Econ 101 Class

I am teaching an Intro to Economics class this spring at NYU’s (School of Continuing and Professional Studies). The syllabus for the class is about done, but it is not yet etched in stone.

I am starting with the basic law of Supply and Demand, Incentives, then on to Utility for individuals and Profit Maximizing for firms, Smith’s Invisible Hand. Then, its on to the amorality (versus immorality) of capitalism, a history of economic schools of thought. Micro vs Macro, What is Inflation?, Paper currency versus Gold, Real Estate, Commodities, the role of the Fed, Monopoly & Anti-Trust, Free Trade & Globalization, Competition & Creative Destruction, Banking and Debt, Capital markets, and Economic Cycles, finishing up with behavioral economics. I also want to address the idea that there is "no free lunch" throughout the class. (The course is 6 weeks)

I want this to be less boring than the Econ classes that put me to sleep in college, and less technical than the Economics and Anti-Trust classes I took in law school.

Here’s my question for y’all: If you were to take a course such as this, what
would you want taught? What topics and specific subjects would you like to see
discussed? I am looking to balance current topics with historical examples. Some theory is fine (hey, its economics)

Any ideas?


UPDATE March 29, 2006 4:20pm

Wow — huge inflow of suggestions — Many thanks.

The books I am going to recommend — note these are not textbooks — are Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan, and New Ideas from Dead Economists by Todd G. Buchholz . . .

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  1. enrico commented on Mar 29

    i think that money is the most interesting economic subject.
    We’re not taught about that enough in Italian Universities, and i wish i was. Dont know about that in the US.
    So i think i would like to hear about that a lot.

  2. Big Boi commented on Mar 29

    What knowledge level will your students have prior to taking your class (and how many are there because it is a requirement they have to get out of the way versus they are there because they really want to learn)? The composition of your students will make a big difference in what to teach.

  3. terry commented on Mar 29

    I always liked elasticity and externalities and I think that those are two concepts that explain why economists get it wrong so often and why after the fact, things seem so obvious.

  4. Matthew commented on Mar 29

    How about some game theory? Some experimental economics can be fun if the class is general enough for some games.

  5. jab commented on Mar 29

    My 2 cents. Less is better – you listed out alot. All good stuff but I think you would be making a more important impact on the students if you could just teach them a few things very well so that they understood it completely and instinctively. My choice would be the basic supply – demand curves. There is so much to teach just on that – how P&Q are determined – the effects of taxes and subsidies, etc. If they would really understand this they will be so much further along than most people. Give them references for things like gold vs. paper money – a great subject to be sure. I know it is tempting to give them a flavor of everything but my question would be do you want them to understand everything a little bit or really understand the back bone of economics and from here go on to the rest. My thoughts for what it is worth.

  6. Bonddad commented on Mar 29

    Free-floating currency and the elements that effect exchange rates.

    Something on the trade deficit. I realize this is an intro class, but a general explanation would be great.

    I’m not sure I would be interested in an overview of anti-trust, but that is just me.

  7. curmudgeon commented on Mar 29

    comparative advantage and international trade

    public goods vs. private goods

    money and inflation (instead of paper currency vs. Gold and the role fo the Fed)

    limitations to economic theory (instead of ‘amorality’ and behavioral theory)

    Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers is a good source for the history/schools of thought.

  8. Reve BM commented on Mar 29

    Would like to see comparative statistics of the US or another market economy such as Japan compared with the Soviet Union, to the extent statistics are available. Although the Soviet Union obviously fell apart, is there a way to show its comparative weakness versus a market economy using data? Also, is there a framework for analyzing China?

  9. rob commented on Mar 29

    can you recommend any books explaining how Germany fared during the 1930s depression? i never understood how Nazis had the money to re-arm after hyperinflation.

    i have no economics background.

  10. john commented on Mar 29

    If you want to play a nifty game hold up a Nr 2 pencil and ask the class to list out all of the factories that were involved in collecting the raw materials that went into building it, the factories that actually produced it, and the factories that produced the transportation methods (i.e. planes and trains and ships and autos). The get them to explain how interest rates (up or down) impact on the Nr. 2 pencil “infrastructure”. Then ask them how, after all of this a pencil can still be sold for about a dime and everyone make a profit.

