If you are considering the study of economics as a potential major, we have developed some basic guidelines for you to review and consider. Here is an overview of our conception of economics at Lawrence. For more on the collegiate economics major more generally, here is some information from the American Economics Association.
For those of you interested in Business or “Pre-Business”, economics courses might prove to be extremely valuable, but you do not need to major in economics to develop an excellent set of skills that will make you an attractive job candidate — or successful entrepreneur — down the line. Your best bet is to discuss your personal and professional interests with a number of different people, and consult with your advisor on curricular and co-curricular choices that will put you in position to meet your goals.
Advice to Potential Majors: Students interested in a major in Economics should begin with introductory classes in economics and mathematics. The first economics class is ECON 100. We offer a section of ECON 100 each term this year, with Spring currently having the most extra capacity.
Students who have satisfied the ECON 100 requirement should consider taking 200-level classes based on their own interests. This year we have Public Economics (ECON 271) in the fall if you want to take something right away. If you are interested in operationalizing some skills, Quantitative Decision Making (ECON 223) is an Excel-heavy modeling and problem solving course. In the winter we will have Decision Theory (ECON 225) and a Latin American Development course (ECON 2XX). Spring will feature both Environmental Economics (ECON 280) and Comparative Systems (ECON 215). The former is an applied economics course, and the latter is more writing intensive consideration of how societies organize economic activity.
There are three intermediate theory courses that are offered sequentially each year – ECON 300 Microeconomics in the Fall, ECON 380 Econometrics in the Winter, ECON 320 in the Spring. These courses are most effective when taken sequentially in either the sophomore or junior year. Freshman should not enroll in these courses.
Sophomore year is a good time to take ECON 225 Decision Theory. This is not a required course, but we strongly recommend it for all majors and minors. We will be offereing ECON 223 Quantitative Decision Making….
Mathematics Requirements and Advice: The introductory mathematics courses are essential because they are foundational to intermediate theory courses. Calculus (MATH 120 and 130 or MATH 140) is a prerequisite for ECON 300 and ECON 320. Statistics (MATH 107 or the equivalent) is a prerequisite for ECON 380.
For our purposes, we believe students should consider MATH 120 and 130 if they are interested in applied problem solving and developing some Excel skills. Students who plan to take math beyond the calculus sequence should take MATH 140. The decision on which calculus to take is probably worth a discussion both with the math and the econ department faculty.
A typical sequence for a student who comes in as an economics major.
Freshman: Introductory Economics (ECON 100), 200-level courses based on student interest, Calculus (MATH 120 and 130 or MATH 140).
Sophomore: Intermediate sequence (ECON 300, 380, 320), 200-level courses based on student interest, Statistics (MATH 107). ECON 300 and MATH 107 are offered in the fall.
Junior-Senior: Advanced electives.
This sequence can be pushed back a year for those who decide during their sophomore year to pursue an economics degree.
MINOR: The minor requirements are indeed minor. No significant planning is necessary during the Freshman year to complete this degree, though our recommendations in terms of taking introductory economics and mathematics courses remain the same for majors and minors alike.
AIM Placement: If you scored a 4 or 5 on the AP micro test, you can obtain credit through the Registrar’s office for ECON 100. This satisfies that requirement for the department, though we strongly suggest you take at least one 200-level course before beginning the 300 sequence. Talk to a faculty member in economics for appropriate recommendations.
If you earned a 4 or a 5 on the AP macro test, you can obtain 6 units of Lawrence credit, and you should take Economics 100.
Advising: Check out this Advising Syllabus for some guidance on what you can do for yourself, and what your advisor can help you with. This remarkable document was drafted by Professor Galambos several years ago, endorsed by the Economics Department, and ultimately largely adopted university wide in the recent past.
I was informed earlier today that today is, in fact, national underwear day. That said, here is a piece I wrote on life-cycle consumption not too long ago:
Back in the day, Modigliani and Brumberg (from their perches in Urbana-Champaign!) posited that individuals smooth out their consumption over the course of their lifetimes. In other words, total individual consumption expenditures are pretty stable, or smooth, from year-to-year, rather than having individuals curb consumption in one year to pay for big expenditures in the next. The big-picture implication is that individuals base their consumption spending on their expectations of lifetime earnings. So, if I expect to make a lot of money years from now, I will spend at higher levels now, even if I don’t have it yet. As a result, the young and the old spend more than they make, whereas the middle aged make more than they spend.
