Economics 201

Introduction to Economic Analysis
Fall 2016
Jeffrey Parker, Reed College

Course Information

Course Content

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, we will study economic decision-making from the viewpoint of the individual economic actor. Considerable time will be devoted to analyzing 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.

Macroeconomics, which is the final third of the course, studies the behavior of the economy at an aggregate level, including such issues as economic growth, business cycles, unemployment, and inflation.

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. This syllabus provides indications of the advanced economics classes that follow up on the various sections of the course.

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Class Format

This class meets for three hours per week as a lecture/conference that will examine the main ideas of economics. Lecture/conference sessions will often incorporate a "case of the day," which is an application or case study that pertains to the day's topic. In addition to highlighting the textbook's development of theoretical tools, the class discussion will sometimes emphasize applying those tools to the case. Obviously, students must be well prepared in advance of class in order to understand the case-related discussion.

In addition to the regular class sessions, there will be occasional extra sessions scheduled throughout the semester. These sessions are strongly recommended, but not required. Some of these sessions will be remedial (discussing assignments or exams) and some will be supplemental academic activities perhaps including experiments, discussions of related topics, movies, or presentations of student projects. 

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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. A mathematics diagnostic test will be distributed the first day of class. 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 Quantitative Skills Center, located at the Dorothy Johansen House. If necessary, we will arrange special group tutorials for Econ 201 students on mathematical topics that are problematic for many students.

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Office Hours

The instructor will hold office hours in Vollum 229 at the following times:

  • Mondays, 2:00-3:30pm
  • Tuesdays, 10-11:30am

Students for whom these hours are inconvenient may make appointments at other times by contacting the instructor by phone at extension 7308 or 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 two advanced economics majors who will serve as tutorial assistants for this course. Group help/discussion sessions will be held regularly when assignments are due and exams are upcoming. Tutoring sessions will be held on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday evenings and will be staffed by one or more tutors. If you encounter difficulties with quantitative aspects of the course, the Quantitative Skills Center may be the best source of help. Individual tutoring can be arranged through the Student Services office.

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Exams & Other Assignments

There will be two mid-term exams, on October 3 and November 9, 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. If 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, which is being used by other sections of Econ 201. 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, 6th edition. (This was the main text when I last taught this course in 2010. 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. At times the demand for reserve materials is likely to exceed the supply; plan to do your reading substantially ahead of time so you don't get caught without the book at the last minute. 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 prior to attending class. This will allow class 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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