How this class works

This class (or course, if you will) works this way. First, you read or watch the assigned material before the class and make sure that you understand it. I will indicate the nominal time it should take to go over the class material offline. This is an average time that an average college-educated student should take. Depending on the person, the actual time may vary somewhat. That’s the homework portion of this class.

The online sessions will be audio only. When needed, I will have slides that I will share from my desktop. During the online session, which will be exactly for an hour, starting precisely on the hour, we will review the assigned material briefly for about the first 30 minutes or so.

For the rest of the hour we will discuss the topics introduced, and address all questions. This is the interactive portion of the online engagement. It is going to be a small group — about two dozen at most — and so we will be able to entertain all questions.

All subsequent discussions relating to the online hour will be on this blog in the comments to posts titled “Discussions on Session #x” which will be posted on Saturdays.

I expect that the audio of the online sessions will be recorded and available in the archives. Please note that at the top of the right hand column of this blog has a button marked “Follow.” By following this blog via email, you will get push notification of all posts in your inbox. I will avoid sending out email notifications.

If you have any questions or concerns, please use the comment section of this post. Also remember to download zoom on your computer, laptop, phone, etc.

This post is in the “Housekeeping” category.

Different Rules, Different Countries

In the previous post, I asked:

… what is the one factor that clearly distinguishes countries regardless of any other factors that may or may not be similar?

That one factor that distinguishes countries[1] apart is a set of rules that are–through some mechanism–created, enforced and followed within the various geographical boundaries that define it spatially. They include informal (norms) and formal (laws and legislation) rules that have evolved, and are generally stable, over time.

The set of high-level rules is the constitution of a country. Among other things, it lays down the rules on how rules are to made and by whom, and which rules are valid and which not. In the ultimate analysis, different constitutions define different countries.

Let’s take the example of Germany. Germany today is one country and one nation. It used to be one country and one nation before the end of the 2nd world war in 1945. Then it was divided into two countries — East Germany and West Germany — but it was still one nation. Then the two countries unified in 1990 and became one country, and of course one nation. 

Another example is Korea. For a very long time it used to be one country and one nation. Now it is two countries, North and South Korea but it is still one nation. One of them is quite rich and the other is extremely poor.

The norms and rules people follow define who they are. These can be religious and cultural norms that have evolved over time, or they can be deliberately constructed as legislation and imposed on people. The rules demarcate different countries. 

After Germany was divided up post-1945, the Western part got capitalist rules and the Eastern part got socialist/communist rules. In a matter of a couple of decades, the West became more prosperous than the East. 

The same story can be told about Korea. 

Examining something and noting its features is empirical work. Facts is what we have from empirical work. Coming up with explanations about why the facts are what they are is analytical work. Analysis leads to theory — a set of statements that explain a group of facts.

So here’s the theory: the differences in the different levels of prosperity among countries has something to do with differences in the rules that countries follow.

Germans in East Germany did not differ from those in West Germany. They had the same history, geography, culture, language, religion, music, literature, cuisine, etc etc. Yet in a matter of a few decades they were in two distinct countries enjoying two distinct levels of prosperity.

Think about that.

One reference that you will find useful in this context is my blog post Building Don’t Matter, Intentions Do. 


[1] Here I am implicitly distinguishing between two distinction notions: country and nation. There are countries such as India, US, China, Germany, Vietnam. It is possible to have more than one nation included in a country, or one nation spread over more than one country.

Anyway, the world is organized into countries. The oldest countries have existed a long time. Here are some:

  • France (CE 843)
  • Austria (CE 976)
  • Hungary (CE 1001)
  • Portugal (CE 1143)
  • Mongolia (CE 1206)
  • Thailand (CE 1238)
  • Andorra (CE 1278)
  • Switzerland (CE 1291)
  • Iran (CE 1501)
    [Source: ThoughtCo.]

Note that India does not show up in the list. Why? Because India became a country quite late in the history of people who lived in the geographical area we call India today. The Indian civilization has been around for thousands of years but the country known as India is just a few hundred years old. 


The First Question: Why do Countries Differ?

We know that all people are different. Each of us differs in quite significant ways from others of our kind. We are all human beings of course but still we are all distinctly different in various ways — in our physical and mental endowments, in our preferences, in our abilities, and so on. There’s variation among us even when we’re part of the same family, not to mention others in our society or the world at large.

What distinguishes us from others of our kind is our nature which boils down to our genes, and also to our nurture. Even siblings differ among themselves because their genetic inheritances differ. That is the basic explanation of why we are all different: we don’t have the same nature and don’t get the same nurture.

So also countries differ from one another. Different countries have different histories, different cultures, different geographies, different endowments of resources, different climatic conditions, etc. And most importantly for our purposes, we note that countries differ in their level of prosperity.

Not all countries are rich. Some are quite rich and others are desperately poor in comparison.

Here’s the question. If we agree that countries differ in their prosperity, what is the one factor that clearly distinguishes countries regardless of any other factors that may or may not be similar?

Meaning, even if you do take into account all other factors — geography, history, culture, climate, endowments — into account and yet you find difference in prosperity between two countries, what is that factor?

I would like you to ponder this question. If you have an answer, please post it in the comments below. We will discuss this question in the course.

UPDATE: I have a follow-up post in which I have given my answer to this question. See Different Rules, Different Countries. The point briefly is that all else being equal, differences in prosperity arise from differences in the rules that countries follow.

How to Join this Course

If you have emailed me at and have heard back from me, it means that you are registered for the course. If you have emailed me but have not heard back, please email me again. Some of those emails ended up in the spam folder (which I unfortunately deleted before checking.)

This course will be conducted on Zoom. Course starts on Friday, Jan 15th at 9 PM IST. Zoom meeting details are published in this password protected post (on my other blog.) You will receive the password to that post on your registered email in a bit.

Please feel free to leave me a comment here.


Course Announcement – How the World Works

This course will meet on Fridays at 9 PM IST (10:30 AM Eastern) on Zoom starting Jan 15th. Click the link to read the pdf course announcement (or right-click and save link as to download.)

If you’re interested in joining the course, please email In your email, please answer the following questions:

  1. Your time zone.
  2. Your phone number.
  3. If you have a college degree or not. This information will help in choosing the difficulty level of the course.

Alternatively, you could leave a comment on this post.