Introduction to Microeconomics
Syllabus
Fall 2009

"our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become"

 

Introduction

Goals

Structure

Evaluation

What You Need to Purchase

How to Succeed

Introduction

Welcome to Introduction to Microeconomic Principles. It is a wonderful time to be taking an economics course and I am confident the material will prove to be important far after the course is over. Larry Summers, former Treasury Secretary and President of Harvard, was right when he wrote, "[t]he language of public policy is increasingly the language of economics," so think of this course as an investment in the basics that will allow you to better understand truly important public policy choices that will be made in your lifetime. It is also a time to brush up on some important skills. This course is a General Education course where the three required skills are your ability to Read Complex Texts, Use of Quantitative Data, and Use of Information Technology. To succeed you will need to read articles from the "popular" press and "push" around some numbers - and you will be using IT to do it. 

The focus of this course will be on the behavior of individual decision makers - what makes people and businesses "tick" – why do they do what they do – and how might we alter what they do? We also look carefully at the functioning of markets to better understand prices that have such an influence on our lives. The fact is we are engaged in an ongoing “battle” with businesses in the marketplace, and we’ll look into the factors that affect the balance of power, and what is likely to happen to this balance in the near future. We’ll also talk bout market failures that help explain why we find it so difficult to deal with climate change, and how we might address this issue that could be one of the defining issues of your generation.

Before you move on to the content of the course, you should stop to review the course's goals to see if they are consistent with your goals. You should also check out the method of evaluation and text and a brief overview of the structure of the web. When you are ready you should check out the schedule for the course that will link you to the readings and assignments for each day.  You should also note that there will be a concept that reappears continuously throughout the semester - sustainability.  It is not inherently an economics concept, but it is a critically important concept and one that has an important economic dimension.

Goals

The goals of the course are specified in terms of what you should be able to do when the course is over and not what we will do during the course. The course is designed to help you bridge the gap between "theory" and "reality," and along the way you should learn quite a bit about that "real" world into which you will be graduating. There are a few basic economic principles that will be valuable to you regardless of your major or career choice, and we'll start with them. Another feature of the course is its emphasis is on thinking critically and solving problems rather than memorizing. The good news is these are THE skills demanded in today's dynamic work force. The bad news is this is not easy. In fact it is quite difficult so you will need to practice at it, which is why there are many opportunities during the semester to practice. As for the goals, when this course is completed, you should be able to:

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effectively utilize the Internet for finding information

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think critically in order to solve problems 

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understand more of the business news including the financial pages

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identify the 'economic logic' or 'economic principles' useful in interpreting current or historical events and public policy proposals and / or decisions

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contribute meaningfully to discussions/argue a position on public policy and election issues such as raising the minimum wages, legalization of drugs, environmental protection and global warming, reigning in the power of large companies such as Microsoft, and immigration restriction

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explain to your parents and/or friends the function and characteristics of an economic system

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describe the characteristics of the three "primary" economic systems and the evolution of the market system

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describe the broad outlines of the major ideological views on economic systems and identify the ideological position of a writer or speaker

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demonstrate an ability to effectively use and interpret tables, graphs, and equations

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demonstrate an understanding of the basic economic concept of opportunity cost and use possibility curves to describe choice situations

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demonstrate an understanding of the supply and demand model of prices by using models to explain past changes in prices and formulate 'forecasts' for prices 

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explain what behavior we can expect from "rational" individuals and profit-seeking firms and describe the implications of the "ideal" market system with perfect competition in a world of rational actors

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identify the basic shortcomings of the "ideal" market system such as imperfect rationality, externalities, and  imperfect competition and policy options for dealing with the short-comings

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describe the changing role and financing of government in modern society

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identify current public policies and explain what behaviors they might alter and who will be the beneficiaries of the policies

If you are to achieve these goals, then it is important to invest a little time now to understand the basic structure of the course including the web material and the grading.

