Economics 201

Economic Naturalist Assignment


Robert Frank, a Cornell labor economist and author of an excellent microeconomics text, admonishes his students and readers to become "economic naturalists," observing economic phenomena in the same way that a naturalist observes nature and asking questions such as "Why did this happen the way it did?" In this assignment, you are to play economic naturalist and find some economic phenomenon, pose a question about it that you think is interesting, then try to answer that question the best you can using the theories we have developed in the class.


The ideal place to find interesting phenomena to analyze is in your own experiences, either here at Reed or elsewhere. Alternatively, you may use phenomena that are described in newspapers or other places. You should recognize that Econ 201 gives you a fairly limited toolbox for analysis, so you won't be able to answer as many questions satisfactorily now as you could after completing an economics major. However, the basic tools of supply and demand are very powerful and apply to many situations. Try to keep your question simple and intuitive.

Written Assignment

You should submit a short essay consisting of three parts:

  • Facts. Summarize the phenomenon you are looking at in as much detail as necessary. If you are relying on published sources for your information, you should include a copy of these along with your assignment.
  • Question. Pose as clearly as possible the question that the facts about this phenomenon raises in your mind.
  • Analysis. Use the theoretical materials of Econ 201 to attempt to answer the question. You may not be able to answer all aspects of the question satisfactorily.

Essays may be submitted electronically or on paper. They are due at class time on Wednesday, October 27.

Selection and Discussion of Topics

The instructor will select a few of the naturalist topics to be discussed in an upcoming Thursday evening activity session. The essays describing these topics will be made available on the Web site for fellow students to read prior to the lab. The author of each will be invited to lead off the discussion by making a very brief presentation summarizing the topic and the analysis.