A. The Great Depression: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom (Horwitz)
The Great Depression was the most important event in the economic and political history of the United States in the 20th century. Much of our thinking about the relationship between markets and government has been affected not only by the events of the Great Depression, but more important, by the interpretations that have been offered for its causes and cures. The “conventional wisdom” that the Great Depression was a failure of capitalism and the government intervention of New Deal and World War II was the cure still dominates intellectual and public policy debates about markets and government, and particularly so in comparisons to the current recession. In this seminar, we will focus our attention on economic historians who offer critical assessments of this conventional wisdom, including some who argue that government was the cause and market processes were the cure. Though there are no specific prerequisites, we will use insights from monetary theory, labor economics, and political economy to explore and evaluate these alternative narratives and their implications for public policy today, including some ongoing direct comparison between the Great Depression and the Great Recession.
B. The Economics of Property (Lockard)
This course will examine the role of private property in the economic development of nations, the relationship between private property and freedom, and the relationship of property rights to human rights, more generally. Students will be encouraged to consider whether a proper understanding of property can help address any existing world problems. We will also explore how property rights come into existence.
C. Senior Honors Seminar (Bansak)
Designed for senior majors who are eligible for departmental honors as well as seniors doing a 300-level independent study, this seminar is focused on enhancing your ability to engage in scholarly work in economics. In this course, you will learn how to “do” economics. While your coursework up to this point has given you a strong foundation in economic theory, this course teaches you how to apply theory to meaningful economic research. The overarching goals of the semester are two: 1) developing a research project and getting matched up with a faculty member to supervise and mentor you; and 2) getting a significant chunk of a first draft of that project completed by the end of the semester. To accomplish those goals, we will work our way through a number of sub-topics involved with producing a polished research paper, including: What do we mean by research? How do we develop research questions? How do I find the data I need? How do I analyze that data effectively? How do I make good arguments? What does it mean to be a good writer of economics?
D. Trust, Contracts, And Social Networks (Blewett)
Throughout history and in various parts of the world, there have always been ethnic or religious minorities that were more commercially successful and wealthier than others. Examples include South Asians (Indians) in East Africa, Lebanese in West Africa, ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia, Japanese in South America, and Koreans in South Los Angeles. Sometimes success has been credited to either admirable cultural traits or nefarious collusion and exclusionary practices. New Institutional Economics provides another explanation: certain groups are advantaged by social networks that engender trust, allowing for the more effective formation and enforcement of contracts. These groups are thus better able to engage in more sophisticated, and more profitable, economic arrangements unavailable to others. This seminar will develop an analysis of middleman activities as well as the economics of trust, contracts, and social networks, using case studies to explore if and how social networks can explain the commercial success of certain minority groups.
E. The Economics of Smoking and Drinking (Del Rossi)
Tobacco and alcohol are not your typical consumer goods. Individuals’ decisions surrounding tobacco and alcohol use often do not seem consistent with our typical rational consumer model. These markets are highly advertised but are also among the most highly regulated and have long been taxed at relatively high rates. Interesting legal and regulatory issues have also arisen in dealing with the health and behavioral effects of consuming these products. We will investigate the economics of addiction and habits, discounting the future, and risk perceptions. We also will examine the market structure of these industries and the behavior of firms within the market. We will study how changes in prices, taxes, regulations, income, and personal characteristics affect individuals’ smoking and drinking behavior. We will also look at how people’s smoking and drinking affect economic outcomes. Additional topics will be determined based on class interest and current events.
F. Behavioral Economics: Choice Beyond the Boundaries of Rationality (Motika)
Early economists knew that their models described a simplified, idealized type of behavior, but it is only in the past few decades that we have systematically studied the ways in which human behavior is different from what “rational” models suggest. In many cases this research owes as much to the psychology literature as it does to traditional economic thinking, bridging the gap between the two fields. This seminar will explore theory and empirical research aimed at explaining key differences between standard economic models and the choices made by real people. In the process, we will investigate puzzles from a wide variety of economic settings including labor markets, public choice, gambling, the stock market, and more.
G. The Political Economy of Adam Smith (Young)
Originally published in 1776, Adam Smith’s Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations is the single most famous book in the history of economics. Even today economists quote from it and find inspiration in it. More editions of it were published in the 1990s than in the 1890s, more in the 1890s than in the 1790s. No edition has ever lost money for the publisher. This is a book not only of enduring but of increasing interest. Friends and enemies alike use Adam Smith or refute him even in modern policy debates. How often have we heard that the fall of communism is a victory for Adam Smith? Yet hardly anyone actually reads the original. In this seminar we will read and discuss Adam Smith’s great book. We will attempt to understand it in the context of Smith’s total research program, bearing in mind that Smith was actually a moral philosopher, not an economist, and that his goal was to produce a complete social science, not the separate discipline of economics.