Final Exam Response


Question 1 & 2:

The most insightful and thought provoking comment I read throughout this course came about in Topic 7: Agriculture, Food, and the State, from Alice McEwen. It was one quote specifically that caught my eye, “Secondly, when the world hunger and famine problem are discussed it is always synonymous with poverty and solely the issue of that specific nation, rather than making the nations who are exploiting them take responsibility.” It is very ironic that the U.S. spends billions each year in helping other countries, but much less money could be spent if you are to take the time to look at the root problem.

No question about it, the U.S. has exploited nations such as Africa for years now. During our imperialistic days, we ran the slave trade through their country, and although we have come a long way since then, we are still stealing from many 3rd to 2nd world countries in different ways. Sure we can say we are funneling in money through projects, factories, farming and other businesses, but that is clearly not helping Africa’s starving children.

As an American, I will always put our country first, and I will also continue to defend globalization, but after seeing this quote and going through the readings, I’ve definitely softened my stance. Although we are benefiting from our business and agriculture in Africa, that is the home of other people and we as Americans need to recognize that. I don’t know what it will take, but our government needs to take a step back and really look at what is going on. Although Donald Trump won’t be the guy to do it, we as citizens need to keep raising as much awareness as possible, so that we can change public opinion and hopefully policy.

Another reason I really appreciate Alice McEwen’s comment is because it states the issue and gets to the point. Too many times in this class I’ve seen people start their sentence with some sort of derogatory term about Americans. If you want those you disagree with to consider your opinion, starting a sentence with “Dumb greedy Americans” doesn’t help your case. Our country is too divided these days, if you want someone to understand you and possibly change their stance, you need to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Well done Alice.


Question 3:


I believe the biggest issue in our economic system has to do with the fact that corporations are allowed to donate money towards politics. The base of the American Democracy is freely elected officials serving the public good. However, in todays society a large majority of  American politicians don’t serve the public good. Rather, our “freely” elected officials are beholden to outside special interests. These special interests are looking for the betterment of their specific group or socio/economic class, not the greater good for the public. How can you blame them though? Capitalism is based off of improving your current position. Given the opportunity people will try to get ahead in life, and now that Corporations can vote, that is exactly what they will do. Lawmakers today write and pass laws based on outside interests, which does not help the general public. Something must be done with the way our politicians receive funds in order to run for government positions.

If outside interest and money was not a worry of lawmakers, people who want to make a serious change on the political and economic system would be able to make an impact. There are representatives and senators who really do care about the greater good of the people, but unfortunately there are too many who are in the back pocket of special interest groups. To fix this problem, we as people need to keep voting in those who really do care about us, and keep pushing the government to take away human rights from corporations.

As someone who considers themselves as fiscally conservative,  I do agree that corporations should be taxed less than they are now. I’m not against all big business, I just know that people are greedy, and given the opportunity they will take what they can get.  The problem is though, is that the wants and needs of corporations and that of people very rarely align. What does a coal mining company and the people living in the state of Michigan have in common? The answer is nothing, nothing at all, so if our government is out to serve its people, lets cut the corporations out of the picture.

#big-business, #corporations, #government

Final Exam Questions

Ok, folks, we’re near the end.  It’s been a rough journey but we’re close.

Here’s what I want you to do for the “final exam”.   I am listing three questions below.  I want you to answer them on your blog by creating a post.  You can either create a single post with your answers to all 3 questions OR make 3 separate posts.  Please Title your post as “Final Exam Responses” or “Final Exam Response 1”, “Final Exam Response 2”,  etc.  Take your time and think about your answers.  There is no time limit per se.  Simply

Question 1:

What is the most (or one of the most) significant, insightful, or helpful comments that a fellow student made. Why? How did it help, change, or open your thinking. Find a comment, post, or book project post created by one of your fellow students and explain to us why you liked it and what you took away from it.  Be sure to link or reference the comment/post/book project in your comment.  Feel free to quote from it.

