PPE Gateway Course (PHIL 384/POLI 384/ECON 384)

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Instructor: Iskra Fileva. This class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:00 – 6:15 p.m. in Greenlaw 319. NOTE: This class meets at Duke for the first half of the semester.

We very often support or oppose policies such as rent control, minimum wage laws, environmental laws, etc. on the basis of some intuitive feeling about the effects of those policies. For instance, many people support rent control because it seems to them that rent control will help renters. Many others support minimum wage laws on the ground that those will help the poor. Still others favor the use of ethanol because they believe ethanol will help save the environment. If we believe economists, however, there is a problem with this: our intuitions about the effects of economic policies, compelling as they may seem to those who have them, are often an unreliable guide to the truth. In this, they are sort of like our (notoriously unreliable) intuitions about physics: it seems to us that a stone falling from a tall tower will fall vertically, but in fact, this “seeming” is only an appearance – due to the movement of the earth, the stone’s trajectory is, in fact, a parabola. It seems to us that a body in motion will sooner or later stop, but that too is merely an appearance – a body moving in vacuum will move forever.  As with physical laws, so with economic policies: we often anticipate the outcomes of economic policies wrongly – rent control doesn’t help renters, minimum wage laws help big businesses at the expense of small businesses and the poor, and the use of ethanol is good for Archer Daniels Midland rather than for the environment. This is not to suggest that economic analysis alone can resolve such issues. But it is to say that if we want to give good answers to questions concerning public policy issues, we need to study some economics.

This is what we will do in this course: we will aim to master the key tools of economic analysis and use them to understand problems concerning public policy and the economic structure of society more generally, including property rights, the just distribution of goods, negative externalities, social cooperation, etc.

Iskra Fileva’s webpage