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Defining Economics

Our registrar has a 1000 character limit on our economics course description for the catalog. I edited what our department had to read something like:

Individuals act with purpose. In a world where there is not enough “stuff” to go around, individuals face tradeoffs. We model how individuals make economic choices: how much to work, when to marry, how much to clean, etc. We also examine (and measure) the consequences, intended and unintended, of these choices and the government policies crafted to influence them – such as the impact of rent controls, taxing cigarettes, or outlawing drugs.

In particular, how does order emerge in a large, impersonal commercial society when market institutions are permitted to flourish? The course explains how supply and demand determine the prices of goods and services, and how prices guide production and consumption decisions. We examine the incentive structure in market systems as compared to alternative economic arrangements and the important role played by profits and losses. We also examine the sources of wealth, the role of trade and the economic analysis of undesirable social outcomes such as pollution.

I’m not a huge fan of that description. My course description in my syllabus is 7x longer. If I was forced to “Tweet” my course description, in an ideal world it would say:

This course vividly demonstrates through theory, policy and institutional analysis that unicorns do not exist. Despite the yearnings of small children and “mature” adults alike students will learn that reality is not optional, and that lurking around the corner of every good intention is the possibility for unleashing damage of unforeseen proportions.

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