a function of economies of scale, financing demands, risk management, and political power
  • The interaction between green business strategy and government policy
  • The emergent role of NGO’s in governance, and business-NGO-government partnerships
  • The Bottom of the Pyramid business model, and the ethical challenges posed
Student Outcomes:
The class is designed to provide students with an understanding of the inter-relationships between business, government and NGO’s. Sustainable business is a step along a historical evolution of the business form, emerging in response to ecological and political-economic constraints that have simultaneously expanded the need for collective action, and reduced the effectiveness of state actors. Students will learn how the lines between the three sectors have blurred, that partnerships are a new feature of the business landscape, but that business has a uniquely powerful role to play in the drive towards sustainability.

  • • Chandler, Alfred, The Visible Hand, Belknap, 1977.
  • • Hawken, Paul, Blessed Unrest, Viking, 2007.
  • • Huffington, Arianna, Third World America, Crown, 2010.
  • • Powers, Richard, Gain, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux: 2009
  • • Selections and papers, including:
    • Roodman, David & Jonathan Morduch, "The Impact of Microcredit on the Poor in Bangladesh: Revisiting the Evidence," Working Papers 174, Center for Global Development, 2009.
    • Ravallion, Martin, "Troubling tradeoffs in the Human Development Index," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5484, The World Bank, 2010.
    • Ravallion, Martin, "Economic growth and poverty reduction: Do poor countries need to worry about inequality?," 2020 vision briefs BB08 Special Edition, International Food Policy Research Institute, 2007.
    • Banerjee, Abhijit and Esther Duflo, “Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty”, 2011
    • Needs to Know, Oxford, 2010.
    • Heilbroner, Robert, The Worldy Philosphers, Touchstone, 1995.
    • Novogratz, Jacqueline, The Blue Sweater, Rodale, 2009.
    • Levy Economics Institute, selected LIMEW reports.
    • Smith, Adam, Theory of Moral Sentiments (online).
The course will be a combination of lectures, case studies, group discussions, and student projects. Active participation in class discussions will be essential. Grading will be determined by participation in in-class exercises, group presentations, completion of homework, and multiple exams.

Course Outline:
The Bard MBA curriculum is modular, with each module topic corresponding to a residency. The outline below provides the Political Economy of Sustainability set of topics for each of the semester’s modules, with each set of topics corresponding to three to four weeks of conventional instruction.



Systems Thinking

Inequality Rising & Business at the Bottom of the Pyramid. We begin with a look at the defining socio-economic feature of the 21st century: the rise of income inequality in both developed and developing countries, often aggravating race, ethnic and gender disparities. Levy Institute expertise will illuminate these trends. The economic drivers will be discussed concurrently in the globalization class; here we focus on the limits of Keynesian macro-policy, the decline of the welfare state, and the limits of state power. We end with a look at bottom of the pyramid solutions.   

Firm Costs and Finance

Business History, Corporate Goals. In this section, we examine the rise of the global corporation, beginning with the industrial revolution. We explore how issues of scale, finance, risk, and politics have shaped corporate forms and business goals, leading now to the emergence of sustainable business. 

System Dynamics

Politics and Policy. Sustainable business strategy is often entertwined with policy: subsidies, taxes, and regulations. Here we will explore the post-WWII evolution of American politics and evolving policy frameworks at the state, national and international level that have been at various times supportive or hostile to business sustainability. What are the trends for the coming decade?

Global Structures and Regulation

Business and Society. In the absence of strong national or global governance, critical partnerships among NGO’s, governments, and businesses are emerging. This section considers the different organizational structures, cultures and goals of these entities to explore the basis for successful partnerships.

Distance and Ethics

Ethics and Voicing Values. Here we work through Gentile’s approach to ethics training, with a special focus on the ethical challenges of operating in global markets.