    Try this yourselves – don’t forget that pencils no longer use lead. And very few use a wooden body. And don’t forget the eraser.

  11. dm commented on Mar 29

    the only time math made any sense was in econ…especially calc…remember the slope of functions at certain points? Econ is great for taking a snapshot of any one time or place in our world but its mainweakness is moving beyond this and your experience is what can make this interesting to them. I only got supply/demand graphs. Your perspective on forecasting can make the future seem accessible to young people confused about their future. first they have to think they can…

  12. Chris Pepin commented on Mar 29

    For a textbook, I would look at “Real World Macro” and “Real World Micro” at:

    These tend to be on the mainstream “left” (say Swedish social democratic), but I think they are extremely well-crafted.

    I hope that you can bring the insight and depth of your website to the classroom. You ability to find obscure yet valuable items of information on the Web is a rare gift (buttressed I am sure by hundreds of hours of work).

  13. rob hone commented on Mar 29

    dump the econ classics and build the whole thing around 2 current stories. 1. world energy prices and the roll of traders. 2. The fall of GM and the roll of globalization.

  14. andre haroche commented on Mar 29

    I went to NYU undergrad AND returned to get my MBA there (Finance maj) – so I know the inside.

    As for what to teach — it depends on what “discipline” of economics you want to focus on – Macro (Suupply and Demand, Game theory yada) or Micro (Monetary Policy, Keynsian etc).

    to me a blend of both is useful —
    * Basic Supply and Demand is a must; show monoplies pricing power, dead weight loss etc.

    * HUGE — comparative advantage — this has shaped my thinking and recommend: how it makes sense (mathematically) to trade “services or goods” when one has a relative advantage — applies from everyting to Global Trade in – use “Beer and Pretzels” example; to Hiring a Secratery because its a better trade to pay her to give me free time (to make more $$_

    — Macro Side — much to cover —
    * Forget the name — the equation for Spending = Consumption. How Government Spending + Consumer Spending + Investment = GDP ; Important info that makes you go wow when you realize the impacts

    * Interest rate to investment relationship (equation)

    * Too Deep: IS-LM curves, Kensian Theory — maye. All these curves and theorems give big time insight into effects of monetary and fiscal policy — deep, but relevant.

    10 mins of lecture, followed up by 10 mins of 1:1 or “team” excercises, followed by Q/A and Discussion (Then a 5 min break) — is a great guideline; theory –> application –> discussing/learning – then a digestion period (and pee break).

    hope this helps. just a give back – for the great BLOG;

  15. JWC commented on Mar 29

    I took an economics class while I was in my 40’s and finishing my degree. I can’t remember a thing they taught except the concept of elasticity. You will be teaching adults and I think your basic theme of “There is no such thing as a free lunch” is GREAT! I agree with the idea of keep it simple, better to cover a few themes and have them retain it.

    Adults will be taking Econ as a requirement, probably for a general management or business degree. They need the skills to be able to practice critical thinking when the read/watch the spin that we are surrounded with every day in regards to this countrys economy. They also need to be able to see the big picture when they are involved in bugdget issues as a manager.
    (I worked in health care and the nurse managers were never able to grasp how macro changes in reimbursement policies made it impossible to give them everything they wanted for their area.

    Good luck. I’d love to take a class taught by you. The one I took was basically worthless.

  16. Robert Cote commented on Mar 29

    Compounding, both debt and investment. Expand into the time value of money.

  17. WDD commented on Mar 29

    Another important topic to cover are economic profits.

  18. algernon commented on Mar 29


    Amorality of capitalism? There is a great deal of morality inherent in voluntary exchange & the honesty required to make capitalism work.

  19. mmcginley commented on Mar 29

    Perhaps some basics on Austrian economics. The trade deficit and the ramifications of spending more than we produce.

  20. Chad K commented on Mar 29

    I’d just say one thing… don’t push any politically based economic beliefs in any way… it’s the pefect way to alienate somewhere near 50% of your class.

    One of the things I love is hearing unintended consequences of seemingly common-sense economic views pushed on the public.. and comparing those by showing the many unargued ways they can be balanced out by positives.

