Class Information

Economics 224: Economics and Current Policy Issues

2007 Edition (second semester)

Times and places

Class meets Mondays. 9h00-11h00, C3

Crampton's office hours: 1-3 PM Mondays

Midterm exam: 6:30 - 9:30 PM Monday, 10 September, Law Room 108 Lecture Theatre.

Tutorial Sessions: Sign up via the Online Tutorial Enrolment System for Econ 224 tutorials! I have opened three sections at 20 students maximum per section. There are 58 people currently signed up for the class. If all sections fill up, I will open an additional section. We currently have open sections for Thursday (10-11 and 11-12) and Friday (11-12). Sign up quickly if you have strong preferences over which one you attend!

Latest news

CDF of econ 224 scores Update 7 December 2007

This will be the last update of this page. Over time, link rot will set in, so don't expect that all the links will continue working forever. I'm not going to be going back and fixing things as this happens. The url for this page will eventually be migrated to 224-2007.html in order to make room for next year's version of the site. The cumulative frequency distribution of grades for the course should appear at left if everything's working correctly. The bottom axis traces the percentage of people in the class earning the score listed on the y-axis or lower. So if you trace upwards from 50 on the x-axis, you'll find the median grade for the class (a 64).

Update 18 October 2007

Check my sources!

Update 14 October 2007

Check my sources!

Update 3 Oct 2007

I'd mentioned that the Americans with Disabilities Act induces employers to avoid hiring the disabled. Steve Dubner blogs on the topic today over at The Freakonomics Blog.

Update 1 Oct 2007

Check my sources!

Some other fun sources on the topic:

A big thanks to Andy Tookey for a fascinating talk!

Update 24 Sept 2007

Check my sources! All are available via the library or its e-journal subscriptions.

Update 17 Sept 2006: Check my sources! Update 11 Sept 2006: Check my sources! Update 8 Sept 2006

As advertised above, the exam is Monday night. I've now written the exam script. The exam is in 180 points and six questions, one per week. There are:

Not that any of this ought change any of your preparation for the exam: as I've noted for many weeks, about half of the points will come from material drawn from the lecture, about half will come from the readings. Where a "readings" question draws on recommended readings, you'll either be asked an open-ended question allowing you to draw on any of that week's recommended readings in forming an answer or you'll be given choice among several questions. And, the required readings in Winter are all fair game.

Check my sources!

Update 16 August 2007

I'd mentioned the fights between Lott and Levitt. Chicago Magazine has a fantastic summary of it here. Go check it out.

As always, feel free to check my sources:

Update 14 August 2007. I'd mentioned in class that, every so often, a story shows up in the "news of the weird" about somebody going to the police to help them out when they've been cheated in a drug deal. Little did I know that one such story would hit the web that afternoon! See the story, via Boing Boing. Again, the natural reaction to these stories is laughter when it really ought not be: that people in these markets have zero recourse to legal protections makes extra-legal enforcement the norm, causing many of the ills commonly associated with the drug trade.

Update 11 August 2007. Richard Epstein writes on regulatory takings via zoning, with a very nice discussion of the differences between pecuniary and technological externalities (week 3) and why they matter. Visit the library's online journal holdings and look up Daedalus, Summer 2007 (136:3), pp. 67-76.

Update 7 August 2007. Glenn Loury writes on why so many Americans are in prison. We'll see a lot more of Glenn's work when we get to the economics of discrimination in a few weeks' time. A rich and interesting read here, and one that ties directly into what we'll be covering next week in the economics of prohibition. Radley Balko weighs in on the drug war, with one of the kinds of cases that makes me oppose the death penalty regardless of its deterrent effects.

Update 6 August 2007: Check my sources!

Update 31 July 2007: Check my sources:

Week 2's tutorial was held in the library. Alison McIntyre, our fantastic Commerce Information Librarian, showed you how to access the online journal articles you'll need to be reading over the course of the semester. Thanks to Alison for the tutorials!

Update 26 July 2007: Midterm exam. I've now confirmed a venue for our midterm exam. It will be held 6:30 - 9:30 PM, Monday, 10 September, in Law Room 108 Lecture Theatre.

Update 23 July 2007: Check my sources!

