Start: Unit 1 Jim’s Guide

Jim’s Guide – Overview

Alfred Marshall

Economics is the study of people going about the ordinary business of life.

–Alfred Marshall, 1848-1924

 Welcome to BEC 152, the Principles of Microeconomics.

Welcome to the study of microeconomics.  I realize that for most of you this is a “required” course, but I think you’ll find it very interesting and very helpful.

In this first Unit, I want to cover three topics.  First, I want to introduce you to the discipline called “Economics”.  Second, I want to describe how this course is structured (it’s a bit different from most online courses you’ve taken!), including why I have chosen to structure the course this way.   Finally, I want to give you some tips and suggestions on how to study for this course and how to get the most out of it.

Economics: What, Why, and Who

One prominent economist once defined economics as “what economists do”.  Of course, that’s a bit of a circular definition, so I offer the definition at the top of this page from Alfred Marshall, a prominent economist from 100 years ago, observed that economics is about the “ordinary business of life”.  So what is the “ordinary business life”?  It’s what you, and I, and everybody else  do constantly everyday.  What do we do?  We make choices. We gain rewards and benefits.  We suffer costs and consequences.  We make plans.  These are the phenomena economists study:  choices, costs, benefits, plans, and consequences of decisions.   And, these are the phenomena that we will study in this course.

Why should you be interested in studying economics?  Well, there’s the immediate payoff:  the fact that it’s (probably) a required course for your degree, you’ve already paid some tuition (or you wouldn’t be seeing this), and it’s pretty hard to pass the course without studying.  But there are strong additional reasons for studying economics.  One possible reason is that you may wish to become an economist yourself (a profession I heartily recommend).  Most of you won’t become economists, though (which is good for my salary- I don’t need more competitors!).

Understanding economics can be very beneficial for you, even if you never go on to another economics course in your life.  How?  Simple.  Since economics is about choices and plans, understanding economics will help you make better choices and decisions in your life.  So, it’s your choice: learn economics and make better choices in your life, or don’t learn economics and make poor choices.  And, by the way, if you ever hope to own or manage a business or organization, then you definitely need to understand economics.

Obviously, the people who research, write, and “do” economics are economists.  (you might observe, economists have been accused of having a “firm grasp of the obvious”).  But who are economists?  What do they believe?  As you read the textbook, you’ll learn more about the kinds of work economists do.  You may also become acquainted with some of the more famous economists, such Alfred Marshall, or Adam Smith, or Milton Friedman.  But the textbook as a flaw.  It leads the reader to believe that economics is a very settled body of knowledge.  It leads readers to believe that economists are generally all of the same mind on most questions and issues.  And most seriously, the textbook leads the reader to believe that there is only one particular point-of-view in economics.  To be fair, this is not just a criticism of this textbook, it’s a common problem in economics principles textbooks.

The textbook does a pretty good job of explaining what is called “neo-classical economics”. The neo-classical perspective is the most common and dominant view of most issues in the economics profession, but it is not the only one.  One of my objectives as professor is help offer some additional perspectives that may differ from the neo-classical viewpoint.  I’ll be doing that in the readings called Jim’s Guide that are part of each Unit in this course. These other perspectives are often called social, radical, institutional, or environmental economics.  In general, I’ll usually refer to all the alternative viewpoints as “heterodox economics” (neo-classical is the orthodox economics).

In reality, economics is a very dynamic body of knowledge with many diverse points-of-view.  Economics also has a very long history of very active debates about serious, very important issues.  For example, economists have been actively debating and researching topics like the population explosion, how to protect the environment, international trade and jobs, globalization, and the impact of wars for well over 200 years.  Most of these debates aren’t settled.  There’s a lot we don’t know yet.  But, there is a lot that economists DO know and have figured out.  Of course much of what economists do know about how to improve living conditions for people gets ignored by politicians and lay people. Nonetheless, there’s a lot to be gained by studying economics – namely, how we can all become better off even though we may have limited resources.

Probably the most important lesson of all economic perspectives is what economists call “unintended consequences”.  Unintended consequences are what happens when your plans don’t work out right.  You take an action with the objective of accomplishing one thing, yet the way it works out in reality is that the opposite often happens.

How This Course is Structured – What To Do

Two Websites

To complete this course you will use two websites. First, is the one you are reading now,  All study materials that don’t require grading will be here.  The second site is the course site in HFC Online (Moodle). You will complete all graded assignments such as quizzes, answer forms for worksheets, graded forums, etc. there.

The course is divided into 14 “units” and those 14 units are grouped into 4 “Parts”.  If you roll your mouse over the menu bar above (don’t click or you’ll leave this page)  you’ll see a menu structure where Part has 3-4 Units below it.  Each unit has its own main page, the “Jim’s Guide to Unit …”. Each Unit page also has some subpages entitled Reading Guide, Closer Look, Practice, and Worksheet.