The Modigliani and Brumberg work is now known as the Life Cycle Hypothesis, and it is a seminal contribution for a number of reasons. First, it is a micro model that has significant macro implications –aggregate consumption depends on (expected) lifetime income, not current income. It also implies that government deficits are a source of fiscal “drag” on economic growth. You can check out more on Modigliani and his contributions at The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics (available at campus IP addresses; otherwise, Google it).
Even if people spend the same total amount of money every year, however, they will probably be some variation in the items they actually spend it on. And empirically, of course, this turns out to be the case. Exhibit A: The Atlantic Monthlyhas a fascinating set of figures showing how U.S. consumer spending on various goods and services ranging from booze and smokes to lawn and garden services to men’s furs vary by the age of the consumer.
The figures are instructive.
First off, it appears that men pour increasing amounts of money into their undergarments as they age, reaching “peak underwear” at around age 50. The average male aged 45-54 will drop about $120 on his drawers during that ten-year stretch. After that, underwear spending falls like a stone, and by age 75 or 80 it appears that most men are only spending a couple bucks a year on those closest to them.
At the same time, however, there is a decided uptick in spending on sleepwear/loungewear. I wonder what’s going on? (Seems like a job for the Economic Naturalist).
In addition to these brief insights, the graphs seem to corroborate some intuition about how spending changes. For example, it seems that people in their late 20s and early 30s start dropping money on childcare services, which temporarily cuts into the amount spent going out boozing. I guess kids and the nightlife are substitutes, not complements.
It is also noteworthy and possibly surprising that 70-year olds spend as much on the sauce as 20-year olds do.
Or, perhaps that isn’t surprising.
Well played all around.
In previous blog postings (here and here), I have addressed some of the key myths regarding international trade as well as the difficulties in determining whether U.S. exchange rates are over, under, or fairly valued. This posting addresses how the forces that drive globalization have changed and so has the distribution of income (in both global and advanced country terms.) Richard Baldwin’s new book The Great Convergence suggests that a major change in the forces of globalization took place around 1990. He divides economic history into three broad periods: pre-globalization (until 1820), globalization I (1820 to 1990), and globalization II (from 1990 to the present.)
The graphic above (from a recent Baldwin’s presentation) displays the three primary forces that affect the magnitude and character of globalization. For further analysis including Milanovic’s “elephant” chart on the global distribution of income, see the full posting here.
Each quarter J P Morgan, Inc provides a huge chartbook that one can use to characterize financial markets and the U.S. and global economies. Below is a sample chart on patterns and metrics for the S & P 500 index. Check them out.
Currency exchanges rates between any two countries are determined by a variety of factors including their balance of trade and payments, capital flows (both restricted and unrestricted), and monetary policies. In a recent posting on Conversable Economics, Timothy Taylor argued that “all exchange rates are bad” (meaning that they generate some negative consequences.) Although this posting does not take issue with Taylor’s arguments, I conclude that there is no one optimal set of exchange rates, since for any given set, there will be winners and losers, and trade-offs among policy objectives must be made. In short, there is no unique way to determine which exchange rate between countries is “just right.”
Exchange rate policy and monetary policy are intrinsically linked. Countries face what has been called the “Impossible Trinity” or “Trilemma”; they can only choose two of the following: independent monetary policy (setting short term domestic interest rates), fixed exchange rates, and open capital markets. Thus, a country’s desire to float, fix, manage, or abandon how the price of its currency relates to others depends critically on its views toward monetary policy and the flow of capital into and out of the country. Stated differently, to some extent, all countries (including the U.S.) manipulate their exchange rates by the judgments they make about the trade-offs among the three choices.
Tim Taylor argues that all exchange rates have some negative consequences:
- If they are too low, they hurt net importers.
- If they are too high, they discourage foreign direct investment and net exporters.
- If the rates are too volatile, then the increased uncertainty will reduce economic activity.
- If they are too stable, they can easily deviate sharply from what is needed to balance supply and demand for currencies.
As Taylor puts it, “the bottom line is clear as mud. Exchange rates are bad if they move higher or lower, or moving, or stable.”
For more detail including attempts to empirically answer the question for the U.S. posed in the title go here.
The latest to pass away is Kenneth Arrow, who by any and all accounts was a genius. A Fine Theorem tells us what we already know, that “Arrow is so influential, in some many areas of economics, that it is simply impossible to discuss his contributions in a single post.”