Question 2:

What is the most significant thing you learned during your readings and thinking in this course. What or how has your thinking changed?  (if you feel you covered this in an earlier reflection post on your blog, feel free to simply edit that post and add “Final Exam Response 2” to the title and be done with this one)

Question 3:

Imagine the future. What do you see as the greatest challenge facing society (related in any way to economic systems) over the coming 10 to 20 years.  Why? How does the system need to change to respond to it? Please take some time to think this through and perhaps go deeper.  For example, suppose you think responding to climate change is the major challenge. In that case, don’t just talk about how threatening climate change might be, but talk about what we need to change in the economic system so that we can respond effectively to it.

That’s it.


Last Topic Readings

If you didn’t see it already, here’s the last set of readings to comment on.

Topic 12 (last) – Capitalism & Politics; Critical Perspectives

Please comment.  Again, you can use either your blog or comment/reply here.

There’s one more post coming from me with assignments. That will be directions for the “Final Exam”, which is actually a blog post assignment.


Topic 12 – Intergenerational and Healthcare

For this topic discussion, we have four readings, two of which are from my blog.  If you listen to major new media and politicians today, you’d think that healthcare and intergenerational economics would be pretty pessimistic or depressing.  In this case, these readings aren’t! You will find some good news.

First has to do with Social Security, the US government intergenerational transfer program that provides the foundation for our senior citizen’s ability to live past their retirement age. It also provides support for those that are disabled and their dependents.  While politicians and the media often claim Social Security is going “bankrupt” (actually an impossibility), the truth is quite different. There is no economic, financial, or demographic reason why Social Security won’t be around for you when you retire. The only threat is if politicians choose to eliminate it.

Next, Our World in Data site reports how life is getting longer around the world.  Which then leads into an article about how spending on healthcare is related to life expectancy.

And that leads to the last reading: why the US healthcare system is so much more expensive than any other developed nation’s system.  It’s insurance forms.

NOTE:  If you’re interested in the Social Security topic or Medicare, an analysis of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, or Trumpcare (if it happens), you might want to come to the LCC Centre for Engaged Inclusion in Gannon 2nd floor on April 25.  I’ll be giving an hour lecture with half-hour discussion of these topics. It’s open to the campus.

As usual, please read. We are interested in your thoughts and reactions to these readings/video. You may participate by blogging on your own blog (remember to categorize it as ECON 260), creating a new post on the front page of this site, or reply/comment here.

Topic 12 – Intergenerational & Healthcare
Thursday, April 13, 2017

Topic 11


For this topic discussion, there are two readings.  We are trying to take a step back here and get a big-picture perspective of the modern US economy.  In particular, these two posts take a look at things that don’t show up in everyday reporting or discussion of the economy or the economic system.

In the first, Umair Haque explores the importance of trust in an economy. He asserts that trust has seriously deteriorated in the US with the result that the US has moved from a constructive capitalism to an extractive capitalism that is essentially devouring itself:

You might think: trust isn’t that important. It’s just soft stuff! You can’t touch it or taste it or smell it, like, say, fresh money, a gleaming new car, apps. But trust precedes all those. Without it, the money doesn’t get spent, the goods don’t get made, the investments don’t happen. Do you spend much of yourself on what and who you don’t trust? Your money, at stores? Your time, with coworkers, Your love, with people? Perhaps you see the point. Trust is a kind of capital that precedes money and effort and ideas, financial and human and intellectual capital.

So there is a link. Somehow, suspicious of each other to the last, the American economy has turned extractive: GDP “grows”, while life expectancy falls. Think about that for a moment — it means that extreme capitalism is eating itself, you, me, democracy, the planet, society as we know it.

Why? What is the link between a loss of trust, an extractive economy, and a collapsing society — one where the government itself is turning authoritarian?

In the other reading, Anil Dash, a software startup CEO, claims that tech in the past 20 years hasn’t actually improved the functioning of markets. Instead it has brought about the appearance of markets that are actually rigged.  To the degree he is right, it means that all the promises of efficiency, growth, and the magic of free market capitalism is an illusion. It means that we’re really just being taken by the tech capitalists for their riches and we don’t become better off.

