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Spring 2012 - 62138 - PA393L - Advanced Policy Economics

Political Economy of American Poverty

Instructor(s): Wong, Pat
Unique Number: 62138
Day & Time: M 9:00 - 12:00 pm
Room: SRH 3.214
Waitlist Information:For LBJ Students: UT Waitlist Information
Course Overview

Students are required to take an additional three-hour course in policy economics, selected from among a set of courses focusing on the application of economic theory and techniques to a specific area of public policy. Course options include macroeconomics, public finance, regulation, international trade and finance, natural resources and environmental policy, health policy, transportation policy, human resource development, urban and regional economic development, international development, education policy, social policy, and labor economics. Not all options are offered every year. This course is usually taken in the second year. 

Section Description

The purpose of Advanced Policy Economics is to apply economic analysis to specific policy topics. This section focuses on poverty issues in the United States. Specifically, the course covers (a) the economic experience of low-income families, (b) technical issues in measuring and analyzing poverty-related data, and (c) social policy strategies dealing with poverty-related problems. This section is both an “analytic course” that applies microeconomics theory and quantitative modeling to policy analysis and a “survey course” on poverty issues in this country.

Course Structure

Input from members of the class is welcome. The tentative plan at this point is:

  • The first module (3 sessions) provides an overview of intellectual perspectives, including economic criteria for analyzing social programs, historical framework for studying anti-poverty programs, and political views on current policy debates.
  • The second module (3 sessions) covers technical issues, including empirical data, measurement issues, and analytic techniques in research on income and poverty.
  •  In the third module (6 sessions), the instructor will lead discussions on poverty-related policy areas: participation of low-income families in various markets (labor, financial, housing) and programs (social insurance, public assistance, tax expenditures). There will be equal attention on programmatic operations and on micro-analytic evaluation.
  •  The fourth module (3 sessions) consists of teaching by class members on specific topics to be decided at the beginning of the semester.

Learning Experiences

First, the most important element of learning in this course is the meticulous reading of analytic papers and detailed reflection on technical materials on microeconomics logic and econometric analysis. There will be one such research article per week for class discussion for most of the semester.

Second, members of the class can expect to gain a big-picture framework for thinking about poverty. This is covered in Modules 1 and 2.

Third, class members will also be acquainted with how selected programs work at the operational level. This will be covered in instructor presentations in Module 3 and class presentations in Module 4.

Fourth, a mid-term exam is proposed to help integrate the learning experiences from the first two modules.

Fifth, participants are expected to form research teams. Each team will work together, independently of course progress, throughout the semester on a research project. This research process will culminate in a presentation toward the end of the course.


Proficiency in both microeconomics and regression analysis is essential. These prerequisites can be fulfilled by successfully completing AMP and IEM at the LBJ School or their equivalents in other graduate departments. Concurrent enrollment in (but ideally prior completion of) a section of AEM with an advanced statistical emphasis is also expected.

Reading Preparations During Winter Break

Class members are asked to read three non-technical books before the beginning of the spring semester. The first two are very brief classics. The third one is a popular book on the history of economics, with poverty and economic progress as its backdrop.

  • Milton Friedman (1963). Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. [Chapters 1, 2, and 6-10; New edition with identical content was released in 2003]
  • Arthur M. Okun (1975). Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff. Washington, DC: Brookings Institutions. [All three chapters]
  • Sylvia Nasar (2011). Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. [Pages 3-194; the rest of the book is optional]

Logistical Issues

A tentative first draft of the syllabus will be available for review and comments in early November. The draft syllabus is subject to amendment and approval by registered members of the class as of December 15.

Monday of Week 1 of the spring semester is a holiday in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We will reschedule our first session to one of the following time that week, to be determined by class members: Thursday evening, Friday morning, or Saturday.