Sunday, August 29, 2010

What you Don't Know You Don't Know

I'm going to discuss this in class tomorrow, but this post explains the concept perfectly.

Also, we should probably have a little discussion about Grade Inflation:


I'd like for each of you to post a comment here as a way for me to be sure you have found your way to this site. When you post a comment it will ask for your email address and a username. You can make up an anonymous username if you like, I will be able to tell it is you from your email, so long as you use your gmu email address.
Thank you!

John Stossel's RTS Special

John Stossel, an investigative reporter formerly on ABC's 20/20 show, has a special on the Road to Serfdom which you can watch on YouTube. Recommended viewing, could help your understanding of the book.

Reader's Digest version of The Road to Serfdom

For those of you completely unacquainted with the work of F.A. Hayek you might like to look at this condensed version of The Road to Serfdom. The relevant portion is on pp. 31 - 63. This does not excuse you from reading the full text when it is assigned, but it will help you get ready. You can save the pdf to your computer and print it if you like.

Can Prevent Grade Inflation

During the first class we should have a short discussion about grade inflation.
Related to this discussion should be an understanding of the value of an undergraduate education, and how that value can be protected or eroded.
In preparation, please take a look at these articles.
"Who Really Failed?" by Scott Jaschik.
and the section under "1." at this post by Arnold Kling.

Friday, August 20, 2010


You may download a word doc of your syllabus here.

ECON 309-02, Economic Problems and Public Policy
Fall 2010, Nathanael Snow

About the Instructor:
Office: Enterprise 349 (cubicle outside of)
Office hours: Immediately after class or by appointment

About the course:
Mondays 7:10-10:00 (we will take a 10-15 minute break around the 8:30 mark)
Robinson Hall B203

Economics 309, while taught in the economics department by economists, is a synthesis course. The goal of this course is to prepare students to consider policy problems primarily from the perspective of political economist. In order to do this we will explore several different bodies of theory. The first is that of the market process and market institutions, that is, economic theory. The second is a rational-choice or economically minded approach to politics and political institutions. Third, we will address ethical problems of economics and political theory, as well as implications for public policy. Fourth, we will explore the role of economists in the shaping and propagating of public policy. The rest of the course will be applied and will consist of examining real-world economic problems and proposed policy solutions.

Required Texts:

Roger Miller, Daniel Benjamin, Douglass North. The Economics of Public Issues.
F.A. Hayek. The Road to Serfdom.
Steven Landsburg. The Armchair Economist.
Arnold Kling, Crisis of Abundance
Lant Pritchett. Let Their People Come.*

Optional Supplemental Text:

Thomas Rustici, N. Snow, C. Milton, Microeconomics, a Free Market Approach.

*Download online at

There will be additional readings either handed out or posted at the blog.
Class Blog:

Grading Scheme:
Total Points: 100
Top five pop quizzes: 3 points each. [15].
Two short writing (3 pages): 10 points each. [20]
Oral Presentation. 5 points. (5 minutes): [5]
Mid-term. 25 points. [25]
Final exam. OR Class paper (15-20 pages) with permission of instructor. 35 points. [35]

Project option: The project option is open to any student that desires to take 15% of the course weight off their final exam. If the student chooses this option, their final exam is weighted at only 20% instead of 35%, and the project is worth 15%. The project includes a physical tour of both the national Archives and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and a written analysis approximately 5-7 pages in length. Students electing this option should inform the instructor as soon as possible.

Quizzes will be given at the beginning of most classes. Each quiz will be worth three points, and will test knowledge of the assigned readings. Short writing assignments, on topics to be announced. Synthesis courses require written, analytical, and oral demonstration of mastery. For this course, oral presentation will involve a 5 minute presentation of material from the readings. You may do this live in class, or you may choose to record a you-tube video which will be shown in class.

There will be two exams, a one-hour mid-term conducted around the eighth class session, and a two-hour final exam conducted during the regular final exam period. Students may also, with the instructor’s consent, write a class paper. Those intending to write a class paper should inform the instructor of this by the time of the mid-term exam.


Introduction: Multiple dimensions of public policy, syllabus, course overview
About 2 class periods

Foundations: Markets, Politics, Public Choice, Ethics
About7 class periods

Policy Discussions and Analysis: Environmentalism and recycling, Healthcare, Industrial Regulation, Subsidies, Drugs, Foreign Aid, Antitrust, International Trade, Immigration, others.
About 7 class periods

To be assigned, announced in class, and posted on the blog. You should check the blog regularly.
Additionally, there may be a few online videos you will be expected to watch, and a podcast or two you will be required to listen to.
There is a reading chart on the downloadable version of this syllabus.
You might notice that there are 874 pages of reading for this course. That is a lot, and I will be assigning extra reading and videos/podcasts as well. 874 works out to 63 pages a week, or less than 10 pages a day, if you keep up with it. Most of the reading is interesting, and easy to get through.

Among readings not in the texts are the following, which you should be able to find online, there are links provided in the downloadable version.

1. I, Pencil, Leonard Read

2. Rinkonomics, Daniel Klein

3. Puzzling Questions, Henry Grady Weaver (pp.11-21)

4. The Formation and Function of Prices, Hans Sennholz

5. The Use of Knowledge In Society, F.A. Hayek

6. Not Yours to Give, Davy Crockett

7. The Social Responsibility of Business, Milton Friedman

8. Antitrust, Fred McChesney

9. To Drill or Not to Drill, Dwight Lee

10. The Endangered Species Act, Richard Stroup
11. Think Globally, Act Irrationally: Recycling, Michael Munger

12. Petition of the Candlemakers, Bastiat

13. The Balance of Trade, Bastiat

14. Theory, Evidence, and Examples…, The Independent Institute

15. On Foreign Trade, David Ricardo (7.11-7.19)

16. Ungenerous Endowments, The Economist

17. Profit and Loss, Ludwig von Mises

18. Morality as Cooperation, Peter Boettke

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Course reading:
The following books are assigned and required for the course. There will be a significant number of other readings assigned and posted on this blog. You should make visiting the blog a regular practice.
Additionally I will ask you to watch some videos and listen to some audio podcasts to supplement course lecture. Among my favorite sources is Econtalk, a podcast produced by GMU professor Russ Roberts.

Roger Miller, Daniel Benjamin, Douglass North. The Economics of Public Issues.

F.A. Hayek. The Road to Serfdom.*

Lant Pritchett. Let Their People Come.**

Steven Landsburg. The Armchair Economist.*

Arnold Kling. Crisis of Abundance.

* Any edition.

**Download online for free here.

The following texts are available through Amazon for the Kindle, or at Barnes and Noble for the Nook as well. If you don't have a Kindle or a Nook, you can download the Kindle App or the Nook App for your computer.
The Kindle/Nook prices are usually lower than the price of the book new, but not used, depending on shipping costs. Included are the Kindle prices.
F.A. Hayek. The Road to Serfdom. $9.35
Steven Landsburg. The Armchair Economist. $10.99
Arnold Kling. Crisis of Abundance. $7.20
The following text is available in audiobook format as well.
Hayek's Road to Serfdom is $14.99 at iTunes and it may be cheaper (and drm free) at Amazon. I don't have a problem with you listening to this book rather than reading it, so long as you can absorb the relevant material.
Hint: most mp3 players will let you play the audio at 2x the speed. That turns listening to this book from a 10 hour task into 5 hours. Of course, reading from the printed page is usually even faster, but not advisable while driving...