2013-2014 Economics Courses
Social Metrics I: Introduction to Structural Analysis in the Social Sciences
The course is designed for all students interested in the social sciences who wish to understand the methodology and techniques involved in the estimation of structural relationships between variables. It is designed for students who wish to be able to carry out empirical work in their particular field, both at Sarah Lawrence College and beyond, and critically engage empirical work done by academic or professional social scientists. After taking this course, students will be able to analyze questions such as the following: What effects do race, gender, and educational attainment have in the determination of wages? How does the female literacy rate affect the child mortality rate? How can one model the effect of economic growth on carbon dioxide emissions? What is the relationship among sociopolitical instability, inequality, and economic growth? How do geographic location and state spending affect average public-school teacher salaries? How do socioeconomic factors determine the crime rate in the United States? How can one model the US defense budget? The course is split up, broadly, into three sections. In the first part, we will study the application of statistical methods and techniques in order to: a) understand, analyze, and interpret a wide range of social phenomena such as those mentioned above; b) test hypotheses/theories regarding the possible links between variables; and c) make predictions about prospective changes in the economy. Social metrics is fundamentally a regression-based correlation methodology used to measure the overall strength, direction, and statistical significance between a “dependent” variable—the variable whose movement or change is to be explained—and one or more “independent” variables that will explain the movement or change in the dependent variable. Social metrics will require a detailed understanding of the mechanics, advantages, and limitations of the “classical” linear regression model. Thus, the first part of the course will cover the theoretical and applied statistical principles that underlie Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression techniques. This part will cover the assumptions needed to obtain the Best Linear Unbiased Estimates of a regression equation, also known as the “BLUE” conditions. Particular emphasis will be placed on the assumptions regarding the distribution of a model’s error term and other BLUE conditions. We will also cover hypothesis testing, sample selection, and the critical role of the t- and F-statistic in determining the statistical significance of a social metric model and its associated slope or “b” parameters. In the second part, we will address the three main problems associated with the violation of a particular BLUE assumption: multicollinearity, autocorrelation, and heteroscedasticity. We will learn how to identify, address, and remedy each of these problems. In addition, we will take a similar approach to understanding and correcting model specification errors. The third part of the fall class will focus on the analysis of historical time-series models and the study of long-run trend relationships between variables. No prior background in economics or the social sciences is required, but a knowledge of basic statistics and high-school algebra is required.
Work and Workers’ Movements in the Globalized Political Economy
What is the situation of workers today? How does their situation differ by race, gender, sexual orientation, nativity/country of origin? How have workers attempted to improve their status—both through unions and related movements and through lobbying for changes in government policy? And how has increased globalization (with accompanying increases in capital flight and immigration) impacted these issues? This course will address these topics from a theoretical, historical, and legal/public policy perspective, with an eye to contextualizing and understanding current-day labor struggles. As part of the requirements for the course, students will be expected to engage in, and reflect upon, a service-learning project with a New York City labor-related organization such as an immigrant worker center, a labor union, or an advocacy organization.
Introduction to Economic Theory and Policy
Economics has a profound impact on all of our lives—from where we live and go to school to what we do for a living, how we dress, how we entertain ourselves. Economics is also crucially intertwined with the social and political issues that we care about—from global warming to poverty and discrimination. This yearlong course introduces a variety of approaches to economics—including neoclassical, Keynesian, behavioralist, Marxian, and feminist—and encourages students to apply these contrasting perspectives to current economic issues. We conclude with an exploration of the causes and consequences of the recent financial and economic crisis.
Political Economics of the Environment
Is it possible to provide economic well-being to the world’s population without destroying the natural environment? Is sustainable development a possibility or a utopian dream? How do we determine how much pollution we are willing to live with? Why are toxic waste dumps overwhelmingly located in poor, frequently minority, communities? Whether through activities such as farming, mining, and fishing, or through manufacturing processes that discharge wastes, or through the construction of communities and roadways, human economic activity profoundly affects the environment. The growing and contentious field of environmental economics attempts to analyze the environmental impact of economic activity and to propose policies aimed at balancing economic and environmental concerns. There is considerable debate, with some theorists putting great faith in the market’s ability to achieve good environmental outcomes; others advocate much more direct intervention in defense of the environment; and some question the desirability of economic growth as a goal. Underlying these differences are political economic questions of distribution of power and resources among classes and groups within the United States and across the globe. This course will explore the range of views, with an emphasis on understanding the assumptions underlying their disagreements and on the policy implications of those views. The concepts will be developed through an examination of ongoing policy debates on issues such as air pollution and global warming, the decimation of the world’s fish population, automobiles and the reliance on petrochemicals, and the possibility of sustainable development.
