ECON 408


Spring 2007

MWF 11:00-11:50


Instructor: Mr. Holleran


Office: Davis 135

Office Phone: 831-6778

Office Hours: MWF 9:00-11:00; 1:00-3:00

                       And by appointment

Home Phone: (276) 638-3018


It has now become high fashion with blue ladies to talk Political Economy.

Maria Edgeworth (1818)


Teachers or students who attempt to act upon the theory that the most recent treatise is all they need will soon discover that they are making things unnecessarily difficult for themselves. Unless that recent treatise itself presents a minimum of historical aspects, no amount of correctness, originality, rigor, or elegance will prevent a sense of lacking direction and meaning from spreading among the students.

Joseph Schumpeter (1934)


Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.

John Maynard Keynes (1936)



Official Course Description: Economic thought studied in relation to: the environment of the contributor, historical perspective of the contribution and the part the contribution played in shaping contemporary economic thought.



Course Rationale: In general terms, Economics is concerned with two Big Questions: 1) Why are some nations wealthy and others not? and 2) How are a country’s wealth and income distributed among its citizens? Each of these Big Questions has two corollary questions: a) Is there anything we can do to fix this situation? and b) Is there anything we should or want to do to fix this situation?


We will organize our course discussion around four themes related to these questions:

  1. What makes a nation wealthy?
  2. How should we provide aid to the poor?
  3. Which is the best type of economic system?
  4. What are the impacts of an unequal distribution of income?


These are not new questions. Economists and other thinkers have wrestled with them for centuries. In this course, we will study the ideas of the great (and some of the not-so-great) economists of the past 200 years or so. We will examine the methods used by these thinkers and the answers they reached and we will consider the relevance of these methods and answers for today’s world.


This is a course in economic thought and analysis. The goal of the course is to help you understand where the ideas of economics come from, how they are used, and what they can and cannot do. You should leave the course with a better understanding of what types of social problems economists have tried to address, how the models they use have changed, and what types of disagreements exist between different types and eras of economists. We will take the quotation from John Maynard Keynes given at the top of this syllabus as our guiding philosophy for the course. Thus the emphasis in the course will be on how economic theories have influenced economic policies and how policy debates of today echo and differ from policy debates of the past.


We will consider questions such as these:

·        Is saving a virtue or a vice?

·        Does free trade help a nation prosper?

·        Will a rising population impoverish a nation and the world?

·        What would happen if we ran out of oil or other resources?

·        What is the proper role of government in the economy?

·        How are wages determined?

·        What should a society do to aid its poorest members?

·        What are the costs of economic progress?

·        Is Capitalism the best form of economic system?

·        Is an unequal distribution of income undesirable? If so, how should we make it more equal?

·        Is monopoly undesirable? If so, how should we reduce the extent of monopolies?

·        What economic policies are appropriate in the aftermath of war?


Course material will proceed more or less chronologically. We will start in the 1700s, with a brief foray into the 1600s; course material will emphasize the 1800s, and will conclude in the mid-1900s. Course material is organized as much around concepts and issues as it is around chronology; we will of necessity move back and forth in time somewhat in order to apply newer ideas to old issues and old ideas to newer issues and to compare the views of later economists with the views of earlier economists.



Course Objectives:

1. Demonstrate knowledge of methodology and philosophy as they relate to economic thought.

2. Understand what constitutes "theoretical perspective" and "school of thought".

3. Demonstrate knowledge of the major tenets of each school of thought and economist studied.

4. Explain how each school of thought and economist was influenced by contemporary social, political, and economic conditions.

5. Identify the influence of economic thought and analysis on social policy debates.

6. Compare and contrast the various theoretical perspectives discussed.

7. Improve reading and writing skills

8. Identify the famous works and well-known ideas of each economist studied, including identification of famous passages from their works

9. Place each economist studied in the proper chronological period.

10. Explain the key ideas and concepts associated with each economist studied.

11. Explain differences and similarities of analyses and conclusions of various economists on the major issues studied.

12. Explain the relevance of defunct economists for issues of today’s world, and apply appropriate concepts to current issues.

13. Choose and defend choice of your favorite defunct economist.



Course Materials: Most of the reading in this course will be excerpts from the texts of the great economic thinkers of the 18th, 19th, and early-20th centuries. Fortunately, much of this material is in the public domain and is freely available online. Links to the assigned readings will also be provided through the course web site.


The course textbook, The Worldly Philosophers (7th edition, Touchstone Books) by Robert Heilbroner, provides background for the interpretation of the various tests we will be reading. . This book describes the writings of various great thinkers in economics as well as the economic, social, and political environments that influenced each economist.


On occasion, we will also read two other types of texts: 1) current descriptions of economic policy issues, and 2) historical descriptions and documents produced by non-economists. Some of these readings will be provided in handouts; for others, links to online sources will be provided.



