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Course Information

Instructor Info:Smita Ramnarain
TA Info:Rene Cruz
Term: 2013S
Meeting Info: Tuesday Thursday
02:00 PM - 03:20 PM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 102
02:00 PM - 03:20 PM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 102

Is capitalism the best economic system for meeting human needs? Can microeconomic theory help us figure out what to do about climate change? Will macroeconomic theory get us out of the recession? In this course, we will use these questions to frame the study of our economic system and the theories most often used to explain its workings. In the first part of the class, we will assess the merits and problems of capitalism as a system for producing and distributing goods and services. To contextualize the study of capitalism, we will learn about economic systems that have preceded it and economic thinkers that have theorized about it. In the second part of the class, we will study neoclassical microeconomic theory and its contributions to our understanding of how goods are--and should be--produced and distributed. We will ask whether these theories can help us understand climate change, perhaps the greatest economic and environmental challenge of our time. In the third part of the class, we will study neoclassical and Keynesian macroeconomic theory, assessing its usefulness in understanding and alleviating the current economic crisis. Theory introduced in parts two and three correspond to that taught in introductory level courses in micro- and macroeconomics and will prepare students for intermediate level work in both fields.

Course Objectives:


  1. Provide an overview of  the history of economic thought and prevailing theoretical approaches (mainstream and heterodox) in economics
  2. Improve analytical thinking and problem solving skills by using economic theories and models to explain and predict economic relationships.
  3. Advance critical thinking to evaluate economic models in their ability to portray the real world or to address major economic challenges.
  4. Improve your abilities to evaluate views and opinions related to economics and develop their own perspectives based on sound reasoning.
  5. Improve your understanding of economic issues and events.
Evaluation Criteria:

* In order to receive an evaluation, you must (1) have no more than three absences in total, for the entire semester (regardless of reason), and (2) submit all required assignments on time.

Attendance is required. Three absences, whatever the reason, will be allowed in the course of this session. Any additional absences will be considered unexcused (regardless of reason) and will affect class participation grade. This is really not out of a desire to be unreasonable; the course is structured in a way that emphasizes participation and discussion. Indeed, this element constitutes a significant percentage of the grade. So, come to class, listen, and participate. Really!

 * I may or may not take attendance in every class. That is, attendance recording will be randomized. If you are absent for a particular class (and it is your third time being absent) and that happens to be a class in which I take attendance, it will be mentioned in your evaluation, regardless of what the reason for your absence is, or how sincere you have been with your work otherwise. I will not hear any justifications post-facto.

* Attendance, class participation in discussions, pop-quizzes (variable number, depending on need for them), short homeworks (12), and two problem sets will all contribute to assessing your performance in this class. In addition, one group presentation in the class simulation exercise will also count towards your final evaluation.

 *If you do miss a class, please submit any assignments before class and consult a classmate to find out what you missed.

* Homeworks and problem sets will be graded. Adequately completed work will receive a ‘pass.’ The ‘pass’ is not a grade; rather it indicates effort and understanding. Your portfolio must contain ‘passes’ on at least 10 homeworks (out of 12) and on both the problem sets.

All homework is due as paper copy in class.  Homeworks or problem sets need not be typed out if they are legible (I will let you know if you need to type them out) but please turn in stapled, neat work. Unstapled sheets will not be collected.

Late work will not be accepted and incompletes will not be given for this course.

* Student evaluations will be based on your (1) regular and active class participation (see expectations above); (2) sincerity in keeping up with readings (3) timely completion of assignments; (4) ability to engage critically with the course material; (5) ability to make clear and well-supported arguments in writing; (6) ability to interpret and produce graphical representations of quantitative information; (7) ability to make connections to other work; (8) progress over the semester; and (9) preparedness for future work in this area.

* Physical presence in class is one thing, mental presence is another – both are required. Please be respectful to your colleagues by coming to class prepared to ask and answer questions and to engage in discussions, i.e. having read the material assigned. While in class, please be attentive. Emails, the news, Facebook, text messages, work for other classes etc. can wait in this time. I also ask that you not use laptop computers in class.

 *Most crucially, as with any course, there will be some material you like, some you don’t. Some controversial and perhaps sensitive topics will be under discussion. Many of us may have strong feelings and opinions. However, just as I am expected to behave respectfully towards you, I expect that you will offer opinions in a manner that is sensitive and respectful of your peers and me. Be mindful that our goal is to investigate questions together and sometimes challenge one another, but not to win arguments or be right.

* If you remain signed on to the course after add/drop period is over, I assume you have agreed to the terms for an evaluation for this course.

Additional Info:

 The textbook for this course will be a chief source of material for class discussions, quizzes and examinations. The textbook is:

Riddell, Tom et al. “Economics: A Tool for Critically Understanding Society: Eighth Edition”.

It is available at the Hampstore, or from Amazon. ISBN: 0321423585.

All other readings will be made available through Moodle, or as class handouts. A link will provided in the case of readings or materials available on other websites.