Class Information

Economics 224: Economics and Current Policy Issues

2006 Edition (second semester)

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Times and places

Class meets Mondays. 9h00-11h00, C3

Crampton's office hours: Wednesdays, 10h00-12h00

Tutorial Sessions. Please sign up for a tutorial via the online tutorial system


Update 14 July 2006

It looks like running the midterm exam the evening of September 12th should minimise clashes with other exams. It's the same night as the Econ 104 exam. Since Econ 104 is a prereq for this class, you can't have a clash with it. And since most other classes try to work around Econ 104 exams because so many people take Econ 104, there shouldn't be other exams that would conflict. If you have an exam clash for the evening of 12 September, tell me which course is causing the clash and I'll see what can be done. The exam will run 7:15PM to 9:15PM. Location to be announced. Don't email me asking the location - if it's on the website, you don't need to ask me, and if it isn't on the website, it's 'cause I don't know yet.

Update 12 July 2006

I reiterate my request that you sign up for a tutorial. The system's showing now that only about half of you have done so. Tutorials start tomorrow. We each will have lists of who's signed up for the tutorials when we start them tomorrow. If you're not on the list, you're not in the tutorial, sorry. There's a max of 20 students per tutorial so we can't just let you show up. You have to sign up to be a presenter and discussant this week in the tutorial. This is 20% of your grade. If you sign up for a tutorial late, you'll have last pick of topics for presentation or discussion.

Update 11 July 2006

Make sure you sign up for a tutorial. If you've only recently signed into the class and cannot yet use the tutorial registration system, give it an overnight after having signed into the class. The systems usually reset overnight. If that doesn't work, send me an email. In the email, tell me your name, student number, and your preferences over tutorial sections. Available are:

  1. Thursday, 10am, with your friendly lecturer
  2. Thursday, 11am, with Steve Hickson
  3. Thursday, 1 pm, with Steve Agnew
  4. Friday, 11am, with Steve Agnew

The Hickson section is almost full. My section is a little more than half full. The Agnew sections still have a fair bit of room. We have a maximum tutorial size of 20 students, so a tutorial section closes off once 20 sign up.

Update 10 July 2006

There was a bit of a problem with WebCT that Philip Ashcroft kindly pointed out. It's now been fixed. Hopefully if you were having problems before in downloading the readings, you're now able to get them. Note that reading 1.2, my encyclopedia entry on market failure, is just a supplemental reading, not a recommended reading. It's only in WebCT rather than in the Reader because I hadn't finished writing it before the deadline hit for the printing office to make the readers.

If you're still in the process of signing up for the course and don't have access to WebCT or to the tutorial registration system by Wednesday, pop round my office hours and we'll see what we can do.

Make sure to subscribe to the RSS feed - it makes getting updates like this much easier.

Update 6 July 2006

Jan and Alison at the library will kindly be providing tutorials during your second week of classes (regular tutorial times) that will show you how to find online journal articles via the library's databases. I strongly recommend that you attend one of these sessions. You're responsible for being able to find the readings on the reading list; these tutorials will show you how to do it. Please sign up at the library's registration site. Note that some classes are held in the library level 5 training room and others in the Den on level 2.

Update 6 July 2006

I had, below, recommended SharpReader for following the course's RSS feed. Of course, that isn't going to work if you're accessing from a machine in one of the computer labs. Rojo seems to be a pretty decent web-based RSS aggregator. It's free. So, no excuses for not catching updates now.

Update 5 July 2006

The reader should now be available for purchase at the usual place. Recall that the reader for 224 only contains those supplemental readings which are not otherwise readily available via the library. WebCT contains the recommended readings not otherwise readily available via the library. The text contains the required readings.

Update 4 July 2006

Steve Hickson has taught me how to run the online tutorial registration system. Make sure you sign up for a tutorial using the link above. Tutorials start during the first week of classes so sign up for one as soon as possible. During the first week of tutorials you'll choose the weeks in which you'll serve as presenter and discussant. The second week of tutorials will be spent in library training. In-tutorial assessment begins in week 3!

Update 31 May 2006

I've sorted out access to your readings. Consult your syllabus and reading list.


Update 30 May 2006

I have finally completed the syllabus and reading list for the course. Please consult them in deciding whether you'd like to take Econ 224. I have a few more notes below regarding the style of course I'm offering. I look forward to meeting you in a few weeks!

This webpage will frequently be updated as the course progresses. I've figured out how to make an RSS feed of the page so that you can keep track via your favourite aggregator (I recommend SharpReader). Checking course websites frequently on the off chance of an update is a bit of a pain; hopefully, this will solve the problem. General class information follows below; updates will be inserted above this as the class progresses. Pay attention though to the category in the feed as I also update Econ 336 and Econ 435 via this channel.

Course synopsis

Econ 224 applies economic tools to interesting current policy problems to bring light to otherwise opaque policy discussions. Might there be a link between abortion and crime? What are the effects of drug prohibition? Does a ban on selling organs save lives or take them? Is fair trade really fair? We apply basic economic concepts; supply and demand; the power of incentives; individual self-interested agents choosing how best to maximize their utilility, and the order that emerges spontaneously from the uncoordinated activities of millions of such individuals. The effects of policies are not always what we think they will be!

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

Evaluation will consist of:

A swing weighting system is in place: if you do better on the final than on the midterm, the final will be worth 50% and the midterm 30%.

While attendance at tutorials is not mandatory, 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 2 days prior to your tutorial so that he can send it along to your discussant. You will be strongly penalised for late assignments here as lateness directly affects your discussant's ability to discuss your commentary.

During the week in which you are discussant, you will be provided another student's written summary of a starred reading. Your task is to discuss (5 minutes) both the article and the presenter's comments. 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.

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.

Discussants: Right format: "I'm not sure you've accurately described things: the author does point out on page 10 that..." That gets you points. Wrong format: "You're an idiot; only an idiot could possibly make such a stupid mistake." That gets you zero points and kicked out of the tutorial for that week.

Presenters (responding to discussants during debate): Right format: "Of course, the author goes on to state that that condition only holds in a particular case; in general, she disagrees with the statement." Wrong format: "You hate me! Why are you so mean?"

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

Reading

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 or on WebCT. Chapters from required or recommended texts 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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