As usual, please read and watch. We are interested in your thoughts and reactions to these readings/video. You may participate by blogging on your own blog (remember to categorize it as ECON 260), creating a new post on the front page of this site, or reply/comment here.

Topic 11 – Drugs, Social Norms, & Individual Behavior

Topic 9 – Migration

NOTE:  this post was scheduled for March 23 but I forgot to hit the publish button.  Feel free to comment on this or Topic 10 this week.

This topic deals with migration.  I saw migration because immigration and emmigration are simply two sides of the same movement. Every immigrant to a nation is also an emmigrant from their home country.

The readings for this topic are:

Here’s the presentation I made recently at the LCC Centre for Engaged Inclusion about “Mythbusting Immigration”. Most of the slides are graphs or data. Links to the original articles and sources of those graphs/data are included in each one.

If the embedded slides don’t display, you can access the file in Google Slides at

A last minute addition to the readings from Vox:

Topic 10 Environment and the Commons

In this next Topic we discuss the environment and the issues it presents for an economic system. This is not a science course, it’s a social science course. So I’m not so interested here in questions such as how badly polluted the environment is or how much/how fast global climate change is happening. For our purposes here, it is sufficient that we just know pollution or a wrecked environment is indeed possible from economic activity. Our concern here is: in what ways does the economic system contribute to or hinder the maintenance of a healthy environment for humans?

So I will not spend your time with trying to raise your awareness of environmental issues. There is plenty of information available about environmental issues. We may disagree about specific issues such as global warming, the availability of natural resources such as oil or coal, or the specifics of any particular environmental issue.  But what is well established is that the production methods of the 20th century need to change. The technologies and processes that produced the high standards of living for the fortunate 10-15% of the world’s population in the first world industrialized nations cannot and will not produce the same living standards for the entire world. There simply aren’t enough resources. We must make a change to more sustainable methods of production, be it energy production, agriculture, industry or waste disposal.

At it’s core, the environmental issues about sustainability are economic system issues. The economic system and its’ institutions determine what costs are considered when deciding how and what to produce. The economic system determines what the “externalities” are that should be ignored or remedied by government regulation. How, when and whether we move to sustainable production or “green” energy will ultimately be determined by how we change our economic system.

A major issue that is always brought up when environment and the economic system is discussed is the commons. The commons is the term used by economists to describe things or property that are not exclusively private property but may be used by all or many.  The historical example of a commons in the literature (and a source of much poor generalizations about commons) is that of English villages before the 18th century. Villages back then tended to have a pasture that was shared in common by all. In other words, all farmers could graze their animals there since no one farmer controlled it. The question arose as to whether farmers would attempt to graze too many sheep and thus over-graze the commons, ruining it for all. The issue of the commons is whether this lack of private property combined with self-interested behavior by individuals leads to over-use and non-sustainability or not.  As you’ll see in the first reading, the popular conception of the commons as being unsustainable is not really in line with empirical evidence.

The other two readings have to do with whether the goals of growth in an economy conflict with environmental sustainability and how.

After the readings, I’ve embedded a video below about sustainable fish farming that offers another perspective and raises questions of how we organize our food supply.

As usual, please read and watch. We are interested in your thoughts and reactions to these readings/video. You may participate by blogging on your own blog (remember to categorize it as ECON 260), creating a new post on the front page of this site, or reply/comment here.

Topic 10 – Environment & the Commons

Video to Watch:
TED Talk: Dan Barber – How I Fell in Love With A Fish

What It Is About

Chef Dan Barber squares off with a dilemma facing many chefs today: how to keep fish on the menu. With impeccable research and deadpan humor, he chronicles his pursuit of a sustainable fish he could love, and the foodie’s honeymoon he’s enjoyed since discovering an outrageously delicious fish raised using a revolutionary farming method in Spain.