History of Economic Thought
As industrial capitalism emerged as the dominant economic system in Europe and North America in the 18th century, theorists sought to understand the logic of this new way of organizing production and distribution. What determined the price of goods? The wages of labor? The profits to owners of capital? They theorized about the dynamics of the system. What caused the economy to grow? Would it grow unceasingly? Cyclically? Or would capitalism inevitably decline into stagnation or collapse at some point? Theorists were also concerned with the role of government policy in this new capitalist system. Should the government actively regulate the economy, or should it play a minimal role and leave markets to determine outcomes without intervention? Should trade with other countries be regulated or free? What was the responsibility of the government with respect to the poor? Should they be assisted? Controlled? These questions were vigorously debated by political economists from the onset of capitalism and, to this day, continue to be the focus of disagreements among economists and political economists. This course will examine the development of economic theory through a focus on these debates about value, distribution, economic dynamics, and the role of government. The emphasis will be on reading authors in the original, including Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, Alfred Marshall, John Maynard Keynes, Joan Robinson, and Milton Friedman. Open to students with a background in economics, political theory, or related studies.
Social Entrepreneurship: Models for Intervention in Global Poverty
The term social entrepreneurship refers to an approach to creating sustainable and scalable social change. This seminar will define and explore social entrepreneurship as an emerging and dynamic field. It is not a course on how to become a social entrepreneur; however, students will gain insights into developing social enterprises through case studies. We will examine promise and practice with the perspective of global economic scholarship and theory. What is the potential of social entrepreneurship as a catalyst for social change? What are the barriers, limits, and constraints to achieving sustainable impact? Focusing on global poverty provides a context to look at social entrepreneurship as one approach to addressing complex and systemic problems. Issues and controversy are part of the terrain. For example, is microcredit a sustainable strategy for poverty alleviation and women’s empowerment, or is it a path toward deeper indebtedness for the poorest or the poor? Are market-based interventions more effective in reaching vulnerable populations than distribution models of government, aid agencies, or NGOs? What is the role of subsidy, sustainability, and profit maximization in meeting the needs of the bottom billion? In what ways do market forces create tension between social mission and the economic viability of business models? In addition to analyzing the work of leading development economists, we will look at case studies of social enterprises in emerging economies as models of intervention, innovation, and social change.
Social Metrics II: Further Topics on Structural Analysis in the Social Sciences
The spring semester class is a seminar and builds on the fall class by introducing students to advanced topics in social metrics. We will study autoregressive dependent lag (ARDL) models, co-integration, and error correction models involving non-stationary time series. We will investigate simultaneous equations systems, vector error correction (VEC), and vector autoregressive (VAR) models. The final part of the seminar will involve the study of panel data, as well as logit/probit models. As with the fall class, the spring class will also be very “hands on” in that students will get ample exposure to concrete issues. Mathematical derivations will be kept to a minimum, as the goal is to train students to do practical work in social metrics. Also like the fall semester class, students will have to do joint collaborative projects in addition to conference work. Finally, methodological issues will be discussed throughout the semester. The spring semester is particularly relevant to students who wish to pursue graduate studies in a social science discipline, although it will be equally relevant for those seeking other types of graduate degrees that involve knowledge of intermediate-level quantitative analysis. Prerequisite: Social Metrics I.
Industrial Competition, Labor Relations, and National Systems of Innovation
Contemporary economists who deal with labor relations (e.g., the analysis of wage determination and working conditions) do not explicitly discuss business investment and competitive decisions, while scholars in the industrial organization literature (who study the business firm and competition) do not deal with issues surrounding labor relations. Yet in the real world, labor relations and industrial organization shape each other in complex ways. The purpose of this course is to investigate the nexus between these two fields, in both theoretical and historical terms, and the implications for current problems. The course has three broad parts. In the first part, we will investigate controversies regarding the nature of the business enterprise. It is part of the conventional discourse on economic policy that free-market competition is the key to bringing about national wealth creation with rising standards of living. Yet there is considerable debate in the literature on industrial organization theory regarding the nature of the capitalist firm and the environment within which it grows or dies. Drawing on the classic writings of Schumpeter, the Oxford Economists’ Research Group, the Institutionalist tradition, and others, this part of the class will introduce students to a wide variety of theoretical perspectives on the firm by contrasting the textbook neoclassical theories of the firm with other theoretical perspectives. In the second part, we will investigate, from both a historical and an international perspective, the concrete institutional and political contexts that have led to particular links among business investment, labor relations, and social policy. For example, we will ask: How did particular worker-employer relations originate and evolve historically in Denmark, Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom? How did business groups, trade unions, and the Social Democratic Party in Sweden come to deal with conflictual and cooperative arrangements in the postwar period, and how were these shaped by the global competitiveness of Swedish firms during economic booms and slumps? In the third and final part of the class, we will discuss factors that have influenced business innovation and, in turn, have been shaped by the latter, drawing in particular on contemporary writings in the National Systems of Innovation (NSI) literature. We will discuss the role of labor in the NSI framework, in particular the implications of technological change for employment and skills, given that technological change is of the labor-saving type. Further, we will use the NSI framework to understand the growing challenge posed in the last three decades by firms from less wealthy nations. Finally, we will analyze the challenges faced by smaller firms in developing environmentally sustainable production methods. This course requires some background in economics/social sciences and an interest in historically informed analysis.