    Like more fuel efficient cars being a gurantee for a better US economy, based on less foreign reliance. While that’s most likely the truth, the unintended consequences are lower tax revenue on gasoline for states that push this stuff, or have more adopters (Oregon, Washington). So now we’re out of money to build and maintain roads, putting large contractors in a rut… less gas station jobs (with pay-at-the-pump, it happens anyway)… The likelihood of less US exploration for oil, leading to, once again, greater reliance on foreign oil…

    Advantages may be that a newer technology (hydrogen) or an older one (diesel) may take hold, causing new infrastructure, creating jobs, etc. Less polution, causing fewer health issues, lowering total health cost per capita… thus lowering the potential coming burden of medicare/medicaid… lowering tax burden on citizens… allowing more money into the economy, and more jobs…

    It’s always interesting when you use current events that most people are familiar with to explain ideas. If immigration reform is still on the table, a non-biased view of the imigrants role in our economy would be nice. What it would mean if we deport a large number of them… and what it would mean if many of them became legal… tax ramifications? legal? expense (medicare, soc sec, etc)

  21. Barry Ritholtz commented on Mar 29

    here’s my favorite quote on the subject:

    “The ideas of economists and economic philosophers, both when they are right and wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”

    – Lord John Maynard Keynes.

  22. Tom commented on Mar 29

    The role of innovation in economic growth.

  23. William Polley commented on Mar 29

    Someone mentioned it already, but you left out comparative advantage. There is so much you can do with that. On the macro side, real vs. nominal interest rates is a favorite point of mine because you can go right from that to talking about what the what the Fed does to influence inflation expectations and so on.

    You’ll have a really tough time covering all of that in any depth in 6 weeks. I would really want to know my audience for something like this. Are they part-time bachelor’s degree seekers? Are they getting ready to do an MBA? Other?

    Once you know who you’re talking to, this could be a really fun course.

  24. Dan B commented on Mar 29

    If you want to keep them interested make it dramatic. Asian contagion & global economic metdown. Beggar thy neighbour and competive devaluation. Latin America collapse, over banking & the birth of emerging markets, war & trade, a pound of flesh. Great blog!

  25. S commented on Mar 29

    I think a few things would be interesting. A historical look at gold standard, bretton woods and the current regime in placve – see MArtin Wolf editorial in FT this morning.

    I also think a robust discussion of comparitive advantage and “free” trade in light of our move to an intellectual economy is wothwhile. The migration would seem to demand the same freedom of movement for labor as for widgets if we have any chance of success? I might sprinkle in a discussion backed by data points illuminating the nominal wealth gains USA is getting from the “marginal” free trade deals ala CAFTA. Since we live in a world where externalities will persist, why are we so steadfast in beliveing ceterus paribus theories?

  26. Becky commented on Mar 29

    My econ professor at Oberlin taught by the Socratic method and we got into fascinating discussions. I think your subject matter is great but see if you can teach by asking them questions that make them THINK!

  27. Alex Khenkin commented on Mar 29

    Economics has become too abstract, laden with useless math (Samuelson’s fault?). Take a colony of 100 people and show how production, division of labor, savings, money, trade and banking really work. Similar to Austrian approach, I guess. A lot of gobbledegook clears away once one has to figure out how it would play in such an environment.

  28. jl commented on Mar 29

    – government statistics – how they are altered, why they are discontinued (M3)

    – Keynesianism vs. Monetarism

    – Multipliers

    – Relation of aggregate savings/investment, marginal prop. to save/consume

  29. Mike commented on Mar 29

    How about touching on how the trade deficit is extending the overdone bull market in the sense of foreign money coming back into this country and buying up our assets. It is real obvious in Florida where Americans bought their goods and now their(our) money is coming back into this country and buying up real estate and building homes like crazy. First it was euros, now it is moving toward asian currencies. This is my opinion why this market hasn’t corrected big time.

  30. JSchreiber commented on Mar 29

    We have way too many Keynesians in this country… I recommend an Austrian perspective.

  31. MIchael L commented on Mar 29

    I was an Econ major in College. The thing that really fascinated me was charting supply and demand of oil and showing how price controls made things worse under Nixon.

    Do the old Boy Scout approach. See one, do one, teach one. So a combination of lecture, small groups, and make them get up and explain their work.