I am not an ecologist or biologist. Dan Barber may or may not be correct in his assessment of sustainability of the particular farm he talks about. But that is not the point here. The point I want you to pay attention to is how Barber describes a different approach to agriculture. Think about that. Think about how we do current agriculture (if you’re not really aware of current agriculture practices you may want to watch Food Inc.). How will these changes affect our economic systems? Will our economic systems produce sustainable production?

How I Fell In Love With A Fish (alt link if embedded video doesn’t display)

Topic 8 Education, Families, Children

For this week we turn to another issue that poses complex challenges to societies involving their choice of economic system. This is the question of education and the care of children.  This is another area where economic systems, the societal arrangements for dealing with scarcity and value production, have had to evolve as nations have developed or industrialized.

For a moment, let’s consider a very poor, un-developed nation. Some  of the poorest nations today are in central and sub-Saharan Africa, but even they are rapidly growing beyond the state I’m considering.  I’m thinking back to before the industrial revolution. Life was short – 30-40 years was generally max life expectancy. It wasn’t because nobody lived longer but rather because infant (before age 5) mortality was so high. So put yourself in the (non-existent) shoes of two adults then. You scraped out a living doing subsistence farming. Very labor intensive, but simple labor. The rational choice was to have lots of kids for two reasons. First, most of the them wouldn’t live to survive to adulthood, so it made since to up the odds by having several. Second, by the age of 6 a child could start doing labor on the farm. By 6, they could generate enough value from labor to offset the additional food cost of feeding them. More kids = more production.

The industrial revolution, and now the computer revolution, changes all that. We have machines for simple unskilled labor. To make kids valuable, we have to educate them. That takes time.  It also takes time for that investment in education to pay out. It does pay out, but only over decades. To complicate matters, the pay-out is both to the individual and to the society as a whole – what we call positive externalities.

The U.S., dating back to pre-colonial times in New England, along with England was  a leader in the world in pioneering public education. That is, education paid for by the public and required by law. People pay taxes as a society and those taxes fund the education. Since the entire society benefits, it is a good investment. It also solves the financing problem for the student (or their parent).  Older people pay taxes now to educate the young. When the young get older, they will be more productive and pay taxes to educate the next generation. It’s what’s called an “intergenerational transfer”.  By the time of WWII, nearly all kids were getting a high school education. In the post-WWII era, we expanded this approach to college by funding the GI Bill and colleges/universities directly. In the 1960’s in some states, notably California, college and university education, even at University of California Berkeley, was free to California residents.

As you’ll see in the first reading, things have changed since then. Ok, you know from your own tuition bills that college isn’t free anymore – at least not in the US.  But the free college concept as a social good is still alive in other countries such as Germany and Denmark.

To participate in this discussion, read the three required readings below and respond. As usual, you may choose to respond by writing a post on your blog and categorizing it as ECON 260, or create a new front-page post on this site, or use the reply/comment link to this post.

Topic 8- Education, Families, Children



Starting points for additional research if you are interested or your project relates to this topic:



Topic 7 Readings Agriculture, Food, and the State

Food, and therefore agriculture/farming/herding, has always been a critical piece of any economic system ever since complex societies formed millennia ago.  Agriculture continues to be a difficult issue in organizing an economic system today but unlike for hundreds of years, the problem really isn’t “how to grow enough food for everybody”.  Worldwide, thanks to technology like tractors & fertilizer, improved science of agriculture, and improved food preservation/distribution, we’ve actually solved the “not enough” problem in the last hundred years. Now the problems are difficult. The hunger or malnutrition remains a problem in many places but it’s a distribution/access/income problem while too much food is actually wasted or destroyed.

No the problems tend to three fold in my view. First, there are power relations. Picking and harvesting food is still often low-paying, difficult, painful labor fraught with risks from pesticides and other dangers. Higher income people in developed countries such as the US increasingly aren’t interested in such work, so it’s necessary to use labor from less developed countries. But what are the conditions they work under? Do we use immigrants and grow here (benefitting our landowners)? Or do we let them grow in their country and import the produce (who gets the profit?)? This labor problem is made much harder because farming is very capital intensive. And capital intensive industries tend towards corporate concentration and not the free-market competitive ideal we like to think. Continue reading

Topic 6 Readings

I thought I had posted this, but apparently I forgot to hit the publish button, so catching up.

