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Notable mentions | What does a good economics module look like?

Words by Ross Cathcart, Head of Local Comms and Events, Rethinking Economics

In the Economy Studies project, students from RE:NL are putting together a detailed proposal on how to teach economics. As part of the project, they asked for inspiring ideas for potential modules.

We are excited to showcase some of the amazing entries that we have had so far.

These will be included in Economy Studies book, to show economics faculty worldwide that interesting and relevant modules are possible.

Have the entries given you some inspiration? Still want to take part? Submit your idea here.

Empirical Economics

An introduction to empirical economics/econometrics, with a focus on application and econometric intuition rather than econometric theory.

I would suggest a course somewhat like LSE’s EC220 or (possibly) Oxford’s Quantitative economics, both of which loosely follow Angrist & Pischke’s book “mastering ‘metrics”. LSE’s course is fantastic for the econometric intuition (omitted variable bias, measurement error, bad controls etc) but no so good on the application. I think teaching application along with the methods is helpful to show students the sorts of questions that empirical economics tries to tackle.

The idea is to give students an introduction to empirical methods in economics (simple stats, regression, IV, diff-in-diff, RDD, natural experiments etc, limited dependent variables/discrete choice) interspersed with studying applications of these causal inference methods (e.g. returns to education, moral hazard in health insurance, gender pay gap, racial disparities in education)

Both LSE and Oxford’s courses tackle the econometric intuition well (LSE somewhat better) though miss out the application side, which features more strongly in mastering ‘metrics.

I would also have students do miniature replications of the applications they study, given that most of this data has been made available, and this would be a fantastic way to get more students interested in this area of economics.

Sam M Altmann, PhD student, University of Oxford

The Economics of Financial Crashes

A module to introduce theoretical approaches to financial crises, probably taking the most recent Global Financial Crisis as a focal point. It would answer questions such as:

1. Why do crises occur? Answers offered from different schools of thought: the prevailing mainstream, behavioural economics, Keynesian, Austrian and Marxian could all be touched on.

2. What is the role of finance? An exploration of the monetary and financial system. What do banks really do (ie. debunking fractional reserve banking) and what roles do they play in crises?

3. What is the role of government? Historically, what have government responses been to crises? What was the behaviour of central bankers and finance ministries in the most recent crisis?

Depending on how long the module is, the consequences of crises on the the structure of economies (‘the supply side’) could be considered. In the most recent context, the productivity crisis and the European banking system would make good candidates.

By the end, students would be introduced to a range of analytical approaches to economic crises and be encouraged to form their own opinion, through their own analysis, of why crises occur, what can be done to prevent them (if anything) and how best to respond.

Kishan Rana, BSc student, University of Exeter

Oil Economics

The central topic of this module is OIL – it has kept the lights in every country around the globe for decades, making, in general, those who own it very rich and powerful.
The aim of this module is to analyse the causes and consequences of the success or failure of oil-dependent countries and, more generally, understand oil’s relationship to all aspects of the economy.

‘Past’ and ‘present’ topics:
– The first oil discoveries and companies – Standard Oil etc
– Oil in the World Wars
– OPEC and the oil crises of the 1970’s
– Nationalisation/privatisation of oil companies
– Oil and international trade relations (Saudi & the US etc)
– Oil and currencies
– Comparative analysis of why some oil economies such as Venezuela and Iraq have remained poor while countries such as Qatar and Norway have ‘got rich’

‘Future’ topics:
– How the world will move away from fossil fuels and what part will governments play
– How oil-dependent countries are trying to diversify their economies
– How will geopolitics shift as oil becomes a less important resource

Economic theory that could be incorporated:
– Monopolies
– Simple supply and demand theory
– Inflation
– Cartels
– Tariffs etc
– Fiscal policy
– Balance of payments
– Externalities

The possibilities for this module are immense; oil has been at the centre of many of the most interesting economic and geopolitical episodes of the last century and can be easily related to endless economic topics.

Andrew Graham, BSc student of Queen’s University Belfast

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