Fall 2020 - ECON 104 D100

Economics and Government (3)

Class Number: 2361

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Mo 9:30 AM – 12:20 PM

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Dec 18, 2020
    8:30 AM – 11:30 AM



An introduction of broad, basic economic ideas applied to government finance, allocation, and procurement. Topics covered may include government size, health care, debt, social insurance, trade, and redistribution policies. Breadth-Social Sciences.


A little bit of economics goes a long way. Politicians may tell you that they can lower your income taxes and increase health care spending.  A little bit of economics tells you that if they do those things they must either raise other taxes, cut other expenditures or borrow a bunch of money.  Pundits might tell you that markets can give you everything, but a little bit of economics tells you that markets might give you stuff you don’t want as well.

Economics underlie the decisions that must be made by government, and a little bit of economics can often help make these decisions more reasonably, or help choose politicians who can make these decisions more reasonably.  It only takes a little economics to know that if too much carbon is going in to the atmosphere, then taxing it might help. It only takes a little economics to see that the invisible hand might do a good job at getting us the right amount of restaurant food, but will almost surely fail to get us the right amount of pollution abatement or unemployment insurance. 

The course will focus on various topics, with readings, lectures and tutorials aimed at fleshing out various aspects of each topic.  Usually, readings, lectures and tutorials will be complementary to each other, rather than substitutes for each other, so all will be required for successful completion of the course.                                                                                            

Topics will include:

  1. How big is government? (hint for midterm—roughly half the economy)
  2. The Invisible Hand—why governments are terrible and private markets are great.
  3. Market Failures—why private markets are terrible and governments are great.
  4. Deficits—is it bad to borrow? What’s with the Americans?
  5. Externalities—why being nice is hard, and why governments can help.
  6. Social Insurance—why private markets are terrible and governments are great.
  7. Global Climate Change—carbon taxes, love ‘em or hate ‘em
  8. Inequality and Poverty: why so much need amidst plenty? What can we do about it?



  • In-class tests (6) 60%
  • In-class activities 20%
  • Final exam 20%


  • Class meetings will be synchronous, 930-1220 PST Mondays.  Roughly, 1 hour of lecture, 1 hour of activities and 1 hour of open discussion, questions and chatting.
  • In-class tests and activities will be online and synchronous.  They will test material covered up to the previous week.
  • Study questions for the tests and final will be available in advance on CANVAS.  Test questions will be similar in spirit to—but not identical to---study questions. 
  • There will be 6 in-class tests, taken synchronously during class time.  These tests will be administered during the 930 to 1220 class interval, but not at pre-announced times. 
  • There are no retakes for in-class tests, but only your best 5 of the 6 will count. 
  • There are in-class activities, including games, experiments and surveys.  These activities are graded on participation only (so, if you do all of them, you get 20/20).
  • The Final is 3 hours online and synchronous, mostly short-answer, and required.  The final must be written to get a passing grade. There are no re-takes for the final except for medical reasons.  In these cases, a note from a doctor is required, and the re-take will occur in early Spring 2021.



Harford, Tim, 2012 (2nd ed, updated), The Undercover Economist, Oxford University Press, real book $21, or on Kindle for $15. Used copies, and 1rst edition, also okay.

Wolf, Charles, 1986, Markets or Governments: Choosing Between Imperfect Alternatives, free on-line at RAND, https://www.rand.org/pubs/notes/N2505.html or for purchase on MIT Press.

Other assigned readings will be web-based.

Assigned videos will be web-based or on Netflix.

Students will require access to MobLab for this course, which has an approximate cost of $25.

Department Undergraduate Notes:

Please note that, as per Policy T20.01, the course requirements (and grading scheme) outlined here are subject to change up until the end of the first week of classes.

Starting Fall 2020, final exam schedules will be released in October. This will allow students to avoid enrollment conflicts, and will significantly reduce instances of exam hardship. If your course has a final exam, please ensure that you are available during the final exam period December 9 - 20 until you receive confirmation of your exam dates. 

Students requiring accommodations as a result of a disability must contact the Centre for Accessible Learning (CAL) at 778-782-3112 or caladmin@sfu.ca.


Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in fall 2020 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).