For Topic 6, let’s take an introduction into Income Inequality.  It’s a topic that for many decades in the late 20th century and early 21st century wasn’t given much attention in either academic economics literature OR in discussions by politicians.  This was for several related reasons. First, there was a carry-over from the cold war. Starting in the 1940’s and 1950’s, communism was demonized both academically and politically, that any research or political talk of income inequality risked associating the author with communism too. Then, starting in the 1970’s and growing in the 1980’s and onward the economic-political system was taken with what we call “neo-liberalism”.  Neoliberalism is a very pro-market, pro-corporate approach to capitalism that seeks to minimize government involvement in any aspects of the economy as well as promote globalism.  Essentially, all US presidents from Reagan through Obama have been neoliberal. It remains to be seen how neoliberal Trump will be. Continue reading

Update Feb 19

Update Feb 19:  Hi folks, well this has been a real lesson for me this semester. What’s the lesson you ask? Don’t make 3 major innovations/experiments in the course at the same time, especially when it wasn’t clear I’d teach the class until a few weeks before semester started.   Here’s where we are:

  • I just posted a description of the readings for topic 5 which we should be discussing this week.  Reminder: you can respond and comment either by clicking “reply” to that post, OR you can create a new post directly from the front page of the website, OR if you’ve gotten started on your blog and have a longer thought to post, you can post it there.
  • If you  ever miss what or forget what the readings are for a particular topic/week, there’s a page that has all of them for the semester. It’s available from both the Required Readings and What To Do tabs on the menu.  Go to those menu items and click on the Topics, Readings, Schedule Plan.
  • The Topics, Readings, Schedule Plan list of readings for the rest of the semester is shaping up. Much of it is already listed and I’m actively working on filling in the rest as fast as I can. It would still be useful to discuss these various readings during the time frames listed, but by  knowing what’s coming you can read ahead or read on topics that are related to what your book project will be.
  • Expect a post in the next day or so with more detail about what’s expected for your blog posts & project.  In a nutshell, use your blog to make some longer, more thoughtful posts on topics of special interest to you.  I suggest thinking of them as posts that help you refine your thinking leading up to your project.
  • Finally, I know this is an online course and most of you can’t get to campus easily, but IF you can, you may want to check out these four dates.  I’m giving public lectures/discussions at the Centre for Engaged Inclusion (GB 252.02 – upstairs from the Commons). All LCC students and staff are welcome. I have four topics left this semester and they correspond to topics we’ll discuss in the course.  If you can’t come, I’ll be including my presentation slides and blog posts along with our readings like I did for Death of American Dream.
    • Weds, Feb 22,  10 am – Role of Big Government, Big Agriculture, Big Food
    • Weds March 22,  12noon – Immigration Myths Debunked
    • Tues, April 11, 10 am – Crony Capitalism
    • Tues, April 25, 12 noon – Social Security, Medicare & Obamacare Myths Debunked


Topic 5 Readings

For topic 5, we’re going to take a look at Trade, Globalization, and Corporatism.

I’ve assembled 4 readings to start. You are, of course, welcome to discover other articles on your own and bring them to our discussion.  Read a description plus links below the fold…

Continue reading

Topic 4 Readings: Economic Systems

Just one required reading for this topic, but it’s fairly long/involved.  It’s the Wikipedia entry for Economic Systems.  What I like about this reading is that it really helps bring out the variety and complexity of economic “systems”.  It really is much, much more complex than the simple “capitalism vs. communism vs. socialism” that we are often taught in K-12 schools or that are used in popular political discourse.