  32. bg commented on Mar 29

    Comaprative Advantage. Definitely. Also, the theories that support supply side and demand side policies with examples. This will help the lehman wade through the punditry written everyday about the subject and be able to call BS when needed.

  33. JW commented on Mar 29

    Having taken a continuing-ed class at NYU which started at 6pm, I can attest to the fact that heading into a classroom after a long day at work is a chore. The brain and body slip into autopilot and the time blurs. To counter this, I would suggest weaving the lessons of economics into discussions of contemporary, real world topics. For instance, your insights on the music industry vs the internet, et al, are straight out of econ 101, but have the foundation to prompt questions and sustain discussion. I’d sit in if I could!

  34. Hugh Harmon commented on Mar 29

    I think you should consider a little economic history lesson on investment returns through the centuries ala Peter Bernstein. I think you students will benefit from this perspective especially in relation to expectations vs market reality.

    Thanks for sharing you perspectives – your students surely will learn alot if they will listen well. Good luck!


  35. The Unknown Professor commented on Mar 29

    I’d include the role of prices as a theme rather than as a specific topic. Recommended text – Sowell’s Basic Economics.

  36. roscoe ii commented on Mar 29

    How about contrasting the Keynesian approch ( Bernanke) vs. the Chicago Schol ( Friedman) vs Austrian school ( Hayek, von Mises/ Skousen) on several different issues
    Examples below would give 3 distinct views on same topic
    and what those differences mean

    Skousen’s book VIENNA vs CHICAGO does a great job in explaining these contrasts.

  37. mh497 commented on Mar 29

    Request: Can you go teach this to our politicians?

  38. anna commented on Mar 29

    Include the ambiguities. For example you use supply and demand in setting prices then touch on real world markets such as stocks. Maybe go into examples of how it does correct over time like a pendulum. Give some sense of the distortions.

    I think “here’s the theory and here’s the actuality, but the theory does have power, but…” Especially with stocks or something relevant they are curious, but also strangely enough putting the anstraction wihin real world complexity helps lots of us grasp, sort of, the abstraction, then talk about the idea of perfect information and it doesn’t exist.

    I think to some extent it can all build organically because everythings connected. Feel free to ramble with good stories.

  39. Drew Yallop commented on Mar 29

    Free trade and globalization. There is a wealth of bullshit among the young today propagated mostly by the academic left. Remind them that Keynes was a supporter of open markets and so are anti-Bushey economists like Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman. A few facts should make for interesting classroom discussion.

  40. Banner Moffat commented on Mar 29

    Teach them that overly simple economic explanations such as what politically motivated people (or media)often throw around are usually incomplete, misleading or wrong. You shouldn’t have too much trouble coming up with timely and interesting examples.

  41. zac commented on Mar 29

    I agree wholeheartedly that you should start with Comparative Advantage,– this is fundamental to understanding Globalization of Production. This will lead you to discuss the evolution of capital markets and cost-of-funding arbitrage that it enables: Discuss in 10 minutes how all credit used to be sourced from banks lending, and therefore was subject to the Monetary Policy lever Alan Greenspan pulled (ie higher interest rates means fewer borrowers, less money in circulation, inflation can be regulated)… but that now, capital market sophistication and liquidity means that banks are not the primary supplier of corporate credit, which means that there are a bunch of new questions in Economics that remain unanswered– complexity is present, hence the field is vibrant and compelling, not stodgy and fixed.

    I think most acolytes to Economics come thinking that it is complete, and that they are getting exposed to it for the sake of “understanding the classic liberal education”. I think it is important to explain in general terms that Economics is more like Medicine– very complex, and always changing, always requiring new insights and constant vigilance.

  42. noname commented on Mar 29

    1) The impact of US deficits on Investment and future productivity

    2) The role of reputation and expectations in fed policy 90s vs 70s.

  43. im1dc commented on Mar 29

    I’m not an economist or academically tainted by it.

    That gives me a special but easy to ignore insight to share here:

    There are real everyday economics going on everywhere all over the globe and then there is the study of Economics by ‘Economists’ who purport to explain by detailed study and analysis what is going on in all that everyday real economics.

    The academics first theory is Macro versus Micro Economics. HUH?