Instructional Methods: Class meetings will be a combination of lecture, discussion, and group analysis. You should do assigned class readings prior to class meetings.



Reading Assignments: The course involves a fair bit of reading, primarily excerpts from the original texts of the defunct economists. Some of the reading can be difficult, partly because of the ideas contained therein but also partly because of the style and language used in the 18th and 19th centuries. Thus you should allow yourself extra time to do the reading. You will find it helpful to have a dictionary handy as you read. For most assigned reading, the instructor will provide Reading Notes – a series of questions designed to guide you through the key points.



Attendance: Faithful class attendance is essential; indeed, attending class faithfully and participating in class discussions is the single most important thing you can do to ensure successful performance in this course. There is no formal penalty for missing one or more classes; however, a sign-in sheet will be circulated at the start of each class and faithful attendance may help swing your grade in borderline cases. No absences of any nature will be construed as relieving you from responsibility for completing all work assigned.


It’s easy to make a low grade in this course: all you have to do is not come to class. By not coming to class, you will be poorly prepared for quizzes, tests, and papers and you will be unable to contribute to class discussions. Making a high grade in this course, on the other hand, is not so easy, but coming to class and participating actively is the single best way to prepare for quizzes, tests, and papers.


A note on class discussion:  One purpose of class discussion is to allow you to clarify your understanding of course material. A second purpose is to allow you to explore topics that are of particular interest to you. Another purpose is to give everyone the benefit of different points of view and ideas. And a fourth purpose of class discussion is to help the instructor identify points that he has not explained sufficiently clearly.


To meet these various purposes, the instructor encourages you to raise questions or make comments about course materials and related topics   In addition, the instructor will from time to time call upon randomly selected students to answer questions or express their views. The purpose of doing so is not to humiliate or embarrass anyone. The instructor is well aware that not everyone is equally at ease with speaking up in class. In many instances, you will give have had a chance to work out your ideas before presenting them to the entire class. Incorrect answers will not be penalized; and it’s better to find out what you don’t know in class (where it costs you nothing) than to find it out on a test.



Classroom policies:



Office Hours:  I encourage you to use the office hours posted at the top of this syllabus – to ask questions about course material, to seek help in preparing for tests, for help in completing Problem Sets and the Policy Analysis assignment, to talk about current issues in Economics, to discuss the meaning of life, to rejoice in and commiserate over the triumphs and failures of the Boston Red Sox, or for whatever reason you might have. In addition to the hours listed, I am happy to make appointments at other mutually convenient times.

Note that my office, Davis 135, can be difficult to find because it does not open directly onto a main hallway. Thus, to get to my office, go to the main Economics Department office in Davis Hall, room 142 (there's a big sign on the window that proclaims Economics Department). Inside that suite of offices, go down the hallway to the right -- my office is just before the conference room. Alternatively, once you're in the Econ Department office, ask one of the student assistants, who will graciously point you in the right direction.



Contacting the Instructor: Outside of my office hours, the best way to contact me is by email. I check email several times each day between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. (though not so much on weekends) and respond to messages promptly. If you have not received a reply to your message within 24 hours, then resend it. If you need an absolutely immediate response, the telephone is better than email.



What to Do If You Miss a Class: Remember that no absences of any nature will be construed as relieving you from responsibility for completing all work assigned. Just because you missed a class, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to know the ideas and concepts discussed in class that day. An outline of each day’s class topics will be posted on the course website, under What We Did, after the class has met. This outline will present the topics discussed but will not include all of the details of the discussion – the What We Did section of the course website does not substitute for engaged attendance in class. The What We Did section will point you to the appropriate readings. It’s also a good idea to get to know some other students in the class who might be willing to let you borrow their notes.


If some situation arises that will cause you to miss more than one class meeting, it’s a good idea to send me an email just letting me know – otherwise I’m likely to assume that you’ve given up on the course.


Here’s what you should definitely not do: ask if you “missed anything important.”



Evaluation: Your grade in the course will depend on your performance on a variety of assessments.









Weekly Quizzes

10 @ 15 points each

150 points


Reading Analysis

6 @ 20 points each

120 points


Analytical Essays

3 @ 75 points each

225 points



2 @ 75 points each

150 points


Final Exam

1 @ 150 points

150 points




800 points total




Grading Scale: Course grades will be assigned based on the 10-point scale: average of 90 and above = course grade of A; average of 80-89 = course grade of B; average of 70-79 = course grade of C; average of 60-69 = course grade of D; average below 60 = course grade of F.





720 points and above


640-719 points


560-639 points


480-559 points


Below 480 points



Make-up quizzes: No make-up quizzes will be given, for any reason. Remember that you may miss two quizzes without penalty.


Make-up tests: A make-up test will be given only under extreme circumstances documented by an official Radford University excuse. You must notify the instructor by telephone or email within 24 hours of the test date. You may arrange for a make-up test to be taken before the next class meeting. Failure to make arrangements for a make-up test within these guidelines will result in a score of zero for that test.