Most of the activities or readings in this course are required. Please do them in sequence – it’s easier for you.

    1. Start by reading the “Jim’s Guide” for the unit.  It’s the page on this website that’s labelled “Unit x..”.  You are reading the “Jim’s Guide” for unit 1 right now. The Jim’s Guide for each unit is a fairly lengthy webpage I wrote to introduce you to the topics and concepts you’ll be studying. The textbook is a critical resource, but I’ve found that if I help put things in perspective for you first before you do the textbook reading, it’s easier and makes more sense.  One of the advantages of having these Jim’s Guide pages on this website instead of inside HFC Online is that this website works very well on just about all devices. You can even read it conveniently on your phone as well as a computer.  This means there’s more time and places you read it which should help you be more efficient. As we’ll learn in the course, efficiency is a good thing.  ;-).  At the bottom of each Jim’s Guide page is a reminder of what else you need to do for that unit and it has links to the appropriate pages.  You can also navigate using the menus.
    2. Next, you should read the assigned portions of the textbook. What you need to read is listed on the page titled “Textbook Reading Guide“.  This is available via the menu and also via a link at the bottom of each Jim’s Guide.  I’ve also added some comments about what’s most important, what can be skimmed, and what can be skipped. Your textbook is a free OER (Open Educational Resource) textbook. It’s free. You don’t have to pay (we’ll also learn in the course that free is a good thing, too. Are you seeing a pattern here?).  The links in each Textbook Reading Guide page are live links that take you directly to the online version of the textbook.
    3. Check out the Closer Look page for each unit.  It will have stories, videos, and tutorials that help explain some key concept or model in the unit. If you’re really understanding things well from the readings and doing well in the practice quiz and you’re pressed for time, you could skip the tutorials. They’re optional. But they’re very helpful if you’ve struggling a bit with the ideas. (being able to make your own choices as to how to maximize your time is also a good thing as we’ll learn, 🙂 )
    4. Do the Practice quiz. Practice quizzes generally open in new tabs/windows. They are just that –  practice. There is no tracking of how well you do on them. You may attempt them as often as you wish. When you submit, it will tell you the correct answers.  Trust me, you’ll want to spend some time with the practice quizzes. They’re great preparation for the graded quizzes and exams.
    5. Read and complete the Worksheet, if there is one (not all units have worksheets).  The problem description, the data needed, directions, and the questions you need to answer are listed here on the Worksheet page of this site for each unit.  But, to submit your answers and get credit for the assignment you need to go to HFC Onlineand enter your answers. Worksheets can be submitted multiple times without penalty. Your LAST score counts. If you get stuck and need help, be sure to check whether there’s a tutorial in the Closer Look page that might help. If you’re still stuck, then post a question in the HELP forums for this course.
    6. Finally, be sure you complete all the Graded Assignments in HFC Online.  Typically this is the graded quiz, but there might also be worksheet answers (Moodle calls that a “quiz”) . Sometimes there will also be a required forum posting or other assignment.

That completes a unit.  Then just lather-rinse-repeat until you’ve completed the first 13 units. At that point you are ready for the final exam. If you discipline yourself to follow the recommended schedule you will do fine. Don’t be intimidated by what you’ve heard about “economics” or the “math” involved.  If you just work my system, I can virtually guarantee you success.  I have excellent success rates for students.

I’ve carefully designed and refined this course design over more than 10 years.  I’ve designed this course so that you won’t experience this course as the poor souls in this cartoon do (I hope).

COmic: Hell as an Eternal Economics Seminar

When To Do It

Economics teaches us that time is a very scarce resource.  I’m interested in you learning the most economics possible, but I want to make good use of your time. Therefore I’ve tried to have a minimum number of “hard” deadlines.

Economics is about choices, costs & benefits, and planning.  I have structured this course so that not only will you learn economics, but you have to practice the principles of economics.  I am providing you with a lot of flexibility regarding timing and scheduling of work so you can fit it into your schedule. I try to only schedule hard deadlines when I absolutely must.  For example, there’s a hard deadline to complete Unit 1 including its quizzes and forums.  That deadline exists because I need to know by that date whether you fully understand what to do and intend to complete the course, or whether I should drop you as a no-show. I have administrative never-attended reports I have to file with the school that tie to that deadline.

Despite the few hard deadlines, I recommend that you discipline yourself to follow the recommended schedule. In HFC Online there will be a Recommended Schedule listed in Unit 1. Use it. Follow it as close as you can. Download it or copy it to your daily planner or calendar app. Students who follow the schedule have much higher success rates.  Students who procrastinate or think they can cram a lot into a little calendar time usually find it becomes much harder, takes longer, and they often don’t succeed.  I want you to succeed.

