Economics 201

Introduction to Economic Analysis
Fall 2020
Jeffrey Parker, Reed College

Course Information

Course Content and Learning Objectives

This course is a comprehensive introduction to economics, including both microeconomics and macroeconomics. Although it is Reed's introductory course, it is taught at a level that is considered "intermediate" at most other colleges and universities.

In the microeconomics section of the course, which is about the first two thirds, you will learn how economists model decision-making from the viewpoint of the individual economic actor: how individuals choose what goods and services to buy, how firms choose what goods and services to produce, and how those decisions interact in markets to determine prices and quantities of production.

In the macroeconomics portion, which is the final third of the course, you will learn how macroeconomists model the behavior of the economy at an aggregate level, including such issues as economic growth, business cycles, unemployment, and inflation.

In both sections of the class, you will be expected to demonstrate mastery of the subject matter by using the models to perform economic analysis on daily case studies, weekly problem sets, and midterm and final exams.

Econ 201 is designed to introduce you to a variety of issues and applications in economics. There is not enough time during a semester to pursue many of these issues in detail. Reed offers advanced economics courses that follow up on most of the topics covered here.

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Class Format and Pandemic Considerations

During the Fall 2020 semester, this class consists of two parts.

  • With few exceptions, there will be a recorded lecture associated with each class session. These are to be viewed before the scheduled class conference. Lectures will be 30-50 minutes in length, depending on the time required to cover the day's subject matter. The lecture will be organized around a sequence of numbered slides. When viewing the lectures, students should make note of topics that they do not understand clearly (making a note of the slide number) so that these can be discussed in conference.  
  • We will have three class conferences per week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. Each of these conferences will provide opportunities to review and discuss the material in the lectures. Students will often be asked to respond to questions about the material as a way to identify areas that need to be clarified.

The instructor has been teaching in person, face to face, for many decades. That is the best way to teach and the best way for you to learn (although the prerecorded lectures proved last spring to be a successful addition that will be retained regardless of conference format). We all wish that the class could have in-person interaction. However, the instructor is in categories of people who have been deemed to be "at risk" to Covid-19 complications, should he become infected. As a result, he will be cautious (but not paranoid!) about in-person interactions during conference sessions and office hours.

Because of the unstable situation at colleges and universities across the country, the conference sessions and office hours will begin as online Zoom sessions. If the campus pandemic status improves later in the semester, in-person conference sessions and office hours will be added (but online-only access will still be possible). Further instructions and information about class attendance will be made available at the time that we begin meeting in person. The safe capacity of the classroom (Trillium 150) exactly matches the full enrollment in the sections, so it should be possible for all students who desire in-class instruction to participate if in-class access is added.

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There are no prerequisites for this course. However, students will be assumed to be familiar with basic mathematical techniques of algebra and graphs. The first problem set (due in the second week) will serve as a mathematics diagnostic. Students who find these questions easy should have no difficulty with the math in the class. Those who struggle with some or all of the questions are strongly encouraged to seek help from the class assistants, who will have regular office hours during the semester. You may also get help specifically on mathematical questions from the Quantitative Skills Center. If necessary, we will arrange special group tutorials for Econ 201 students on mathematical topics that are problematic for many students. If you think that would be useful, send a message to the instructor sooner rather than later so that something can be arranged.

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Office Hours

The instructor will hold office hours by Zoom link at the following times:

  • Mondays, 12:30-1:30pm
  • Tuesdays, 10-11:00am

The Zoom meeting link and password can be found on the class Moodle page. Students for whom these hours are inconvenient may make appointments at other times by contacting the instructor by by email at [Important: Note that there is no first initial in the instructor's email address. Email sent to jparker or parkerj will go to someone else, who may or may not forward it to the instructor.]

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Additional Instructional Resources

The primary objective of this course is for you to learn basic economic concepts and theories. While classroom and office contact with the instructor are the most obvious means to advance this objective, most students will find it helpful to use the additional instructional resources that Reed and the Economics Department provides. There are three advanced economics majors who will serve as course assistants. Work/study sessions will be held by Zoom on Mondays and Tuesdays and will be staffed by one or more tutors. This is an excellent opportunity to work on homework assignments with other students in an environment where tutorial support is available when needed. Individual tutoring can be arranged through the Student Services office.