Late Analytical Essays: Late essays will be subject to a 10% per day penalty.


Late Reading Analyses: Text Question assignments are due at the beginning of the designated class period. Late assignments will not be accepted, except in extreme circumstances documented by an official Radford University excuse. Reading note assignments submitted before the beginning of class and not accompanied by attendance at that class meeting may earn a maximum of one-half of the points on that assignment.



Course Web Site: This syllabus, weekly discussion questions, links to online sources for various readings, and much other information will be available at the course web site  Click on the link for ECON 408 under Spring 2007 courses.

In particular, you will find:



STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES: If you need special classroom accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you are required to register with the Disabilities Resource Office (DRO).  The DRO is located at the lower level of Tyler Hall, telephone number 831-6350.  To receive academic accommodations for this class, please obtain the proper DRO forms and meet with your instructor within the first couple weeks of class.




The College Honor System will be strictly enforced. Any student will automatically fail the course if they are caught cheating. For more information about our honor system, please refer to the undergraduate catalog or student handbook available on-line.


“I do hereby resolve to uphold the Honor Code of Radford University by refraining from lying, from the stealing or unauthorized possession of property and from violating the Standards of Student Academic Integrity”.

Radford University Student Handbook

ECON 408 Course Outline

Spring 2007








Section I. What Makes a Nation Wealthy?

Jan 8

Jan 10

Jan 12

Virtue and Vice

Heilbroner, Ch. II

Mandeville, “The Grumbling Hive”

Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments

  • Part I, Ch. I and III
  • Part IV, Ch. 1

Smith, Wealth of Nations

  • Book I, Ch. 2

Herbert, “An Economy that Turns American Values Upside Down”



Jan 17

Jan 19


Heilbroner, Ch. III

Smith, Wealth of Nations

  • Book I, Plan of Work, and Ch. 1


Quiz 1, Jan 17



Jan 22

Jan 24

Jan 26


Heilbroner, pp. 94-104

Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book 2, Ch. 3

Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, Ch. 31


Quiz 2, Jan 22

Reading Analysis: Ricardo, Ch. 31, due Wednesday

Jan 29

Jan 31

Feb 2

Foreign Trade

Heilbroner, pp, 178-182

Mun, Englands Treasure by Forraign Trade,    Ch. II-IV

Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book IV, Ch. 2

Ricardo, Principles, Ch. 7

Bastiat, “Petition of the Candlemakers”


Quiz 3, Jan 29

Feb 5

Feb 7

Feb 9



Clark, “A Farewell to Alms”

Quiz 4, Feb 5

TEST 1, Feb 9



Section II. Population Growth, Resources, and Poverty

Feb 12

Feb 14

Feb 16


Heilbroner, pp. 75-94

Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, Preface-Ch. 5



Feb 19

Feb 21

Feb 23

Aid to the Poor

Senior, Report from His Majesty’s Commissioners for Inquiring into the Poor Laws

Carlyle, “The Condition of England”

Poor Law Commission, Second Annual Report


Quiz 5, Feb 19

Paper I Feb 23

Feb 26

Feb 28

Mar 2

The Role of Government

Smith, Wealth of Nations

  • Book IV, Ch. 1


Quiz 6, Feb 26


Section III. Economic Systems

Mar 5

Mar 7

Mar 9


Smith, Wealth of Nations

  • Book IV, Ch. 2
  • Book V, Ch I Part 3 Article II


Quiz 7, March 5


Spring Break


Mar 19

Mar 21

Mar 23


Heilbroner, Ch, V

Owen, A New View of Society

Mill, The Principles of Political Economy

  • Book 2, Ch. I


Quiz 8, March 19

Paper 2 March 23

Mar 26

Mar 28

Mar 30


Heilbroner, Ch, VI

Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. I


Quiz 9, March 26

TEST 2, March 30 (Friday)


Section IV. Distribution of Income

Apr 2

Apr 4

Apr 6


Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book I Ch. X



Apr 9

Apr 11

Apr 13


Leisure, and


Heilbroner, Ch. VIII

Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class

  • Pecuniary Emulation
  • Conspicuous Consumption


Quiz 10, April 9

Apr 16

Apr 18

Apr 20


Heilbroner, pp. 182-190

George, Progress and Poverty

  • “The Problem”
  • “The Persistence of Poverty”
  • “The True Remedy”

Landsburg, “The Perfect Tax”


Quiz 11, April 16

Paper 3 April 20

Apr 23

Apr 25

Apr 27


Heilbroner, Ch. X

Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy

  • “Can Capitalism Survive?”
  • “Crumbling Walls”
  • “Decomposition”


Quiz 12, April 23

Comprehensive Final Exam     Monday, April 30, 11:00


The instructor reserves the right to modify this syllabus as necessary for pedagogical purposes.


The instructor reserves the right to modify this syllabus as necessary for pedagogical purposes.