These contributions, of course, include work on social choice theory (Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem), general equilibrium theory, and innovation, and off the top of my head I can point to work on health care, organizational theory, quasi-option values, and a bunch of other stuff. Truly remarkable. Here is the New York Times obituary.
Meanwhile, the profession has also recently lost Thomas Schelling (2016), Douglass North (2015), John Nash (2015), Gary Becker (2014), Ronald Coase (2013), and Elinor Ostrom (2012). You could learn a lot in a little while just reading the obits on these Nobel Prize winners.
|211||In Pursuit of Innovation||Galambos||TR 12:30|
|271||Public Economics & Friends||Gerard||MWF 1:50|
|300||Intermediate Micro||Galambos||MTWF 8:30|
|300||Intermediate Micro||Galambos||MWF 12:30 T 8:30|
|420||Money & Montetary Policy||Finkler||TR 9|
|481||Advanced Econometrics & Modeling||Lhost||MWF1:50|
|205||Introduction to International Economics||Caruthers||MWF 11:10|
|225||Decision Theory||Galambos||MWF 1:50|
|495||Topics: Institutions & Organizations||Gerard||MWF 9:50|
|601||Senior Experience: Reading||Galambos||T 12:30|
|602||Senior Experience: Research||Lhost||R 12:30|
|280||Environmental Economics||Gerard||TR 12:30|
|295||Topics in Finance||Vaughn||MWF 12:20|
|320||Intermediate Macroeconomics||Caruthers||MTWR 9:50|
|320||Intermediate Macroeconomics||Caruthers||MTWR 3:10|
|405||Econ of Innovation & Entrepreneurship||Galambos||MWF 8:30|
|410||Advanced Game Theory & Applications||Galambos||MWF 11:10|
We have a number of excellent talks scheduled for this term that should be of interest to our majors. Indiana University appears to be well represented. Each of these talks is at 4:30 in Wriston Auditorium.
Thursday, February 16, 4:30 p.m., Wriston Auditorium
Deal (with) the Burn: The Political Economy of U.S. Wildfire Management.
Ostrom Workshop and Department of Economics
Friday, February 17, 4:30 p.m. Wriston Auditorium (Senior Experience speaker)
Seven Secrets of Germany: Economic Resilience in an Era of Global Turbulence
School of Public and Environmental Affairs
Thursday, March 2, 4:30 p.m. Wriston Auditorium (Cancelled)
The Brazil Economy in Transition: Beliefs, Leadership, and Institutional Change
Ostrom Workshop and Department of Economics
Alston’s NBER paper is here, accessible on LU campus.
Since the industrial revolution in England in the 19th century, many policy makers and the public at large have been concerned about the effects of automation on jobs. For example in 1961, Time magazine published a provocative article entitled “The Automation Jobless,” which posited that efficient machines and productivity improvement would eliminate many low and semi-skilled jobs. As the figure below illustrates, private employment paralleled the growth in labor productivity (in the US) until the turn of the century/ millennium.
Is this time different? Has the age of technological unemployment arrived? In their first book on this topic, Race Against the Machine (RAM 2011), Erik Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee (B & M) argue that until the 1980s, as shown above, technological improvement and workers’ incomes grew together . In RAM, they opine we can again bring these two paths together; however, we must equip our labor force with skills to use these technological developments as we have done in the past.
In a second book (2MA, 2014), The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, B & M offer a more nuanced view. They argue that we should be grateful for the improvements brought forth by technology; however, we need serious policy changes, both short term and long term, to avoid further polarization of the labor force and an increased widening of the distribution of incomes. They argue as follows:
“Technological progress is going to leave behind some people, perhaps even a lot of people, as it races ahead. As we’ll demonstrate, there’s never been a better time to be a worker with special skills or the right education, because these people can use technology to create and capture value. However, there’s never been a worse time to be a worker with only ‘ordinary’ skills and abilities to offer, because computers, robots, and other digital technologies are acquiring these skills and abilities at an extraordinary rate.”
For a short version of 2MA, read “The Great Decoupling: An Interview with Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee” in the Harvard Business Review (June 2015) or watch and listen to Andrew McAfee’s talk on 2MA. To read more about 2MA, go here.
Economist Steven Landsburg famously claimed that economics can be defined in two words: “incentives matter.” For Landsburg, all else is commentary. In a 2013 book entitled The Why Axis, Uri Gneezy and John List explore in detail how incentives matter. Characterizing economics as a behavioral science, they seek to understand what affects individual behavior based on exploring various incentives and contexts. In particular, they use field experiments to illuminate which incentives matter and how through examples drawn from a number of policy areas including child day care, school performance, charitable giving, gender-related compensation, and health care. For more including a few examples, go here.