    Let’s get real, this distinction is really just to make work in university Economic Depts. for all the Ph.D’s they graduated that could not find a job after graduation.

    The Micro, Macro–and every other flavor of Economist–attempts to explain what they do by developing ‘Economic theories’ for us to use to understand “economics”.

    Their many ‘Economic Theories’ come with a even greater multitude of exceptions, explanations and provisios. (That’s because the theories don’t work very well, if at all)

    The reason is that ‘Academic Economics’ and ‘economics’ are not the same things.

    Therefore, I recommend that you teach that, i.e., Economic Theories fall short of the critical Validity and Reliability Tests of Science for Predictability.

    To be kind you can say Academic Economics is in its infancy.

    Though with ‘Freakonomics’ irrevelant take on economic activity and Economics there is hope for this professionial pursuit yet.

    Here’s my proof of all the above: Cover the history of the Nobel Prize for Economics. Link:

    The ideas for which Nobels have been handed out in the field of Economics can best be described, imo, as embarassing but realistically described as variously contradictory, ineffective and gobbledygook.

    If they only worked!

    Oh, wait if you do mention and review the history of the Nobel Economic’s prize then you’d have to explain how Samuelson, Friedman, Merton, Scholes, Kydland, Prescott and Hayek each got a Nobel.

    Better skip the Nobels, you don’t want eager students to note the absolute contradictions in Economics too soon.

    Or, do you?

    As ‘jab’ posted early on, ‘Keep it Simple but thorough’.

    Yea, stick to ‘Supply and Demand’, toss in Lord Keynes, Comparative versus Competitive Advantage, tell the students that it was Academic Nobelist Economists who created and then bankrupted the Hedge firm LTCM (and almost the global banking system) and these men are still ‘out there’ in different firms or universities peddling their ‘theories’ and looking for “investors” in their ‘new theories’, then mention that there are far more LTCM-type global financial Hedge Funds now than then (and far greater risk now to the world’s global financial system), and for the ‘Final Test’ I suggest you teach and ask only the meaning and application of “caveat emptor” with its proper application to your recommendations for making money today.

    You should include Jim Cramer’s classic disclaimer: “DO YOUR OWN HOMEWORK”.

    You may have guessed I am not overawed or even awed by Economists, Economics, Academic or Applied. All true.

    I do enjoy reading their fictions however.

  44. donna commented on Mar 29

    When I took my college econ course, I asked if we were going to talk about Austrian economics and when the prof said no, I just turned off my brain for the rest of the year.

    But that’s just me.

  45. rick commented on Mar 29

    A small model of the US economy would demonstrate the interrelationship of the parts; durables, interest rates, inventories, X-M, gov’t spending etc. You could show your students how that old equation from high school y=mx + b can actually be of use in describing an economic entity all in probably half a lesson.

    Great Blog by the way!

  46. Matt commented on Mar 29

    Don’t spend much time drawing lines and graphs!

    For my bachelors in Economics, I learned all about graphs and diagrams and got really good at memorizing formulas, but I didn’t learn a thing about how to apply the concepts to current events or even how to speak intelligently about the subject.

    In fact, in hindsight, I’m pretty angry with my university for focusing so much on memorize-and-forget formulas and so little on how to actually *understand* the field. I guess that’s why we have blogs.

  47. Big D commented on Mar 29

    What are the dates, and where do we sign up?

  48. miami commented on Mar 29

    You didn’t say anything about bonds or the overwhelming importance, globally, of bond markets in your list [I think.] I would definitely spend some time on that, how they tie into FX markets and gov’t policy, how you can fix IR or FX but not both unless you completely restrict currency flows, etc.

  49. D. commented on Mar 29

    Each economic theory is a product of its time but when I took economics not one single teacher showed us how the economic backdrop influenced the evolution of economics theory.

    I suggest incorporating a little history when explaining different theories.

  50. psh commented on Mar 29

    The math of compounding: Ke**rt and discounting, including perpetuities. A clear sense of those relationships can protect you from corporate predation and marketing manipulation and do more for your quality of life than anything else in the discipline.

  51. heatherette commented on Mar 29

    Podcast it please or publish the syllabus. I read alot of current books (right now Joseph Ellis) and understand the modern market but never took an econ course. I would want to understand all the basic terminology, but I wouldn’t want to bother with any theories that don’t really apply practically to my real life outings with money. Nothing too existential just the facts sir and to see how they apply in real life settings.