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Exams & Other Assignments

There will be two mid-term exams, probably on October 5 and November 6, and a comprehensive final exam. Regular weekly assignments will also be required most weeks of the semester. For detailed information about assignments, see the Course Calendar or the List of Assignments and Cases. Some weekly assignments will be done individually, some will be done collaboratively by assigned teams of two students; some will be done in larger assigned groups. There will also be regular short written questions on case studies for nearly every class at which no other assignment is due. Most of these are intended to be very brief. The case studies are available on the Web site and on the class Moodle site. Responses are to be submitted through Moodle. Click on the case study and you should get a screen with the questions and text boxes available for your answers. The instructor will read and respond to your answers through Moodle, usually within a day. The cases will close for responses at classtime on the days that they are due, so be sure to get your submission in promptly.

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Grades will be based on all evidence available to the instructor about each student's understanding of economics. This information may come from exams, assignments, class participation, and individual conversations. Because there is a lot of collaborative work during this course, students may be asked to evaluate the performance of their partners at the end of major projects and at the end of the course. As a rough guide, 10-15% of the grade will be based on case-study responses, 20-25% on problem sets, 25-30% on the midterm exam, and 35-40% on the final exam.

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Texts and Other Readings

There are two principal texts for this course as well as several supporting books. The first book you will read is Partha Dasgupta's Economics: A Very Short Introduction. This book does what the title suggests: it introduces you to the broad concepts of economics with which we will work throughout the semester. Austan Goolsbee, Steven Levitt, and Chad Syverson's Microeconomics, 2nd ed., will be the main resource for the microeconomics section of the course. N. Gregory Mankiw's Principles of Macroeconomics, 6th ed., will be the core reading on macroeconomics. All of these will be available for purchase at the Reed Bookstore. You will be expected to have access to these texts. Although there will be a few copies on reserve in the library, it is strongly recommended that you buy or rent at least the microeconomics text. Access to library print reserves is very limited due to health considerations. It may be possible to use prior editions of these texts, but it is your responsibility to make sure that the chapter numbers, page numbers, and problem numbers correspond to the editions above. Note: Mankiw's Principles of Macroeconomics text consists of the introductory and macro chapters of his Principles of Economics text. The macro chapters can be accessed in either book. The chapter numbers for the macro chapters in the Principles of Economics book are shown in parentheses on the reading list.

The Goolsbee et al. text is at the "intermediate" level. This means that the typical reader for whom it is written has already taken introductory courses in economics. Because of this, the authors omit some introductory material that you need. To plug this gap, there are "background" readings on the reading list from the micro chapters of the Mankiw introductory text. If you have trouble with the material in the main Goolsbee, Levitt, and Syverson text, you should read the corresponding chapters in the background reference text. If it is still unclear, ask a question in class or during office hours.

Several additional texts (sometimes in older editions) are available in multiple copies on reserve. Although there are no entries on the reading list, use these texts to supplement your understanding as you find them helpful. You should be able to identify the appropriate chapters using the tables of contents.

  • Pindyck, Robert, and Daniel Rubinfeld, Microeconomics. (This was the main text when I taught this course before I switched to Goolsbee. The level is similar to Goolsbee et al.)
  • Samuelson, Paul A., and William Nordhaus, Economics, 14th edition, 1989. (An older introductory text built on Samuelson's classic text.)
  • Stiglitz, Joseph, Economics, 2nd edition, 1997. (Another introductory text that you might find helpful.)

Required readings and background textbooks will be on reserve in the Reed Library and/or available by link from the reading list. As noted above, print reserves will be of very limited use this semester. The case of the day reading will usually be available on the web page, but it may involve a short reading from printed material that is on reserve.

Readings that are listed as "other readings of interest" may or may not be on reserve. Most are available in the stacks of the Reed Library if not on reserve.

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Preparing for Class

At most colleges and universities, the material covered in Econ 201 would be taught over a longer time span, most of it after another introductory course. That means that you will, in one semester, be at a point that most economics students take three semesters to reach! Clearly, this course is very fast paced.

Such an ambitious undertaking will not be successful without steady and effective effort on the part of each student. In particular, there is not time nor should there be a need to repeat the content of the textbook in class. Students are responsible for learning the ideas in the textbook chapters and prerecorded lectures prior to attending class conferences. This will allow conference time to be devoted to clarification of difficult points and to discussion of the case of the day.

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Learning Economics

Learning anything, including economics, is an active process. You should not come into this (or any) class thinking that the instructor will "teach you" the material and that all you have to do is attend class and "absorb it." That's not the way learning works. Instead, this class will offer you the opportunity to "teach yourself" economics, aided by the instructor, the tutors, the textbook and other readings, and the assignments. Simply put: learning is not a spectator sport!

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