Structure

For most of you this course will be very different from what you are used to because all of the material is on-line, which will require a little adjustment in how you work during the semester. It will also require you to use Sakai, an interface between you and the material.

Once you are into Sakai you will find the following parts to the course that can be found behind icons appearing on the home page for the course. Each of these links is explained briefly below.  

The Schedule page is where you will find the schedule for readings, exams, quizzes, extra credit opportunities and practice quizzes. This page should be monitored regularly because this includes all of the deadlines you need to meet during the semester.

The Readings page links you to the textbook - or the closest you will come to one in the course. Under the Readings heading you will find two sets of readings. The first are the equivalent of the textbook and they are available online. Also included are outside readings drawn from newspapers, magazine, and academic journals. You will find links to all of those.  

The Review Problems are quizzes that provide you an opportunity to "practice" your skills at economics before the exams because learning to "do economics" is like learning to play tennis or the oboe, ride a bike, or read - you get better at it if you practice.  For each unit of the course these quizzes provide some practice with multiple-choice questions drawn from previous exams. You will find the Review Quizzes on the Schedule page. I encourage you to work on these problems, and if you have questions, then come bring them to the TA or me to discuss them.

On the Exams page you will find a copy of exams from a previous year PLUS copies of each of this semester's exams that will be posted soon after the exam is taken along with the answer key and a brief description of the correct answer. You should check out the answers to determine your grade and make sure you agree with the answers since there have been instances in the past where students have raised legitimate concerns regarding the answers. If you have any questions you should email me with your question or you should stop by and see me in my office. 

To communicate with each other there are the Messages and Forum links  You should check these on a regular basis. You should use Sakai’s messages that are the equivalent of mail to get in touch with me rather than my regular email and you should monitor the Announcements regularly since this is where any important information of schedule changes will be posted. Microeconomics tends to show up in the news frequently and during the semester there will be postings on important issues in Microeconomics in the News. During the semester you will see my postings of articles in the FYI discussions, and I encourage you to post anything you find that you think is interesting. 

In addition to these icons on the homepage, there is the Course Outline link on the Syllabus and Schedule page that links you to an outline of the important concepts in the course that should be a good guide for your studies for the exams. You will find the course outline printed in the first pages of the class handout you’ll here more about later.

Evaluation

Your course grade will be based on a number of requirements that you should be aware of at the outset since the large size of the class combined with the number of requirements makes it impossible to allow any late work. You need to know what you are responsible for - and when it is due. Here is the list of requirements for the course.

Assignments:  There are assignments you will be required to hand in during the semester and they MUST BE TYPED AND HANDED IN ON THE DEADLINE.  THEY MUST INCLUDE THE # OF THE ASSIGNMENT AND TITLE AS WELL AS YOUR NAME. You will have flexibility in terms of which assignments you do, but none in terms of when they are due. The list of assignments may change over the semester so you should monitor regularly the Schedule and the Discussions. You will be responsible for ONLY four of the assignments and these assignments will represent 15% of the final grade. You will receive NO extra credit for doing more than four assignments.  You will also note that for each of the assignments you will need to choose one question that usually involves reading an article or attending a presentation for the URI Honors Colloquium. This semester the Colloquium is on an important country - India - and I encourage you all to attend as many of the public lectures as possible on this critically important issue. Events take place on Tuesday evenings at 7:30 p.m in Chafee Auditorium on URI's main campus in Kingston. Exceptions are noted in the schedule.

Discussions: You will be required to participate in online debates during the semester. You will need to post at least one interesting article with some comment and participate in at least one discussion. Microeconomics is always in the news, and you will need to be part of the discussion. This will account for 5% of your grade.

