Economics 201

Introduction to Economic Analysis

Fall 2010

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. In addition to the regular, required class hours, there will be activity sessions most weeks on Thursday evenings. These sessions, which are strongly recommended but not required, will include supplementary activities such as experiments and other student-participation activities.

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 often 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.

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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, 3-4pm
  • Tuesdays, 10-11am
  • Fridays, 1-2pm

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

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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. The student lab assistant for this course is Skye Aaron. She will assist with lab experiments and other activities. In addition, there are several advanced economics majors who will serve as tutorial assistants for this course. Individual tutoring can be arranged through the Student Services office. Group help/discussion sessions will be held regularly when assignments are due and exams are upcoming. Most tutoring sessions will be held on Monday and Tuesday evenings and will be staffed by two or three tutors. If you encounter difficulties with quantitative aspects of the course, the Quantitative Skills Center may be the best source of help.

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Exams & Other Assignments

There will be two mid-term exams and a comprehensive final exam. Regular weekly assignments will also be required many week 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 nearly every day that no other assignment is due. Most of these are intended to be very brief.

Because of the collaborative nature of much of the work, late work will be severely penalized. If one student is delayed in completing a week's assignment, that impacts the student's partner in the following week. Work more than one day late will receive no credit unless due to documented illness or emergency.

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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 and activity participation, and individual conversations. Because there is a lot of collaborative work during this course, students will be asked to evaluate the performance of their partners at the end of major projects and at the end of the course.

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Texts and Other Readings

There are two principal texts for this course as well as several supporting books. Robert Pindyck and Daniel Rubinfeld's Microeconomics, 6th ed. will be the main reading for the microeconomics section of the course. N. Gregory Mankiw's Principles of Macroeconomics, 5th ed. will be the core reading on macroeconomics. Both 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 at least the microeconomics text.

The Pindyck and Rubinfeld 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 introductory texts by Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Samuelson/William Nordhaus. These books are available on reserve in the Reed Library. (Note: there are several newer editions of both of these texts, but the older editions of which the library has multiple copies will work just fine.) If you have trouble with the material in the main Pindyck/Rubinfeld text, you should read the corresponding chapters in one or more of the background references. If it is still unclear, ask a question in class or during office hours.

Required readings 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.

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Preparing for Class

At most colleges and universities, the material covered in Econ 201 would be taught over a full year, 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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