  52. trader75 commented on Mar 29

    Teaching an Economics Class! Do you ever sleep? Oh well, not like you have much else going on (hedge fund, blog, paid research service, TV gigs, Real Money, music scene)… ;p

    Seriously though: Charles Whelan’s “Naked Economics” could be a great textbook… Thomas Sowell’s “Basic Economics,” could provide balance for those who consider Whelan a tad left wing… and how about a look at Austrian economics. Smackdown, Hayek vs Keynes.

  53. Larry Nusbaum, Scottsdale commented on Mar 29

    Post the MLB standings every day, along with team payrolls and player salaries.
    Hope this helps……..

  54. Daniel Secrest commented on Mar 29

    A book that you have mentioned here, “Ahead of the Curve” by Joseph Ellis, provides an excellent introduction to how the economy works, and how to interpret the mass of data that comes out on a daily basis. I highly recommend using this book.

    There is even a website that accompanies the book — — which provides updated charts tracking economic data and relationships described in the book.

    It’s a common sense approach to understanding our economy that your students will find useful right out of the box…

  55. fiat lux commented on Mar 29

    Initial impression: You can’t fit all that into 6 weeks. Narrow your list down to between 4 and 6 key concepts and focus on getting those across.

  56. Barry Ritholtz commented on Mar 29

    Actually, the two books I was thinking of were New Ideas from Dead Economists, and Naked Economics!

    They are both readable and cover most of the basics.

  57. Ironman commented on Mar 29


    “They is readable and cover most of the basics.”

    Don’t let the NYU English department hear you talk like that!

    But seriously, the texts you’re considering will work as pretty good primers. I would add one more: Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt, since it really drives home some of the key insights of economic thinking, even though its examples are somewhat dated.

    If you hadn’t already narrowed down your reading selections, I would second the Unknown Professor’s recommendation of Sowell’s Basic Economics.

  58. Economan commented on Mar 29

    I think you should definitely cover supply side economics. This is underappreciated and certainly undertaught.

  59. Jim commented on Mar 29

    Game theory! If I had known that something that interesting was a part of economics I never would’ve gotten stuck with this lousy Linguistics degree.

  60. Larry Nusbaum, Scottsdale commented on Mar 29

    “Wow — huge inflow of suggestions — Many thanks.”

    63 out of 64 ain’t half bad…….

  61. Robert Cote commented on Mar 29

    And don’t forget economist jokes…
    The three handed economist.
    The $20 bill on the sidewalk.

  62. monica gagnier commented on Mar 29

    How about “Freakonomics” and John Kenneth Galbraith’s “The Great Crash 1929”? I suggest the first because it demonstrates to the layman who economics is at work all around us, and the second, because many people don’t understand that there was a time when faith in capitalism was completely shaken.

  63. monica gagnier commented on Mar 29

    How about “Freakonomics” and John Kenneth Galbraith’s “The Great Crash 1929”? I suggest the first because it demonstrates to the layman who economics is at work all around us, and the second, because many people don’t understand that there was a time when faith in capitalism was completely shaken.

  64. Marty commented on Mar 29

    I would think Menger’s Principles Of Economics would be a good text.

  65. Mark commented on Mar 29

    Here’s THE KEY to a good economics class.

    Have each of your students bring in at least two articles each time a relevent economic figure is announced (Takes 5 minutes to search and print these out).

    Use the stories to teach relevent topics. This will immediatly apply lessons to what’s happening in the world, instaed of just the academics.

    I had a professor who did this, and it started a life long habit of following economics. It also usually leads to some anecdotal discussion on what’s going on in the world, which ties economics to world events… that’s a good connection to make for students, and will deliver true value for those included to recieve it.

    Love The Big Picture. Read it every business day. Thanks!

  66. javasoy commented on Mar 29

    sounds very boring, unfortunately.

    I think I remember learning all the things you mentioned from High School Economics class. And I went to Canarsie High in Brooklyn, not exactly the best in the city. If I learned that in school, I am sure millions other have already gone through it at least once. If they haven’t learned back then, what makes you think they will learn now? I think the only difference now is that they are at least self-motivated.

