Econ 111 syllabus and reading list Fall 2021

A note on how this course might, and might not, fit into your educational plans. Please note that this course was designed to fit into the I-series General Education Program and not into the curriculum for an economics major. Much of the course covers topics that you might never see elsewhere in the undergraduate economics curriculum, or you would have to wait until you are senior to see them. Of course these topics are covered at a level appropriate for freshman and sophomores, and not for upper-level economic majors. You will learn about many powerful ideas, but do not necessarily expect to see these ideas appear in other economics courses that you take at UMD.

"The theory of economics does not furnish a body of settled conclusions immediately applicable to policy. It is a method rather than a doctrine, an apparatus of the mind, a technique for thinking, which helps the posessor to draw correct conclusions." - John Maynard Keynes (1922)

The philosophy underlying this course is that non-specialists can gain a facility in thinking like an economist without the need to learn elaborate economic theories or complicated mathematical techniques. The course's goal is to equip students with no prior training in economics with the intellectual skills that will enable them to think like an economist about issues that arise in the media and in everyday life. To do so requires applying a combination of rigorous logic, simple analytical tools that economists regularly use, and an understanding of which tool applies in which context. This is what it means to think like an economist.

Economics analyzes and predicts the outcomes generated by groups of interacting individuals, whether it is several friends deciding between Cornerstone and Bentley's or a whole society trying to reduce unemployment. How do economists predict what will happen as individuals make their own decisions and interact with one another? How do economists analyze whether the results are good or bad for the individuals? These are two fundamental questions that the course answers.

The course introduces the student to how economists think by focusing on case studies. The real-world examples--for example, understanding why agricultural policies in Brazil can change gas prices in College Park--motivate the way economists approach their analyses. By deliberating on issues of fundamental interest, students will become acquainted with the methodological tools of economics and see the power that these tools have to produce insightful answers. By applying a variety of tools in practical contexts, students will learn which characteristics of a problem dictate the choice and use of a particular analytical tool.

To develop their understanding, students analyze practical problems individually and in groups and learn how simple analytical tools help them interpret the world in which they live. By seeing the development of the analysis in a variety of case studies and in their own individual and group projects, students will learn how to use the analytical tools of economics in appropriate contexts--that is, to think like an economist.