Spring 2023 - ECON 104 D100

Economics and Government (3)

Class Number: 3302

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Mo 10:30 AM – 11:20 AM
    SWH 10041, Burnaby

    Th 10:30 AM – 12:20 PM
    SSCK 9500, Burnaby



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.


The Course:

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:

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



  • In-class quizzes (6) 20%
  • In-class activities 20%
  • Midterm 20%
  • Final Exam 40%



  1. 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.
  2. 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 money on MIT Press. Please note: this reading may be replaced.
  3. Other assigned readings will be web-based. Assigned videos will be web-based or on Netflix.
  4. A subscription to MOBLAB is required ($20).



Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

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.

Final exam schedules will be released during the second month of classes. If your course has a final exam, please ensure that you are available during the entire final exam period 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 website 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