Viscusi here surveys pretty much the entire literature, including about 19 of his own studies on the matter. This is a wonderful example of what we call a meta-study. That is to say, it takes an overview of pretty much every study conducted in the field and draws general conclusions from the set of dozens and dozens of such studies, accounting for differences in techniques used in different studies. In response to the question in class about the margins on which older people consume more risks, the result is discussed on page 51. One margin discussed is that older people require a smaller premium to live in houses where local air pollution is higher. Want to find out more? Check the source! The library's e-journal holdings have a subscription. There are wonderful gems in there, like that regulations prohibiting the land disposal of certain types of wastes save 3 statistical lives while killing 66 people via reductions in GDP, for a net cost of 63 lives.

What's new in 224 in 2007?

2006 was the first year I taught Econ 224. If you heard good things or bad about last year's version, here's how this year's is different and why.

Welcome to the new and improved Econ 224!

Course synopsis

Economics isn't just about dollars and cents: it's a way of thinking about the world. Incentives matter everywhere, not just in traditional market environments. What happens when we apply the economist's lens to other policy issues? Policies that look good on the surface often wind up hurting the people they're meant to help.

Each year's section of topics may vary. Broad topics to be examined will be contrasting of market failure and government failure, law and economics approaches, and the economics of social issues. Particular topics will vary from year to year and may include issues such as the following: market failure and comparative institutional analysis; the environment and externalities; reputation and the economics of information; crime and punishment; the economics of prohibition (alcohol and other drugs); regulation; copyright and file sharing; discrimination in markets; health and organ donation; poverty and welfare; globalisation and trade; culture.

Assessment - Updated!

Evaluation will consist of:

You will produce a short essay providing an economist's analysis of a policy issue to be announced on the course website and in class during the lass class of Term 3. Your essay will receive two grades: one for style and grammar, the other for quality of economic analysis. Each contributes equally to the final grade. You are encouraged to seek assistance from the Learning and Skills Centre if you need assistance with style and grammar.

A significant portion of assessment is based on performance in tutorials; failure to attend does not assist you in earning points towards that assessment. Tutorials begin during the first week of lectures. During the first week of tutorials, you must choose one week in which you will serve as presenter and one week in which you will serve as discussant.

As presenter, you will be required to provide a 10 minute presentation of one of the starred readings: explain the main point of the reading, how it fits into the general topic under consideration, and the article's broader relevance. You must provide a written summary of your comments to your tutor prior to your presentation. While the summary itself is not marked, failure to produce one will knock your presentation down by 2.5 points.

I fully intend that the in-tutorial discussions be debate oriented. Keep it civil, keep things focused on the ideas and arguments presented, and don't take criticism personally. You get five points for in-tutorial discussion. Did the presenter get the main point of the article or do you disagree with the summary? Did the presenter identify the broader importance of the article or miss the point of it? Or, is the article just clearly wrong in light of what you've read in other suggested readings (or from your own analysis of New Zealand data?): the presenter correctly summarised the article, but the article is just horribly wrong from an economic perspective.

Your tutorial grade is based on the quality of your presentation and general contribution to debates following presentations and discussions.

Overall, this course works to build not only your ability to apply economic ideas to areas beyond our normal purview, but also your ability to communicate those ideas to others orally and in formal written English. These skills are essential for any job you'll take after university: employers consistently tell us that they want graduates who are able to communicate.


The reading list contains several suggested readings for each week (and one required reading in most weeks). You should aim to read at least two articles each week comprising at least 40 pages worth of reading - so three or four short readings or a couple of longer ones. In each week's tutorial, you'll be expected to contribute to discussion and debate; your contributions there should build on your reading. I will expect you to cite arguments presented in the readings when answering exam questions: I will provide choice among a few open-ended questions that will allow you to draw on your knowledge of the readings in providing an answer. Do not expect to do well on the exam if you have not kept up with the readings.

Any readings not readily available in the library and not available online will be included in a course reader. Chapters from texts on library reserve are not duplicated in the reader. I hope and trust that the library has placed copies on reserve.

Course style

This course is taught very much in the arts tradition within economics. What does that mean?

So, the course will be a lot of work, especially if you're not accustomed to lots of reading and debate. Feel free to peruse the syllabus and reading list, and the web pages of other courses I've taught, to see whether you think this is the right course for you.

Please feel free to contact me via email if you have any questions about the class or if you're wondering about taking it. Hope to see you in the fall!


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