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Welcome to your first course in economics

September 12, 2016

cartoon-dismal-science

This is an exciting time to be studying economics!

The “Great Recession” of 2007/2008 echoed for almost a full decade in high unemployment in European countries, in lower earnings and wage rates in the United States, and is even more strongly imprinted in excessive debt, low employment, and outright despair in other countries like Greece and Italy. Inflation is low, unemployment is exceptionally high (particularly among young people), and exchange rates keep bouncing around. And now twelve years later in the United States, the unemployment rate has fallen from exceptional highs to an historic low, yet the middle class is full of anxiety as globalization has come to be seen as more of a threat than an opportunity, as the computer revolution continues to fundamentally change the way people in all rich countries work and interact with others, and inequality keeps rising!

Every responsible citizen should have an understanding of the basic principles of economics. Without it how can you possibly understand some of the critical debates in almost every recent election in the rich countries: is a balanced government budget a good thing or a bad? how can governments create more jobs? why are interest rates so low, and should inflation be a worry? Is inequality something we should celebrate, or something to question?

This is the first class of a course that is designed to meet the needs of students interested in public policy who may have had only limited exposure to economics. But almost anyone can follow along. Upon completion of the course successful students will be familiar with the basic principles of economics, and be able to apply them critically to issues dealing with American and international public policy.

Your next steps?

Download the course outline, and get the three required books. Then watch one prominent macro-economist—Joseph Stiglitz—explain his views of what caused the Great Recession and what government should do about it in this presentation given about one year after the meltdown was unleashed in the autumn of 2008. Pay attention to the vocabulary he uses: list words that are not familiar to you, try to discern when he is speaking about “microeconomics” and when he is talking about “macroeconomics”, think about the logic he uses and what this says about the way economists think. Here is a list to help guide you.

Our studies start next week with a discussion of what we mean by “economics,” and what is the essence of the economic approach. To be prepared for our discussions read the readings listed in the course outline for February 4th.

[ Updated February 10th, 2020. ]


 

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