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When Jason Childs and his colleagues went about devising a new course in economics at the University of Regina, they wanted to find a focus that didn’t involve the overused and fictitious widget.
What they arrived at was a product that was historic and central to people’s lives – and something most undergraduate students are familiar with: beer.
Childs, an associate professor of economics, said the Economics of Beer course had 80 seats, and they were filled in about two weeks. The course began in early May and finishes near the end of June.
“Basically, it’s an exploration of some economics concepts, in particular microeconomic concepts, and the brewing industry,” he said. “Beer is a really neat example because it allows you to talk about just about every fundamental concept in economics.”
Economic analysis is itself value-free, but in practice it encourages a cosmopolitan interest in natural equality. Many economic models, of course, assume that all individuals are motivated by rational self-interest or some variant thereof; even the so-called behavioral theories tweak only the fringes of a basically common, rational understanding of people. The crucial implication is this: If you treat all individuals as fundamentally the same in your theoretical constructs, it would be odd to insist that the law should suddenly start treating them differently.
Cowen concludes by exploring a modern-day application of this putatively egalitarian core:
A distressingly large portion of the debate in many countries analyzes the effects of higher immigration on domestic citizens alone and seeks to restrict immigration to protect a national culture or existing economic interests. The obvious but too-often-underemphasized reality is that immigration is a significant gain for most people who move to a new country.
Elena Malik, communications chair of the 12th annual Carroll Round at Georgetown, writes to solicit applications for a worthwhile event:
The Carroll Round is an annual undergraduate international economics conference at Georgetown University that provides a unique forum for research and discussion among the world’s top undergraduates. Each year, we invite applications from students to present and discuss their work with peers, professors, and policy-makers invited to participate. This year we are honored to host guest speakers including Dr. John B. Taylor and Dr. Janet Currie. We are still recruiting applications from students.
This year’s Carroll Round will be held from April 18-21; more info here.
With the Presidential debate finished, we are officially in the final lap of America’s second-favorite spectator sport. (Yes, football is better than politics.) Of all the talking that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will do by Nov. 6, you can bet that a great deal of their breath will be expended on economic matters. Because that’s what the President of the United States does, right — runs our economy?
That, of course, won’t stop the candidates from talking about their plans to “fix” or “heal” or “restore” our economy — all of which imply that we are in an economic doldrums that is sure to pass. But what if it doesn’t? What if the massive economic growth the U.S. has experienced through most of our history is a thing of the past?
I’ve just gotten back home after a terrific few days at the Brookings Panel on Economic Activity. It’s my favorite gabfest of the year, featuring economic analysis that is both serious research, and also connected to ongoing policy debates. (OK, I’m biased–I’m an editor, and organize the conference along with Berkeley’s David Romer.) And while I think some of you may enjoy slogging your way through the latest papers, others may prefer your summaries simpler and lighter. So I went ahead and recorded a few short videos summarizing the papers. I hope you enjoy! Read More »
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Specifically, the tools of economics will continue to evolve and become more empirical. Economic theory will become a tool we use to structure our investigation of the data. Equally, economics is not the only social science engaged in this race: our friends in political science and sociology use similar tools; computer scientists are grappling with “big data” and machine learning; and statisticians are developing new tools. Whichever field adapts best will win. I think it will be economics. And so economists will continue to broaden the substantive areas we study.
A reader named Mark Kozel writes to say:
I heard that Chicago will be pouring up to $14 million into police overtime to prevent murder and violent crime.
It got me thinking: is it cheaper to prevent this kind of crime, or to just let it happen and clean up the mess afterwards?
It would be hard to find many people, even economists, who would arguing that “just letting it happen” isn’t an outcome that society should even think about accepting. Read More »