Those of you who are acquainted with my writing on this blog probably know that (a) I study mortality risks, and (b) I sometimes comment on how these risks change when the clocks spring forward and fall backward. This fall is no exception, as I have a piece in the venerable Costco Connection* making the case that maybe keeping Daylight Saving Time as is wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to the world. (I could have made the case the other way, as the policy decision here is very unclear, which tends to favor the status quo).
As per usual, the the remarkable Gaisma.com site shows us what’s at stake here in Appleton. The break in the series starting in month 11 is upon us:
What does this mean for you? Well, starting Sunday it is going to be dark at 5 p.m. meaning that you are far more likely to get hit by a car at 5 p.m. next week than you are this week. When I say “far more likely,” our estimate is that the risk is about three times as high!
Of course, you are also far less likely to get hit at 6 a.m. in the extremely unlikely event that you are out 6 a.m. But, notice, but January 1 the sun won’t rise until after 7 a.m., and if DST was permanent, that would be 8 a.m. Sunlight is the ultimate scarce resource.
Here is our previous coverage.
* The picture in the Costco piece is of me enjoying some daylight at Wrigley Field. Should Daylight Saving Time be eliminated? Of course not! More daylight means more daytime ball games.
This year’s Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences once again goes to some folks doing the heavy lifting on organizational theory. You may recall that not too long ago, Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson shared the award for their work on “governance mechanisms” — Ostrom on collective governance of natural resources, Williamson for organizational structure.
This year’s winners are Oliver Hart from Harvard and Bengt Holmström from MIT for their work on “contract theory”. Contract theory is pretty encompassing, and includes the classic “principal-agent” problem, along with the “incomplete contracts” problem.
For the uninitiated, An agency problem arises when you as a principal delegate a task for some agent to carry out for you. For example, you might own a business and hire someone (or someones) to work for you. That seems simple enough, except things can get all mucked up if output comes from a combination of effort and random factors, if you have several workers and can’t figure out who’s responsible for what (team production), if your workers have a bunch of things to do (multiple-task agency problem), and a host of other things.
Hart and Holmström have made fundamental contributions in getting to the heart of some of these matters, and were duly rewarded with the prize. Remarkably, Kevin Bryan from University of Toronto says that though Hart won the prize on the back of his contributions to “incomplete contracts,” he actually has not done much on incomplete contracts since two other Nobel winners — Eric Maskin and Jean Tirole, characterized the limitations of that approach:
Hart’s response, and this is both clear from his CV and from his recent papers and presentations, is to ditch incompleteness as the fundamental reason firms exist…. To my knowledge, Oliver Hart has written zero papers since Maskin-Tirole was published which attempt to explain any policy or empirical fact on the basis of residual control rights and their necessary incomplete contracts.
Professor Bryan has remarkably prescient characterizations of Hart and Holmström‘s work A Fine Theorem blog (incidentally, he often has excellent review and commentary on recent IO papers). The post on Hart is essentially a short history of the economics of the firm and organizational economics, which many of you will be seeing next term in Econ 450. There are a million other descriptions of their contributions (google it), including this critical piece by Arnold Kling.
And, congratulations to Milhouse! Well done.
Investment analyst and former Lawrence professor Jeff Miller provides a weekly column entitled Weighing the Week Ahead that employs many charts and offers an array of insights related to both the state of the U.S. economy and investment opportunities. This week’s version provides a link to a quarterly chartbook assembled by JP Morgan that will give even the most numerate among us plenty of food for thought. One chart of particular interest to investors suggests that when 10 year U.S. Treasuries offer relatively low interest rates (e.g., below 5%), increases in their yield are correlated with increased stock returns.
Politicians of all stripes (including Clinton, Sanders and Trump) seem to believe that more Federal spending on infrastructure is essential to increasing economic growth and creating attractive employment opportunities. In a recent lengthy article in City Journal, economist Edward Glaeser begs to differ. Glaeser, author of The Triumph of The City, recognizes that much of our infrastructure needs attention due to deferred maintenance, but that Federal money devoted to large scale infrastructure projects tends to be both inefficient and inequitable. Below are a summary of a few of his observations. I encourage you to read the entire article.
