Fall 2013 - 63825 - PA393L - Advanced Policy Economics

Political Economy of American Poverty

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 of APE 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.

Assuming a small enough class size, module four (3 sessions) consists of teaching by class members on specific topics to be decided at the beginning of the semester.

Learning Experiences:

The learning element most unique to this course is analytic reading:  the meticulous and slow reading of theoretical or empirical papers, to train our ability to reflect on microeconomics reasoning and econometric logic. This is the most important part of the course. There will be one such research article per week for most of the semester.

Second, general knowledge in current affairs is an integral component of this course. It is a course requirement to read daily news from a mainstream media venue, both global and local; and weekly magazines such as The Economist.

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

Fourth, class members will also get acquainted with the operational mechanics of selected antipoverty programs. This will be covered in instructor presentations in Module 3 and class presentations in Module 4.

A mid-term integrative learning experience is proposed to help weave together all the learning experiences listed above.

Throughout the semester, each class member will conduct a semester research project independently of course progress. Depending on class size, this research process will be either individually based or team-based. It culminates in a teaching session toward the end of the course.

Prerequisites: Proficiency in both microeconomics and regression analysis is essential. The language of differential calculus will also be used albeit infrequently. These prerequisites can be fulfilled by successfully completing AMP, IEM, and AEM at the LBJ School or their equivalents in other graduate departments.
Reading Preparations During Winter Break: Class members are asked to read three non-technical books before the beginning of the fall semester. The first two are very brief classics. The third one is a popular biography on selected figures in economics, with poverty and financial crises 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 chapters]

Sylvia Nasar (2011). Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. [Preferably the whole book, but at least pages 3-305]

Logistical Issues: A tentative first draft of the syllabus will be available for review and comments in late April. The draft syllabus is subject to amendment and approval over the summer by class members who register by June 11.