Economic Growth & Development

Feb 2017

This was by far my favorite class at Columbia. It was an 8:40 which was unfortunate, but Xavier's lectures were so riveting that I wouldn't actually mind going to class. And I knew I wasn't alone in this, as the lecture room was nearly full every morning. Essentially this course explores the question "why are some countries poor?" The class is a mix of theory, models and mathematics, and Xavier blends the three elements together as if telling a semester long economic narrative, rather than lecturing at you. The math involved isn't particularly terrifying for an upper level economics class- the most complicated it gets is Lagrangian, but it's basically applied in a manner that is no more difficult than it was in micro. I think the most compelling thing about this class was the way in which math was used to help tell the story of economic development. You don't feel like you are learning abstract and pointless graphs and equations, but rather real-life solutions. Also, Xavier is basically the best human being. A funny, passionate, quirky Spanish guy, he explains complex concepts in a simplified yet elegant way. He matches his brightly colored suit jacket to his power point every day, calls Trump our "funny orange man" and uses the game of soccer to explain the concept of idea innovation. It really doesn't get better. And he is very approachable and loves questions. I seriously encourage all undergraduates to take this class. It makes economics relevant, inspiring and challenges you without being overwhelming you. Now, I am a bit biased because development economics is my area of interest. But I will say that a large reason as to why I have taken an interest to that field is because of the some of the things I was exposed to in this class. So take that for what it's worth.

Dec 2016

I have never been so disappointed in a class. I have never felt like I was wasting my time in a class. That all changed this semester. Xavier is an engaging and fun lecturer and he uses this trait to hide huge laziness with regard to the syllabus and intensity of the class. Basically what he's done is taken the solow-swan model from Intermediate Macro, made it slllliiiiiggghhhhtly more serious, and then added 8 weeks of anecdotal fluff. If you've taken his macro class you will remember his lecture on Pepe Guardiola. it is word for word the same here. If you've taken his macro class you may also remember Nokia. Word for fucking word. When I came into this class i had something very specific in mind as my ideal: rigorous theoretical background (in several growth models - yes, there is more than one) followed by case studies in what did and did not work in different scenarios of growth and development. Given that this was Columbia, I wasn't super hopeful for much of the practical part, but I was hoping for at least some rigorous growth models and maybe one or two half-fluff case study esque things from which we could actually learn something useful about development. I wanted no fluff followed by a little fluff. What i got was prolonged no fluff (that could have been covered in <4 2 weeks max) followed by 7 weeks of ALLL THE FLUFF. If I thought to myself right now, what would you do to help a developing country I think I know a whole lot of things not to do (give candy to children??) but almost nothing about what I or an international organization could do. The fluff got to the point that all lecture I was thinking about that Monty Python sketch about self-defense for fruit. Have you defended yourself against bananas? yess..... have you defended yourself against grapes? yess..... Ah but have you defended yourself against pomegranates? ... ... ... no? AHHHHH THE POMEGRANATE. What about actually learning something useful? I cannot give a full list of problems with this class. This class was a complete fucking waste of my time and that of everyone around me. Xavier is smart, engaging and the top of his field and showed an incredible level of arrogance because of it. 0 stars: I'm happy to be graduating

Mar 2007

In terms of teaching skills, Sala-I-Martin a bit hard to follow if you don't know what he's teaching before hand. His board-work is a little messy, though not completely terrible. He is extremely engaging and entertaining, so whether you understand what’s going on or not, you’ll likely be tuned into the lecture. Be ready to take some of his less than politically correct comments in jest. (However, as politically incorrect as they may be, you’ll laugh at how on-the-mark they really are!) Out of class, and in his hours, Sala was very approachable, and helpful. He is both theoretical and pragmatic, making the course a good learning experience overall – in the end you end up getting the big picture better than in most classes. The class is taught at a Master’s level; it’s not as easy as intermediate macro, but not as hard as a PhD Econ class. It follows that a lot of SIPA grad students take the class, some advanced undergrads, and one or two (lazy) PhD students at most. You’ll be expected to be on point with your multi-variable calculus, though not much beyond that. You’ll need to use basic Lagrangian optimization techniques quite often. No econometrics is used. The class deals with mostly super-long run classical economic theory, so focus on that if you want to brush up on the intuition. He developed endogenous growth-theory based on R&D/innovation at the end of the class, a concept that he built from the ground up, starting with the Solow-Swan growth models and even their immediate precursors. You’ll be exposed to some of progression of the models and ideas that have led to more recent endogenous-growth ideas. The final is difficult, mostly because you don’t have a clue what will be on it (and he covers a fair amount of ground). Like another reviewer correctly mentioned, he’ll throw some curve balls at you while he’s at it. He didn’t test very excessively on the mathematics (since most SIPA students are weak in this field), but he did push some theoretical ideas he didn’t very much develop in class. A recommendation: if you want an easy A, don’t take this class, since it’s all-or-nothing on the not-so-easy 100% weighted and cumulative final. In terms of workload, HW is optional and upgraded, but you’ll be screwed come the final if you don’t do it. I can conclude by saying that the class was an excellent experience, and I recommend it to anyone that has a true desire to learn from one of the top growth economists on the face of the planet.

Jan 2007

There isn't much to say about the man. He's an excellent instructor, who keeps the class engaged through vivid presentation skills, and an aptitude to say the politically incorrect things in a funny, and acceptable manner. His exposition is clear, but quick paced if you didn't read before hand. For being a tremendously busy man, who teaches in Barcelona, manages a charity in Africa, serves as acting president of FC Barcelona, and edits the Davos Global Competitivness Report, he is incredibly receptive during his office hours, and for post-class questions. All in all, Sala is quite possible the best instructor I've ever had. Take his class if you want to learn, and while having fun doing do.

Jan 2006

Fantastic professor. Very very entertaining. But has a way of getting across everything he needs to. Easily one of the best professors in the department. The one drawback was that this course was a little math-lite, and as such, became confusing at times if you used his book in conjunction. (Sometimes, in his lite-version models, a market here or there just vanished!) There is no textbook, by the way, so you have to attend all the lectures (and recitations).