  67. mz commented on Mar 29

    It seems like you’ll be trying to cram a lot of material into a month and a half. All of the material will keep the class fresh and exciting. At the same time, this might be a lot to throw at students in an introductory class and it’s really a lot of stuff to cover in 6 weeks. No free lunch, opportunity cost and comparative advantage are topics that should be brought up whenever possible- since they provide the framework for analysis and decision making in all facets of life.

    I think you should also cover speculative bubbles especially since they pop up every once in awhile in every possible place. The first time I heard about the idea of a bubble was during a lecture on exchange rates and currency speculation. This brings me to a broader topic that I would want to learn about: Foreign exchange. The different types of exchange rate regimes- what’s all the hubbub about China’s exchange rate?

    Use the least amount of math possible- in an intro class you will lose 98% of your students. Try to get people to think intuitively about topics.

    Try to incorporate as much applied material as possible- it will improve the learning process more than anything else. It should be easy to incorporate stuff from your site.

  68. Fewlesh commented on Mar 29

    I’m a engineer by trade, CS major by schooling, and armchair economist by fun, and I have TA’d lots of classes.

    The most I ever learened is when I had to make something and compete versus my fellow peers.

    My ideal Econ class would not have me read any books, jawbone about Nobel this and Nobel that, do homeworks with tiny problems, make pretty excel graphs on company X, etc. My Ideal Econ class would be:

    Using software create virtual economic environments that mimic historical lessons. The professor would provide resources to read/learn, but not much.

    Students form groups and compete to make the most money by writing algorithms and having them compete in these problem sets. Assign winners, and discuss results. Every 2 weeks, a new game.

    The desire to win will push these students to expand and learn like never before, and give them concrete skills they can use in the finance world.

    For example, lots of massively multiplayer worlds have advanced economies that sprang into being from nowhere. Why not create your own economic worlds and test theories, etc.

  69. PC commented on Mar 29

    How about a subject about whether it’s possible to make money in markets with economics/economic models? Whether economics can really be applied to markets in “practice”. Use standard economic models to try to predict interest rates or currencies and see if you can profit from them. Now that would be interesting.

  70. todd commented on Mar 30

    I don’t understand all this talk about which text to use… When teaching ANY kind of college course you’re suppose to write your own book and make your students buy it!

  71. jm commented on Mar 30

    It seems to me that the most important aspect of economics is an understanding of markets, and since markets are fundamentally feedback-regulated systems, it’s vital to understand the strengths and limitations of feedback control. But some years ago, wondering whether I was mistaken in being unable to remember having seen even a word about it in the texts I’d read, I went to a used bookstore and bought about five textbooks to see whether I was right about that, and found that I was.

    Moreover, I found that one made a flat statement that market price _is_ the price at which the supply and demand curves cross. Now, in certain respects that can be considered a truism, in that one could claim that the instantaneous local supply and demand correspond to that price, but the concepts of supply and demand then become nearly meaningless. If one thinks in terms of the demand curve representing real demand for the good or service in question at particular prices in the absence of boom-market speculative belief that it can be bought for more and sold to greater fools at a profit (or bust-market unwillingness to buy at attractive prices out of fear they will sink even lower), then this isn’t so.

    Feedback control theory makes it clear why markets with the long loop deadtimes of housing go through boom-bust cycles. You’ll see exactly the same kind of violent limit-cycling oscillation in a long-dead-time industrial plant control loop if you mistune it, and we know why. We also know what has to be done to make such loops work better; the same general concepts work in markets, too, and if more people came out of economics course with some understanding of these things the world would work better.

  72. PrestoPundit commented on Mar 30

    Three thoughts.

    1. Make sure you’ve identified the problem of economic order correctly for your students. Most economists have little idea how to identify the central problem of economics. Reading a bit of Hayek helps a great deal here. Hint — the division of knowledge is central.

    2. Don’t leave out the central causal element in the explanation for economic order — dynamic learning by entrepreneurs and consumers in the context of changing relative prices.

    3. Don’t fail to explain that a mathematical construction is just that. It’s just a mathematical construciton — it ain’t nothing real. A mathematical construction is _not_ “an economy”. Key thing to emphasize here — the central causal element in the explanation of economic order — dynamic learning by entrepreneurs under conditions of real uncertainty within subjective contexts — cannot be captured by a mathematical construction.