Exams:  In addition to the assignments, there will be three semester exams (in our classroom during normal class times) and a final exam (in our classroom at a time determined by the University). If you receive no grade lower than a B on the three semester exams you will be given the opportunity to skip the final exam - a reward for consistently good work. The exams will focus on your skill at solving problems by applying the principles and concepts discussed in the course. Think of the exams as a set of word problems from high school, so you know that the exams will tend to be difficult and the scores somewhat lower than if the questions had been recall questions. Before you take the first test you should review the first test from a previous year that can be found on the Exam Page and take the practice quizzes. This will give you a better idea of what to expect, which should help reduce the surprise effect on that first exam - and improve your grade.

The grades in the course will be based upon the following weighting scheme. 

 

Exams

 80

   worst semester exam

10

   best semester exams

50

   final exam

20

Assignments (first 4)

15

Discussions

5

Total

100

And then there is class attendance. While I realize the temptation to cut class is higher in a large class (an example of opportunity cost), attendance does matter and it may be factored into your final grade. For those students that miss more than four classes during the semester, you may be penalized up to a grade point for every class above the four you miss. Also, in this course I will follow the procedure outlined in the University manual and any registered student will be dropped from the course if they miss the first two classes.

Finally, there is the question of how you are doing. After each exam you will find the answer key posted on the Exams page that will allow you to grade your exam and determine your score. With this score you can then use the scale for the exam that will also be posted on the Exams page. You will also find a record of your scores on the exams posted on the My Record page. 

What You Need to Purchase

There will be 2 things you could purchase for this course. First, you need to purchase a handout at i-copy located at the Emporium. Included in the handout will be most of the slides that will be discussed during class periods and it will become your notebook. Second, the readings for the course are available online and are accessible via Sakai, but I encourage you to consider buying a copy that can be purchased at I-copy.

How to Succeed

If you got this far, you have already demonstrated an interest in doing well, so think about the following "Tips for Success" that I have learned from talking with students about their successes and failures in the course.  Isaac Newton once explained his greatness by noting that  "I stand upon the shoulders of the giants of the past," and you will have the chance to learn from those who came before you.  As a starter, I would suggest you read "Psst! 'Human Capital," a very brief op-ed piece from the New York Times, and then think about some of the following suggestions.

1.     show up: what do you say to a student who writes you a letter describing the problems they had with the class and you see he/she has missed half the classes.  I am more inclined to give the F they "earned" rather than the sympathy they seek. Also, there is a statistical relationship between attendance and grades, so keep this in mind as you think about not showing up.

2.     read: imagine my surprise when I asked a failing student if they had done the readings and the response was "some of them."  The exams are built on the readings and the class discussions, so I would expect the non reading student "earned" that F. 

3.     practice: Every exam question is a word problem, so you need to get good at identifying problems - and solving them - and you get good with practice.  So do the review quizzes and the practice exams to get yourself ready for the real exam. 

4.     practice more: It was worth repeating because practicing is crucial.  But make the practice useful, so when you do those exams and quizzes, do them alone.  Too often I see caring students do awful because they work with friends on the quizzes, and not surprisingly the group does well, but there is no group when you do the exams.  Work with the group after you have done the quizzes alone and compare results - but do them alone. 

5.     manage your time: What do you tell a flunking student who works 35+ hours a week and takes a full-time load?  I tend toward telling them that Superman and Superwoman were only imaginary superheroes.  While I know school is not cheap, this is a recipe for disaster for the overwhelming majority of students.  You need to manage your time, and why not start where most of your instructors did when they were in college.  You have 15 hours of classes, and each hour of class "comes with" three hours outside of class - so now we are talking 15 +45 = 60 hours, which is more than a full-time job.  Add on to that those 35 hours of work and you are at 95 hours - and you only have 168 hours in a week.  This gives you about 10 hours for sleeping, eating, and ....  You get the picture. 

6.     turn off those cell phones: While time is scarce and must be managed, you can also do things that help you get more out of your time.  As a starter, turn off those cell phones.  How can you really study if the cell phone is continuously interrupting you?  You can't, so take some time during the day where your friends and family know you are "off line It will not take long for "the world" to realize you are busy and they must work around your work schedule.

So now let's get to the course, and take the first step toward a successful semester.