The public sector is complex.
Dr. Andrew Heiss
Office hours: Sign up here.
E-mail is the best way to get in contact with me—I will try to respond to all course-related e-mails within 24 hours (really).
MW; F (lab)
January 7–April 17, 2019
9:30–10:45 AM (§1); 8:00–9:15 AM (§2); 12:30–1:45 PM (lab)
Public administrators, managers, and policy makers need to be fluent in the language of economics and need to be able to engage in and understand quantitative analysis of social policies.
In this class, you’ll learn how to speak and do economics.
By the end of this course, you will (1) be literate in fundamental economic principles, (2) understand the limits of economic theory and free markets, (3) justify government and nonprofit intervention in the economy, and (4) make informed policy recommendations by analyzing and evaluating public sector policies. Specifically, you’ll be able to:
- Understand the principles of microeconomics, public economics, and behavioral economics
- Explain social phenomena using economic vocabulary and reasoning
- Predict how individuals respond to incentives
- Evaluate the costs, benefits, and long-term consequences of public and nonprofit sector policies
- Justify government intervention in the free market and identify when public policies have been unethical or failures
- Propose and argue for public and nonprofit sector policies
Given these objectives, this course fulfills three of the four learning outcomes for BYU’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program:
- Quantitative Analysis: BYU MPA graduates are skilled at evaluating programs and policies. They know how to gather data, correctly analyze it, and employ the analysis to recommend policy and programmatic action in public service organizations.
- Public Service Values: BYU MPA graduates demonstrate an understanding of, passion for, and commitment to public service values, including reverence for the dignity and worth of all people and dedication to ethical governance.
- Communication: BYU MPA graduates effectively convey verbal and written information with the polish and professionalism appropriate for the public service context. They listen to and promote understanding among people with diverse viewpoints.
Most of the readings in this class are free.
We will only use one physical textbook. There are two official textbooks for the class:
- The CORE Team, Economy, Society, and Public Policy, 2019, https://www.core-econ.org/espp/.Free!
- Charles Wheelan, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010).$1.50 used, $11 new at Amazon; you need the 2010 edition
CORE Econ is a special new project that aims to make economics education accessible to all, replacing textbooks that cost hundreds of dollars with an open source textbook complete with videos and quizzes and other online resources. It’s even been lauded by The Economist.
CORE’s original book, The Economy, was designed to serve as a 1–2 semester introduction to economics for economics majors. I used it for this class last year, but it was too complex and we only covered half of the chapters. Recognizing this, CORE recently created a version of their materials specifically for those interested in public administration and policy. Economy, Society, and Public Policy is designed for non-economics majors who have no interest in becoming economists, but who want to understand economics and policy. This is an ideal book for our class and I’m so excited to use it. It’s still a beta project, and there might be errors and quirks and bumps in the road, but (1) it’s free, and (2) it’s state of the art and you’re some of the first students to ever use it. So live with the quirks :)
Articles, book chapters, and other materials
There will also occasionally be additional articles and videos to read and watch. When this happens, links to these other resources will be included on the reading page for that week.
Finally, you’ll need to listen to at least one economics-related podcast episode every week. We will spend the first few minutes of every class session discussing current events or recent research related to micro, public, or behavioral economics, and podcasts are one of the best ways to do this.You can listen as you commute, wash the dishes, fold your laundry, eat breakfast, or work on homework for other classes!
Here are some of the best ones—subscribe to 3–4 of these:You can listen to all these shows on your computer, but it’s best to listen on your smartphone.
On iOS, you can use Apple’s built-in Podcasts app, or download a third-party app like Overcast (my personal favorite).
On Android, you can use… something, probably.
- Planet Money
- The Indicator
- The Weeds
- Freakonomics Radio
- 50 Things that Made the Modern Economy
- The Uncertain Hour
- The Impact
And these shows are excellent, but not always econ/policy-focused (but they’re definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re interested in behavioral economics and psychology):
R and RStudio
You will do your problem sets and final project with the open source (and free!) programming language R. You will use RStudio as the main program to access R. Think of R as an engine and RStudio as a car dashboard—R handles all the calculations and the actual statistics, while RStudio provides a nice interface for running R code.
R is free, but it can sometimes be a pain to install and configure. To make life easier, you can (and should!) use the free RStudio.cloud service, which lets you run a full instance of RStudio in your web browser. This means you won’t have to install anything on your computer to get started with R! We will have a shared class workspace in RStudio.cloud that will let you quickly copy templates for labs and problem sets.
RStudio.cloud is convenient, but it can be slow and it is not designed to be able to handle larger datasets, more complicated analysis, or fancier graphics. Over the course of the semester, you’ll probably want to get around to installing R, RStudio, and other R packages on your computer and wean yourself off of RStudio.cloud.
I also highly recommend subscribing to the R Weekly newsletter. This e-mail is sent every Monday and is full of helpful tutorials about how to do stuff with R.
Online help and Slack
Economics can be difficult. Computer programming can be difficult. Computers are stupid and little errors in your code can cause hours of headache (even if you’ve been doing this stuff for years!).
Fortunately there are tons of online resources to help you with this. Two of the most important are StackOverflow (a Q&A site with hundreds of thousands of answers to all sorts of programming questions) and RStudio Community (a forum specifically designed for people using RStudio and the tidyverse (i.e. you)).
Searching for help with R on Google can be tricky because the program is, um, a single letter. Try searching for “rstats” instead. If you use Twitter, post R-related questions and content with #rstats.
Additionally, we have a class chatroom at Slack where anyone in the class can ask questions and anyone can answer. Ask questions about the readings or problem sets in the class Slack workspace. I will monitor Slack regularly, and you should also all do so as well. You’ll likely have similar questions as your peers, and you’ll likely be able to answer other peoples’ questions too.
Be nice. Be honest. Don’t cheat.
We will also follow the full list of Marriott School and BYU classroom policies.
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
Life at BYU can be complicated and challenging. You might feel overwhelmed, experience anxiety or depression, or struggle with relationships or family responsibilities. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) provides free, confidential support for students who are struggling with mental health and emotional challenges. The CAPS office is staffed by professional psychologists who are attuned to the needs of all types of college and professional students. Please do not hesitate to contact CAPS for assistance—getting help is a smart and courageous thing to do.
Basic needs security
If you have difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or if you lack a safe and stable place to live, and you believe this may affect your performance in this course, please contact the Dean of Students for support. Please also consider speaking with your local LDS bishop regarding Church welfare assistance regardless of whether or not you are LDS. Additionally, please talk to me if you are comfortable in doing so. This will enable me to provide any resources that I might possess.
Class conduct and expectations
On the first day of class, we came up with some guidelines for late work and laptop use:
- You each have two late passes that enable you to turn in an assignment up to a week late with no penalty. E-mail me when you want to use one of your late passes.
- Once you are out of late passes (or if you use one and then go beyond the week), you’ll have a 10% late penalty per day, up to 50%.
- Be respectful with your laptop use. You’re adults.
Assignments and grades
You can find descriptions for all the assignments on the assignments page.
|Preparation (≈ 8.5 × 29)||250||22.5%|
|Problem sets (8 × 40)||320||28.8%|