  73. Jason C commented on Mar 30

    What core textbook are you planning on using? I would highly recommend G. Mankiw. During my undergrad studies I sadly missed out on him.

  74. __earth commented on Mar 30

    You definitely need to throw in some case study and touch a bit econ-related current affair (like negative externality). Those politically-minded ppl would probably wake up to take.

  75. pseudolus commented on Mar 30

    Might I suggest _Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds_ as a book of some worth to explore?

  76. paperlion commented on Mar 30

    Ever see GOD WANTS YOU TO BE RICH by Paul Pilzer? Theology meets economics. Check it out.

  77. SoftwareNerd commented on Mar 30

    Teach them to look beyond the immediate economic consequences; teach them to anticipate the less visible consequences, as in Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson”.

  78. kharris commented on Mar 30

    The nition offered early in the list that there is too much too teach if probably correct, so I won’t add to the list. However, I do have a suggestion for use with each topic you teach. Offer one result that is not obvious, and then debunk one common assumption or press story, based on the lesson of the day. In some cases, that may not be possible, or lead to something so obscure that it isn’t really interesting. In such cases, there will still be intellectual conflicts that can be highlighted. The point is to show that the lesson being taught is more than just dry theory, but actually is a valuable analytic tool for figuring out real-life stuff.

    Leisure is a “good” while labor is not, but politicians put an enormous amount of effort into talking about jobs as if they are goods. Why is that? Do politicians have it wrong, or are economists benighted about labor and “goods”? Backwards bending labor supply curve – or not – means what in this context?

    Firms maximize profits? GM has no profits. Google, for a very long time, had no profits. Dog versus diety. How come?

    In paring down topics, if that is what you choose to do, I recommend soul searching. Which topics are included because your beliefs do not fit the common Econo 101 cirriculum? Would your students be better off getting a firm grasp of the standard stuff, and doing without your favorite topics? Gold/commodities/real estate, for instance, may be more appropriate to a personal finance course than an intro course in economics. “Creative destruction” is one guy’s expression, but has taken on a cliche life of its own. Does it really need to be a free-standing topic, when comparative advantage is not? The mechanics of comparative advantage have been used to explain lots of the things that go on around us. I have never seen “creative destruction” applied as anything but a label, similar to “globalization” or “fair trade” or “pornography.” Know it when I see it, but can’t use it as an analytic tool.

  79. Brock commented on Mar 30

    Real world examples, especially spectacular successes and failures to drive the point home

  80. cactus commented on Mar 30

    I adjunct an econ class, and I get a lot of response when I use data to discuss things where the real world just doesn’t behave the way everyone believes it does.

    As an example, I use OECD data on healthcare outcomes ( and and healthcare expenditures ( to show that we get very poor bang for the buck in the US compared to countries with “socialized medicine” despite the fact that everyone knows we have the best system in the world.

    Or, go to the OMB page when discussing taxes and surpluses… students are amazed when they find out the data is actually there. You get a lively discussion going about whether tax cuts or spending increases were the main cause of the deficit, and then you spring this on ’em:

    The class goes nuts. ’cause all of a sudden they’re no longer repeating what their favorite left or rightwing asshole commentator spews out on the radio, but looking at the data, which tells its own story.

    Goodl luck.


  81. wilburpup commented on Mar 31

    One of the main things most people don’t understand about economics is that it is not (usually) a zero-sum game. Would be a good idea to provide examples from everyday life and the stock market of why this is not so.

  82. Molly commented on Apr 1

    I know that I’m always interested in the “it” companies and how they’re doing: Wal*Mart, McDonalds, Google. Maybe the networks.

  83. Ken commented on Apr 1

    Just took Prof. McKenzie’s Microecon for Managers class as part of my EMBA program. Thought it was very well done. Great class. He also wrote the book.

  84. Nathan commented on Apr 3

    May I also suggest “The Armchair Economist” by Stephen Landsburg. In my opinion its a little better at explaining economic principles through unconventional examples. Better on principle than Freakanomics (which is interesting, but in a different way, because its more statistical).

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