Past SYE Senior Seminars

Incentives Among Thieves

Certain criminal behaviors may be considered deviant and beyond the
scope of rational analysis. However, much criminal activity is readily
analyzed by traditional economic tools. In this course, we will study
the law, economics and organization of criminal activity. By analyzing
how individuals allocate their scarce resources between legal and
illegal activities we will highlight the major economic determinants of
the decision to commit crime and the ability of governments to deter
crime. We will then focus on organized criminal activities, asking how
relationships are governed within the organization to insure "honest"
treatment among the thieves. Instructor: Chezum.

Urban Economics and Real Estate

Housing prices, recent mortgage crisis, gated communities, racial
segregation in cities, pollution and congestion? These are some of the
topics being considered in this senior seminar. This seminar consists of
two major parts. The first part, urban economic development, is
organized around several topics, including location patterns in urban
areas, urban government, social problems, and growth. The second part,
real estate markets, focuses on the microeconomics of residential land
markets and the commercial property market.
Instructor: Ovchinnikova.

Adam Smith: the "Adam" and the "Smith" of Economics

Adam Smith has long been considered the founder (and the forger) of
modern economics, and he is still the most frequently quoted economist
in our textbooks and professional literature. Yet Smith was a moral
philosopher, not an economist, and in his day his reputation had already
been established as the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments,
published in 1759. 2009 marks the 250th anniversary of its publication.
Scholars have long debated the relationship between this early work in
moral philosophy and his great treatise on economics, An Inquiry
into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
. This occasion
invites us as economists to consider the important interconnections
between moral philosophy and economics. How do concepts of justice,
ethics, the public good, etc. influence the way we go about our business
of understanding the economic order and prescribing for its
improvement? Is it possible to arrive at sound moral judgments relating
to economic performance and policy without a knowledge of the expected
consequences (or possible unintended consequences) of these policies?
What values, e.g. equity, efficiency, should economic performance and
policy promote? Are moral and economic progress complementary or
competing goods? Is self-interest alone capable of explaining the
emergence and evolution of economic and social order? These are some of
the questions we will investigate in this seminar as we read Smith's
two great works as well as contemporary commentary on them. (The
department hopes to host a series of visiting speakers throughout the
2008-2009 academic year addressing the themes of this seminar.
Instructor: Young.

The Great Depression: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom

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. 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.
The ideas from the course, along with ongoing discussions about what it
means to do research in economic history, will provide a platform for
your central task, which is to engage in research on some element or
event of the Great Depression.
Instructor: Horwitz.

International Monetary System

The international monetary system has been described as the glue that
binds national economies together. This seminar will cover the
historical evolution of international financial linkages and
institutions. We will begin with a discussion of commodity backed monies
that for the most part defined monetary economics until the twentieth
century. We will examine the gold standard that prevailed under the
British leadership of the late nineteenth century. We will then consider
the Bretton-Woods system of the mid-twentieth century that tied
currencies to one another. We will also discuss current international
monetary arrangements and issues such as dollarization and currency
unions. We will address international institutions such as the World
Bank and the International Monetary Fund and the roles that they plan in
international financial activities. In addressing these issues will
evaluate various exchange rate policies; i.e., fixed, adjustable pegs,
managed floats, and freely floating exchange rate regimes.
Instructor: Jenkins

Game Theory

Checkers, chess, hockey, auctions, divorce trials, international treaty
negotiations, teen age dating, collective bargaining, and faculty
meetings have something in common.. Each constitutes a situation where
two or more "players" match wits, where outcomes depend on player
strategies, and where there is significant interdependence between
players. "Game Theory", the framework commonly used to analyze such
situations, was first developed by Von Neuman and Morgenstern in 1944,
and has been refined and extended by others, including John Nash, a
Nobel laureate portrayed in the recent movie A Beautiful Mind.
Since, in the words of another Nobel Prize winner Paul Samuelson, "to be
literate in the modern age you need to have a general understanding of
game theory", this course provides an introduction to the theory of
non-cooperative games. It then explores applications in the fields of
economics, politics, law, and sociology.
Instructor: FitzRandolph

The History of Economic Ideas

Where did modern economics come from? Is the past nothing but the wrong
ideas of dead men? Does studying the history of economics make us better
economists? Are there alternative approaches to economics? If so, why
has history selected away from them? These are some of the questions we
will address in this seminar. We will read substantial extracts from
some of the great classics in economics, such as Adam Smith's Inquiry
into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
, as we survey
the history of our discipline from its beginnings in ancient Greek
philosophy to the age of Keynes. Ultimately the purpose of studying
history is to make us more knowledgeable about the present. An important
theme of the course will be to relate the seminal ideas of the past to
their place in modern economics and to their importance for
understanding modern concerns, such as free trade and globalization,
development, resource depletion, macroeconomic fluctuations, and
theories of normative economics.
Instructor: Young

The Economics of Higher Education

This seminar will use economic analysis to study the structure and
performance of higher education in the United States. On the demand
side, we will use the theory of human capital formation as a basis for
measuring the private and social returns to higher education. We will
also look at the structure of student finance and how it affects college
access, choice, and diversity. On the supply side, we will consider
those aspects of the theory of nonprofit institutions that are relevant
for understanding the operations of colleges and universities and the
markets they operate in. We will address problems associated with the
system of faculty tenure as well as those that arise when students are
viewed as inputs in the production process and well as consumers.
Evaluation will be based on participation in the seminar discussions and
an individual research project.
Instructor: Richardson.

