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Monday, 7 December 2015

Economics 101 and Economics 111: A Joint Review

Foreword

Strictly speaking I should review Economics 101 and Economics 191 as both fulfil the economics core course requirement set by the Business School for a BCom at the University of Auckland. However, I can't do that since I am only familiar with Economics 101. For this reason and also because I believe that economics is different to the other majors offered by the Business School, in many ways, I will not be strictly following the layout of the BCom series, although this is part of the BCom series.

Introduction

These are the two stage one economics courses designed for prospective economics majors. I think this is a mistake because a lot of people will not have done economics at school and, as such, will not have any real basis from which to decide if they are interested in economics. Sure, there will be people who do 191 and like economics enough to consider it as a major but it is more difficult progressing to stage two economics from that. On the other hand, if you made people move through Economics 191 before being able to do these two (unless they had economics backgrounds at school) this would be problematic. Perhaps, given substantial overlap with school economics (well, NCEA economics), it would be advantageous to split 101 and 111 into two 191 style courses. 190 for those who haven't done economics before, 191 for those who have, where 191 does the different stuff and 190 the same stuff. 

Now, that being said, economics 101 and 111 are split up for a reason. Microeconomics (101) and Macroeconomics (111), as I have previously explained, are quite different conceptually. Yet, neither of these courses moves beyond the dynamic of NCEA economics. That is, very wordy, some maths (and apparently mx + c is maths so devilishly evil that it is substantial enough to send people running: that's year ten maths, if not year nine). Graphs are also still quite important. In other words, both of these papers build up one's understanding of the basic economics theories, and if Economics 201 is any indicator, the subsequent courses will be largely mathematical, for instance developing demand equations from preference functions and budget constraints, with less emphasis on the theory. I have heard that economics just becomes increasingly mathy so this would suggest, with the experience of economics 201 behind me, that neither economics 101 nor 111 are particularly good introductions to university economics.

Aim:

These courses introduce students to the fundamental ideas of economics.

Assessment:

101 and 111 are very similar in terms of assessment, and, indeed, everything other than content. Basically, both courses work on a pure plussage system. However, the problem with this is that neither course has an exam that covers everything in the course (or, at best, multiple choice) based on my experience in semesters one of 2014 and 2015 respectively. Rather, the first half of each course is assessed in the 40% test, which will look pretty similar to the exam, which is useful.

Content:

As far as I remember, 101 runs through all the basic things... demand, supply, the market, perfect competition, monopoly, game theory, indifference curves and budget constraints (admittedly these are not part of NCEA), elasticity, labour markets, trade, and market failure (remember, basically any market "fails" because perfect competition is the only type that doesn't, and its assumptions are only academically useful). 111 is much the same just for the macro ideas so it's more GDP, economic growth, exchange rates, the OCR, the financial system, inflation, government fiscal policy, the multiplier effect (which sort of requires understanding the circular flow model), and the AS/AD model (aggregate supply and demand).

Note, I know for a fact that game theory was not covered in 191 during semester one 2014.

Model:

Economics 101, for me, had two lecturers. The first was Mike. The problem with Mike is that Mike is bored of the subject and lets you know it. On the other hand, Mike has a sense of humour... sometimes this grates, other times it's funny. The second lecturer was Gamini. The problem with Gamini is... well, there aren't really any problems with Gamini, unless you want to finish early because he moves fairly sedately. Like most courses with multiple lecturers, 101 switched lecturers after the mid-semester break. Economics 111, though, had just the one lecturer: Gamini. As I just said, Gamini's a pretty good lecturer. However, I think it is possible, as it were, to overdose on Gamini... after twelve weeks of three hours of lectures with Gamini going over content that was not as interesting to me as it once was, I was tired and wanted a change. However, I suspect I am now more interested in microeconomics so this may have had something to do with it (certainly, we had three hours of Basil in 201 for twelve weeks and I never felt tired of that course).

In addition to the three lecturers, 101 and 111 come with optional tutorials. For me, the 101 tutor was great... especially the last tutorial for the semester which hardly anyone turned up for. My 111 tutor I didn't like so much. However, both worked in pretty much the same way... turn up, get answers, finish. I would strongly advise finding the time to do the problems set for the tutorials yourself. They are clearly intended to work as answer sessions for work already attempted rather than "Here, have some answers" but they provide no incentives to function under that model. That is, any motivation to do the tutorial problems beforehand must come from the self.

Success:

These courses are easy enough to study for. Grab the coursebook, right down the concepts and then refresh your knowledge of what the test/exam paper will look like. There is multi-choice (all the cores except Business 101 and 102 had MCQs in the exams when I did it... Stats 108 being all multi-choice) so that helps. The trick, I feel, is not forgetting the content afterwards... which is, in my opinion, what I have done. If you're wondering, I got an A in 101 and an A in 111.

That being said, I think you do need to work at these papers... particularly 111 which I didn't find particularly intuitive at times (and indeed, sometimes hard). The same things can be said for Indifference Curves and Budget Constraints, and Game Theory. With the former, an indifference curve is really a 2D representation of a 2D idea. Think of a rectangular tower. Stand at a corner. Designate one wall Good X (quantity thereof), the other Good Y (you're on the outside and can only see two walls). Each floor is a utility curve and in the same way that any point on a given floor has the same vertical height (from sea level), any point on a utility curve has the same level of utility. On the bright side, these issues are remedied, in my view, by reviewing every lecture afterwards... which, admittedly, works wonders with any subject.

Conclusion:

I did 111 this year during semester one but I now think that I should've done it during summer school. I took it in semester one because two of my friends were going to too. They did, as it happens, take it but they hardly turned up. This probably underpinned a lot of my emotional response to that course, which means maybe it doesn't mean much if I say that I really did need to reinvigorate my interest in economics after having taken it (and 201 did that). 101 I grumbled through. I wanted to be exposed to the actual maths or, at least, have more distinct content to school (which was further away when I did 111 so maybe that made a difference). So, again, maybe my failure to make a ringing endorsement isn't particularly meaningful. Whatever the case, I have to say that these courses are really not so different to the other stage one papers... except I had expectations and experience with the subject matter.

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