Description of Course Goals and Curriculum
Economics is the study of how people and societies deal with scarcity. This course focuses on the advantages and disadvantages of market systems for allocating scarce resources.
Introduction to Microeconomics (ECO 100) gives students a broad overview of microeconomics and is geared towards those who have never been exposed to the topic before or those who are looking for a more in-depth introduction than an economics class taught in high school.
After a brief introduction to the entire field of economics, the course dives into three main themes: (1) Consumer Theory, (2) Producer Theory, and (3) Government Intervention. More specifically, topics include how economists think, the basics of supply and demand, how firms and consumers make decisions, and what can affect equilibrium, with a focus on taxation and welfare analysis. Miscellaneous topics that are also briefly mentioned include healthcare (Professor Reinhardt’s specialty) and financial valuation.
It is worth noting is that Professor Reinhardt supports a more technical version of the course, in which intuitive principles are taught first, but then backed up with their mathematical interpretations. This is done in the following three mathematically-rigorous steps:
- Comparative Statics – how does equilibrium change?
- Incidence Analysis – who bears the brunt of the new policy?
- Economics Welfare Analysis – how do consumer and producer surpluses change? This framework is crucial to the class and highlights the relationship between cause and effect.
Typically, a number of the students enrolled have taken an economics course before in high school. However, absolutely no previous knowledge is assumed or expected, and the course covers all the necessary information and topics needed to succeed.
Learning From Classroom Instruction
ECO 100 has two 50-minute lectures and one 50 min precept per week. Due to the pace as well as the large size of the lectures, there is no time for questions during the class. In addition, lectures are generally reserved for introducing new concepts and intuitive ideas, rather than working out specific problems/examples. In contrast, precepts are meant for applying the material learned in lecture and are largely driven by questions. Additionally, new concepts are often introduced during precept as well, so weekly attendance and participation in class is essential.
The class lists the official textbook as Principles of Microeconomics by Mankiw. However, (as Reinhardt also mentions), the lecture notes and discussions in class are much more advanced and mathematically involved than those written in the textbook. Thus, it is important to to attend lecture, as reading the textbook is not sufficient. An extremely useful strategy is to print out the lecture notes before class so that notes can be taken directly on them. This saves time from having to re-draw graphs / write down important concepts, and instead lets you focus on Reinhardt’s verbal comments. If you do miss a class, borrowing a friends notes and attending office hours to review what you missed is a great solution.
Learning For and From Assignments
One thing to keep in mind is that the final exam makes up the majority of the grade distribution (70% in Fall 2014), and thus, largely determines the final grade in the course. The rest comes from the midterm exam (20%) and problem sets (10%). However, although the weekly problem sets are only worth a combined 10%, they are arguably the most important part of the course! The problem sets are the only opportunities to apply the knowledge learned in lecture, and thus essential for success on the exams. As each week’s topics build on each other, it is recommended that you completely understand the solutions to the previous week’s problems before attempting the new set. In addition, while it may sometimes seem easy to simply plug the given numbers into an equation that was derived in class, it’s extremely important to have an intuitive understanding of the solution as well. Reinhardt likes to present problems in different forms on exams, and having that intuitive understanding will allow students to identify the relationships between problems and recognize which formulas are the relevant ones.
As for the exams, both the midterm and final include a combination of multiple choice and short answer problems. While the problems on exams tend to be a bit harder than the ones from problem sets, they are relatively straightforward.
There are many great resources for introductory microeconomics topics on the web. One in particular is the Principles of Microeconomics course by MIT Open Courseware (http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/economics/14-01sc-principles-of-microeconomics-fall-2011/index.htm). This free online resource includes video lectures, homework problems and solutions, and practice exams. As the topics parallel those in ECO 100, students may find it helpful to watch the videos as a supplementary to complement lectures, or use the homework and exams as practice problems.
Also, going to McGraw Study Hall / Independent Tutoring is highly recommended, as many students have gone through ECO 100 in the past and have great insights and tips on how to do well in the course.