Experimental Economics

This seminar will introduce students to the applications of experiments
in economics: testing institutional designs and economic theories about
human behavior. The course consists of three parts. a) we examine the
motivation behind experiments, their usefulness and their limitations.
b) we revisit theories from other economics classes that are offered at
SLU and see how they are tested with experiments. c) in the hands-on
part, the class will be divided into groups of three or four, each group
chooses a particular field within economics, learns about experimental
results in the field it chooses, designs and runs its own experiments
and participates in the experiments of the other groups.
Instructor: Kroll.

The Economics of Organizations

Exchange and production in an economy take place within the context of a
variety of organizations and institutions. Consider several examples:
automobile assemblers often make many of the components they use while
personal computer assemblers do so less frequently; self-employment is
much more common among professionals than clerical workers; production
of manufactured goods is commonly done by corporations while provision
of legal services is usually accomplished by a partnership; fast food is
often marketed through franchising while apartments are not. This
course will study these phenomena and ask how developing informational
technologies (such as the internet) will change the nature and very
structure of exchange and production. The purpose of the course is
twofold: (1) to gain an understanding of the forces that determine the
nature of the institutions surrounding transactions and (2) to consider
policy implications of the analysis.
Instructor: Chezum.

The Economics of Conflict

This is a game theoretic analysis of potential gains from trade between
parties with divergent interests. The principles will be illustrated by
playing games of strategy, and with reference to motion pictures. Topics
will include: coordination without explicit communication, or in the
absence of trust; the credibility of threats, and nuclear deterence.
Instructor: Lockard.

Economics of Smoking, Drinking and Guns

There are many interesting economic, regulatory, and legal issues that
can be addressed by examining the markets for alcohol, tobacco, and
firearms. We will study how changes in prices, regulations, and other
demand factors affect individuals' behavior and economic outcomes. We
will investigate the economics of addiction, discounting the future, and
risk perceptions. We also will examine the market structure of these
industries and the behavior of firms within the market. Key to
understanding both consumer and firm behavior is understanding the
regulatory roles of government over these products. Possible regulatory
issues to be addressed include excise taxation, direct regulation of
firms and consumers, and information provision. Linked to government's
roles in these markets are the legal systems dealings with these
products, such as governments' and individuals' product liability
lawsuits against the tobacco companies.
Instructor: Del Rossi

Trust, Contracts, and Social Networks

Throughout history and in various parts of the world, there have always
been ethnic or religious groups that were more commercially successful
and richer than others. Examples include South Asians (Indians) in East
Africa, Lebanese in West Africa, ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia,
Japanese in South America, 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 and allow 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 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.
Instructor: Blewett

Malthusianism Past and Present

The world is running out of resources. More and more people in the
future will live in "water stressed" nations. Food will become ever
more expensive, as will energy and mineral resources. Pollution will
kill us, and climate change, species loss, and deforestation will ruin
the planet if current trends continue. And it's all caused by
population growth. This is the litany of contemporary Neo-Malthusian
environmentalists, but it is nothing new. Paul Ehrlich's Population
Bomb
(1968) or the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth (1972)
are in many ways simply reincarnations of Malthus's Essay on the
Principle of Population
(1798). Beginning with Malthus's famous
essay, this course will examine the Malthusian worldview and its
transition from integral part of economics to outright rejection and
rebirth in the writings of some environmentalists. Why this reversal
in economics? Is it based on a truism (finite resources must eventually
run out)? Or is it susceptible to empirical refutation? These are
some of the questions we will address as we progress from Malthus's
Essay to Bjorn Lomborg's Skeptical Environmentalist (2001).
Instructor: Young.

Technological Progress and Economic Growth

"Why Are We So Rich and They So Poor?" was the title of an address of
the economic historian David Landes to a meeting of the American
Economic Association. Since the time of Adam Smith economists have tried
to explain the vast differences in economic growth and welfare between
and within countries. Many different growth models have been developed
over time, each contributing a new facet of understanding and helping to
define strategies to foster economic growth. During the last two
decades famous economists, like Paul Romer, Elhanan Helpman, Gene
Grossman, and Nobel Prize winner Robert Lucas, have introduced a new
breed of models that stresses the importance of technological progress.
This course provides an introduction into growth models and explores the
importance of flows of ideas and technology for increases in welfare.
As part of this seminar we will discuss the role of intellectual
property rights for research and development and dissemination of
knowledge.
Instructor: Czap.