A very important part of the flexibility of this course is that there are few deadlines.  In fact, there are only three  “hard” deadlines. Everything else in the Recommended Schedule is a “target” – you should try to hit target dates, but you won’t be “punished” if you don’t.

  • Unit 1 Quiz and Forum must be completed right away or you may be dropped.  This is how I know you’re here, you understand what’s required of you, and that you’re started.
  • The midterm has a hard deadline. I’ve found this is necessary as a nudge to make sure students keep a pace that will get them to pass the course.  If, by some chance, you miss the midterm deadline, contact me right away. We might be able to make it up and get you back on a path to success.
  • Everything must be completed by the end of the course when the final exam closes. The final exam is taken in the last days of the course. For the specific date, you should look at the recommended schedule for this semester.

To help you plan your time you will find  a recommended schedule in HFC Online at your school. You also want to consult the syllabus closely. Keep in mind the recommended schedule assumes every single day (7 days per week) is a possible work day. Your plans might be different. You might have a long-awaited vacation scheduled for some particular week.  Or your boss at work might want you to work double-shifts one week and not work another.  Or your Aunt Tillie, who you were very close to, dies suddenly and you feel you can’t concentrate for days.  You need to make decisions about the best use of your time and adjust your own schedule. In other words, I don’t know what you have to give up each week to study economics.  The cost might be great one week and lower another.  In economics, we call this the “opportunity cost” (Unit 2). You will notice in the recommended schedule that I have not allotted the same number of days for each unit. That’s for a reason. Some units are longer and harder than others. Some have more work. I’ve tried to signal to you what units are likely to take more time than others in the schedule.

Everybody’s opportunity cost is different, so I feel I can’t optimize by deciding your schedule for you.  I do not have a fixed deadline for completing each assignment.  Do them in order and pace yourself throughout the semester according to what best fits your schedule. What I do know, is that it is important to have a schedule and a routine.  DO NOT PROCRASTINATE!  (gee, have I said that before?) Students who try to leave all the work to the end of the semester inevitably find the work to be much harder.

Tips and Suggestions on How to Study

  • Plan your work schedule.    Don’t let it all pile up on you.
  • In the textbook, focus on the “core” narrative.
  • Also, when reading the textbook, look at the Textbook Reading Guide for the unit first.  Not all of every chapter is required.  Parts of some chapters go into too much detail may only unnecessarily confuse you.  The Reading Guide will tell you what’s really “core” and essential to the course.  It is probably a good idea to print out the Reading Guide pages and have them with you when you read the textbook.
  • When you encounter a graphical model, before you jump to the center of attention (the line or curve or intersection in the middle), look at the axes.  Make sure you understand what two variables are being graphed first.  Then make sure you understand what each point in the graph-space means – in other words, imagine what economic choice or activity is represented by different points in the graph.  Then focus on the curves and intersections.  They’ll make more sense then.
  • Don’t be afraid to read and re-read multiple times. Economics is not easy for most students.  It involves a way of thinking about problems and questions.  Often it is a way of thinking and learning that students have not encountered very often in the earlier schooling.  For example, it’s not a set of facts or definitions to memorize (like history or biology), and it’s not a particular procedure or skill to be repeat practiced (like arithmetic or writing).
  • Try to imagine real people making real choices and decisions.
  • Remember you’re not alone. I’m try not to be an intrusive instructor. If you’re doing fine, I’ll let you keep doing it. But don’t think that means I’m not available. I am. I check the HELP forum and email nearly every day.  If you’re struggling, contact me. I can often help.
  • Keep your economics ideas in the back of your mind even when you’re not studying econ.  You should be able to see the economic principles in action in everyday life.  You might go to the store for soda or see an advertisement.  Odds are there are some economic principles illustrated in what you see people do everyday…

…after all, economics is the study of
the ordinary business of life.

— Alfred Marshall

To finish this unit, be sure to:

  1. Read the syllabus closely. See the menu at the top of this page on this site. Syllabus will be listed under Start: Unit 1.  Be sure you get the syllabus for the semester in which you are enrolled.  It might list the previous semester’s syllabus as well as yours.
  2. There is no assigned reading in the textbook for this unit.
  3. There is no practice quiz or worksheet for Unit 1. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of those in future units.
  4. There are two forums in Unit 1 in HFC Online where you need to respond to the prompt and make a post.
  5. Complete the Unit 1 Quiz in HFC Online.  It’s primarily a quiz to see if you’ve read this Jim’s Guide and the syllabus.

Then get rolling and move on to Unit 2!