I suggest doing two things here.  First, explore. Don’t just read the text, follow some of the links in the article to gain a richer understanding.  Second, it’s worthwhile to remember this article. It will make a useful starting point for some additional research for when you start writing longer posts on your blog or when you write about the book project.



Unit 3 – Death of the American Dream Readings

One of our first topics is the death of the American Dream -well, at least I think the dream is dead.  I recently gave a talk at the LCC Centre for Engagement on the question. Based on the historical analysis I’ve done, I’ve concluded it is indeed dead.  So below here you’ll see a link to my blog post on the topic.  I wrote a little about how I approached the topic and then I’ve got my Powerpoint slides embedded in the post and links to five other articles that formed some of the main sources I used for my analysis.

Death of the American Dream

Additional articles to read related to this blog post (links are both here and contained in the above blog post from


Unit 2 Required Reading – Gapminder

The first required reading for Unit 2 is really a required viewing.
Sound economics involves data. Unfortunately in too many discussions of economies or economic systems, many people base their views on ideology or just anecdotes.  In this course, one of my objectives is for you to learn some useful data sources and learn how to explore those sources and use them.  You’re fortunate. Today we have a wealth of not only raw data available online, but incredible resources on the Web for exploring that data and building a narrative out of it.

One of the most powerful data resources is a website called Gapminder.  First I have two videos I’d like you watch where the creator of Gapminder, Hans Rosling, shows how real data can change our understanding of the world. Turns out a lot of what “we all know to be common sense”, isn’t really factual.


After viewing these videos, please go to the Gapminder site at and explore some of the tools.  Post to this discussion site things you learned, found interesting, discovered, or how it may affect the areas/topics you want to research further.  Also feel free to post questions that the data raises or that you have about interpreting the data.

Jamie B

Hello, my name is Jamie Block and currently in the process of finishing up classes I need for the nursing program. After I finish the nursing program my plan is to gain a BSN and from there go on to gain a masters degree as a CRNA. I recently had a baby in September and she keeps me pretty busy. I am a fulltime student, employed fulltime and have 3 step-children so there really isnt much free time!
I work in healthcare so I am taking this class to better understand our econmic systems. Healthcare and health insurence is a huge part of all of our lives. I have alot of experience in the patient care department but I have very little knowledge of how insurence and our econmic system works. So I’m very excited to learn this semester!
Nice to meet you all!

How the Course Works

This course is an effort at open education. What’s open education? Kris Shaffer at University of Mary Washington explains by quoting Jesse Stommel:


Jesse writes that “A Critical Digital Pedagogy demands that open and networked educational environments must not be merely repositories of content. They must be platforms for engaging students and teachers as full agents of their own learning.” He offers four broad things that characterize this pedagogy. It…

  • centers its practice on community and collaboration;
  • must remain open to diverse, international voices, and thus requires invention to reimagine the ways that communication and collaboration happen across cultural and political boundaries;
  • will not, cannot, be defined by a single voice but must gather together a cacophony of voices;
  • must have use and application outside traditional institutions of education.

In practical terms it means this is what we’re going to do. There are 4 things we’ll do.