1. Many projects serve very few people; some have been described as “bridges to nowhere.”
2. Funding tends to follow political influence rather than economic need.
3. Most projects do not come close to passing any type of benefit-cost test.
4. Although projects in the late 1800s and the first half of the 20th century did lead to both increased productivity and employment, later 20th century projects and 21st century projects tend to generate neither increased productivity nor employment opportunities, especially for areas with high unemployment rates.
5. Consistent with point 2, many projects involve subsidies from poorer to richer parts of the country.
6. Both efficiency and equity would be improved if infrastructure projects, especially those related to transportation, were funded locally by users.
Unfortunately, the catalog description for this course has not been undated to reflect the changes made last year (and this year.) Below you will the appropriate description.
This course blends a web-based course on investment philosophies with classroom discussion of economic and valuation principles. It aims for students to develop an understanding of contemporary financial markets and instruments as well as how economic fundamentals apply to the evaluation of investment alternatives and strategies. Students will apply such knowledge to craft their own economic philosophies and implementation strategies. Units: 6.
Prerequisite: I-E110 and at least one of ECON 300, ECON 320, and ECON 380.
The class is scheduled to meet Tuesdays from 9:50 to 10:50 and Thursdays from 9:00 to 10:50. I will NOT necessarily attend the Tuesday sessions; however, during reading period week, the class will meet from 9:00 to 10:50 (Tuesday, October 18th) as a replacement for the Thursday session.
If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me or to come to the first session next Tuesday at 9:50.
Republicans and Democrats are strongly divided over what should happen to the ACA. Most Republicans have identified the repeal of the Act as a high priority. Most Democrats seek to reform the Act by addressing gaps and errors in the legislation. Such a characterization of these battle lines is much too simplistic. In some cases, the proponents share the same goals but offer different strategies and policies to achieve them; in others, the proponents disagree about both goals and policies. This blog posting seeks to illuminate a few of these distinctions; more complete discussion can be found here.
Goal #1 – Ensure access to health insurance for all Americans
Comment: Largely a shared goal
Republicans: Available tax credit to be used voluntarily with few restrictions.
Democrats: Expand participation in the ACA and provide more incentives to induce those not insured to become so.
Goal #2 – Reduce incentives to purchase expensive health insurance plans
Comment: Shared goal
Democrats: 40% excise tax on premiums above a prescribed level
Republicans: Premium above a prescribed level are subject to the income tax on an individual basis.
Goal #3 – Regulation of health insurance markets
Comment: Not a shared goal
Republicans: Deregulate to a large degree with few restrictions on insurers to induce more competition and range of health plan options.
Democrats: Strong pre-existing conditions clause prohibitions and state-based purchase and regulation.
Goal #4 – Choice of health plan
Comment: Largely a shared goal
Democrats: Encourage competition through the market place exchanges with provisions to counteract adverse selection; that is, risk corridors, re-insurance pools, and risk-adjustment used to assist private insurers who attract relatively high cost enrollees.
Republicans: Allow consumers to purchase in-state or out-of-state health plans they see as best meeting their preferences.
Goal #5 – Provide Medicaid for Low Income Residents
Comment: Largely a shared goal
Republicans: Federal block grants to the states with states having a great deal of flexibility in determining composition of plans as well as eligibility.
Democrats: Federal government largely determines both eligibility and a large portion of the benefits covered.
Since the ACA law covers well over 900 pages, many provisions are not addressed here. This posting seeks to illuminate where Democrats and Republicans might find common ground and where they are unlikely to do so. Furthermore, given the instability in the exchanges in many states, reform of the 3 Rs – reinsurance, risk corridors, and risk adjustment – will be a priority if the exchanges are to be stabilized and survive.
The Chicago Booth School gives us a spectacular interview with Eugene Fama and Robert Thaler on the efficient market hypothesis, the idea that prices reflect all available information.
Thaler says he likes to parse this statement in two parts: The first is whether you can individual investors outperform the market (doesn’t look promising); the second is whether prices are “correct” at any given point in time (I suppose it depends on what you mean).
The discussion is absolutely great, and you will learn a lot about economic modeling and thinking about testing economic models from two leading scholars who have thought a lot about it. At one point, Fama somewhat hilariously (to economists, at least) declares himself to be “the most important behavioral-finance person, because without me and the efficient-markets model, there is no behavioral finance.”
Incidentally, the Booth school is also the source of the Initiative on Global Markets polls of economists, leading to the remarkable Which Economist are You Most Similar To? interactive tool.