  1. Weekly readings and discussion on this website. Each week we will engage in some new topic(s), share some readings, read them, think about them, and respond on this website. I hope we also engage each other in discussion by replying. I will post some required readings and some suggested readings. Most of them will be articles on the Web. I expect all students each week to read them and then:
    • I will generally post links to new readings by late on Thursdays.  I may also post some additional stuff during the week – especially if I see something interesting in my own social media feeds.
    • read
    • think about it.
    • post whatever strikes you as you do the readings. I do not have specific questions I want you to ask. There is no formula or required format for posts. Post what hits you. It could be “I didn’t know that..”. It could be “I don’t understand this graph or this concept..”. It could be “this is what I think: this author is right/wrong/deranged/close-but-not-quite”.  You’re smart. You know things. When you read, you make mental connections between the new stuff and what you know. Share it with us. How many posts are required?  I don’t know. It depends on what you say. Don’t feel limited.
    • read the others’ postings of the others and reply if you it strikes you. Think of this website as a social media site devoted to an intelligent discussion of economic system issues -except we’ll be civil and respectful (something Twitter and Facebook don’t always manage!).
    • repeat the following week.  In general it’s best to try to post your thoughts and replies before each Thursday.  I will usually do “grading” on Thursdays.
  2. Own Blogs & In-depth Posts.  You will be getting your own blog (website)  on This is a new LCC provided service that provides personal scholarly websites to students. It will be your site. You can write whatever you want. You can write your thoughts on how snow is boring or you love Thanksgiving dinner or how geology is your favorite course (go ahead, make me cry 😉 ).  But I expect you to write at least four in-depth articles or posts that involve more research and thought than what we do on this weekly discussion site. One of those in-depth posts will be your research project for this course. You’ve got flexibility on topic and timing on these four posts. At least three in-depth posts, including the research project post must be complete by April 27, no later. Personally, I suggest that you should think of putting your first in-depth post up by the time we start back after spring break.  Please do yourself a huge favor and don’t procrastinate all of them to the very end.  Feel free to discuss the ideas you are going to write about in your in-depth post on the weekly discussion site and/or with me.
  3. Research Project.  You will do a long-form in-depth post on your own blog.  Think of this as a research paper/project only in a web-blog format. You will need to read at least one popular book on your topic, use at least one data-analysis website for data, and at least two other web articles as sources.  This will be public. I want it to be the kind of article or essay that you can be really proud of after and, since it’s on the public web, you can show it off.  But I also want it to be your voice, your contribution to the discussion.
  4. Final Exam:  Final exam will consist of two parts: a reflective in-depth post on your blog and a series of short questions based on the information in the other students’ research projects.

One last thought: Whenever there’s a new teaching technique or approach in class, some students get nervous. “What about my grade?” they ask.  Don’t get anxious. First, I’m kind of a grades-skeptic. I think grades as some kind of measurement of learning is pretty much bogus. There’s huge statistical, measurement, and epistemological problems with grades.  Here’s what I ask. Do the work. Give it a good effort and let yourself enjoy the learning aspect. Learning really is fun if we don’t let the grades get in the way, in my opinion. Make mental connections. Put your own thoughts together. Find your own voice. Do that and you’ll be just fine on grades. Trust me.  I’m mostly “grading” whether you’re doing the work.  Your posts are evidence that you’re doing the mental work.

Welcome to ECON 260 – What We’ll Study

Economics and economic systems are very important to me. I’ve always been fascinated by them. At the same time, part of my motivation for studying economics has always been to try to understand better how society can improve the living standards of all it’s people. This is much the same motivation that has always driven the greatest economists such as Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, and even Karl Marx. I hope I can help you to better understand the economic system in which you live as well as those in which others live. If we all become more knowledgeable, there’s a chance we might improve things.

A spectrum of political-economic ideologies ranging from extreme Individualism-Liberalism on one end to Communalism/socialism on the other end. In between are Libertarian-Anarchism, American Conserviatives, American Liberals,

Fig 1: Political-Economic systems/ideologies arranged in a spectrum.

Perhaps my greatest hope for the course is that you learn to think critically and deeper about economic systems and related issues. People feel strongly about their economic system and how their government should relate to it. Unfortunately, ideology, politics and slogans are too often used as substitutes for critical thinking and analysis. Too often people resort to simplistic and emotional labels. They act as if there’s only 2 or 3 systems called socialism, communism, or capitalism as illustrated in figures 1 or 2 shown here.

Worse yet, they classify these simplistic labels as either “good” or “evil”. The world isn’t that simple. People aren’t that simple. And no economy is that simple. No economic system is exactly like another. Yes, there are patterns, but there’s not just 2 or 3 systems, good and bad. Further, there’s strengths and weaknesses in each system. Facts are stubborn things. There’s room for disagreement, particularly in this course. But it needs to be informed and thoughtful disagreement, not simplistic sloganeering.

What Are We Studying?

One of the other things I hope you learn in this course is how economic theories & ideologies affect economic systems and how that affects how people live.  I really want this course to take the “comparative” part of “comparative economic systems” seriously.  What do I mean by that?  Well, let’s not just compare different ideological perspectives on economic systems which is what the typical political-economic categorizations do.  I want to compare actual working economies because economies and their empirical performance are the best evidence of what the economic system is.  So let’s compare different countries, their economies and their performance.

Given this broad perspective, you may be curious as to what my own perspective is. My objective is to help present a course that helps you learn about multiple perspectives on economic issues. My objective is NOT to sell or push my own particular viewpoint. Of course, my views will necessarily color anything I write, the same way that personal views color any writer’s writings. Nonetheless, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll try to summarize my own views. In short, my own position is difficult to classify. I share many perspectives with those of free market, capitalist advocates. I do believe competitive markets can be a tremendous positive force in society. But I also know that markets only have these wonderful effects if certain conditions exist. Without sufficient regulation or guidance from government, markets can easily become as oppressive and exploitative as any dictator-run “socialist” system. At the same time there many goods and services that a free market, private property system simply won’t provide or provide to all who should (in my opinion) have access. It is necessary and desirable to have government and society create social institutions and services to provide these services. So my views are somewhat eclectic or pragmatic (I call it “realistic”). Many free-market fundamentalists think I’m a socialist. Many socialists think I’m a free-market capitalist. I particularly believe institutions, culture, and history matter – oftentimes more than ideology. I believe in checking the empirical record. Theory is nice, but only when it works. When it doesn’t and the facts don’t fit, we need new theories. In terms of economics background, my own specialized graduate studies were in what is called Social Economics, Institutional Economics, Human Resource Economics, Industrial Economics, and the History of Economic Thought.

You Help Pick the Topics

There’s a lot of “pedagogical innovations” happening in this course. In plain English, “pedagogical innovations” means this course is going operate differently than most courses you’ve had before. I’ll make another post to explain a lot of these innovations, but an important innovation here is you are going to help pick what we study this term. Normally the list of topics to be studied in a course is set by the professor. It’s the old model of “professor is expert – you listen and absorb”.  This is going to be different. Within the overall umbrella of “comparative economic systems” there’s a lot of ways we could go about this.  For example, in the not-too-distant past I used to focus on explaining all the different “ism’s” (communism, capitalism, etc) and explaing the history of each. It was very much an adaptation of the old lecture model to an online course.

This semester I want to do it differently.  I think you’ll learn more and this course will be more meaningful if you learn about economic systems by doing your own exploration and research on something of strong interest to you personally. Then if we all share what we’re learning about, I think we’ll learn more and it will be more meaningful. There are still some topics I plan to cover no matter what.  For example, I have some readings and comments planned on the following topics:

  • The Death of The American Dream (changes in wages, income inequality, and employment in the last 40 years)
  • Government and Big Agriculture (how did that food really get to your table and what happened to people along the way – ties to the OneBookLCC for this year, Tomatoland)
  • Immigration and Economies – How Does It Really Work?
  • Crony Capitalism: It’s Good to Be Rich and Powerful
  • Social Insurance Explained:  Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare, and Universal Healthcare

But the list is incomplete.  That’s only five topics. I want to know what you want to study. Are you interested in healthcare? education? manufacturing? The role of military in the economy? Technology? Big data and privacy? Currency unions and banking?  Government debt?  You decide. You let me know in your first post or two. You’ll get to focus most of your own research, project, and in-depth postings on your topic and share what you’re learning with the rest of us. Then, if this all works, we’ll all learn even more by making connections between our own research/insights and that of our fellow students.

Oh, one more thing: You might want to check out the following website: Top 10 Reasons for Studying Economics. It’s a fun, tongue-in-cheek list of reasons to study econ from a British econ professor. Personally, I want all of you to take lots of economics courses (more work, income and job security for me!) but I don’t think you should actually grow up to be professional economists(I don’t need the competition!). Let’s have fun and learn something together.