Marilyn Power

BA, PhD, University of California-Berkeley. Special interests include economics of gender, race, and class; feminist economics; political economics of the environment; the history of economic thought; and macroeconomics. Author of articles in Feminist Studies, Review of Radical Political Economics, Industrial Relations, Feminist Economics, and others. Co-author of Living Wages, Equal Wages: Gender and Labor Market Policies in the United States (Routledge, 2002). SLC, 1990–

Current undergraduate courses

Macroeconomic Theory and Policy

Spring

Macroeconomics studies the dynamics of an economy as a whole, looking at the forces that lead to economic growth or recession, the overall distribution of income, and the causes of unemployment and inflation. Different schools of economic thought offer varying and often contradictory explanations of these dynamic trends. Public policy debates play a central role in this discussion, as the different macroeconomic models have implications for the roles of fiscal and monetary policy, the desirable level of governmental intervention into and regulation of the private economy, and even what constitutes a good macroeconomic outcome. In this course, we will build and examine the competing macro models beginning with Keynes and moving up to the present theoretical debates—including the monetarist, new classical, neo-Keynesian, post-Keynesian, and political economic schools of thought—with attention to their differing policy implications. We will then focus on the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath as a case study, examining the debates about its causes and appropriate policy responses.

Faculty

Smith, Marx, and Keynes

Fall

John Maynard Keynes wrote, “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. 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.” Since capitalism emerged as the dominant economic system in Europe and North America in the 18th century, theorists and policymakers have sought to understand the logic of this new way of organizing production and distribution. What determined the price of goods? The wages of labor? The profits to owners of capital? Would capitalism grow unceasingly, suffer from cycles, or inevitably decline into stagnation or collapse? Should the government actively regulate the economy, or should it play a minimal role and leave markets to determine outcomes without intervention? Should trade with other countries be regulated or free? What was the responsibility of the government with respect to the poor? Should they be assisted? Controlled? In the vigorous debates over these issues, continuing into the present, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes are frequently invoked as economic policy. A careful reading of these authors, however, shows that they were far more complex thinkers than the simplified versions of their ideas commonly circulated. This course will focus on the debates about value, distribution, economic dynamics, and the role of government through a careful reading of Smith, Marx, and Keynes in the original, followed by an examination of modern interpretations of their ideas.

Faculty

Previous courses

Economic Behavior and Behavioral Economics

Fall

What are the motivations behind economic actors’ decisions to save or spend their income? Or to invest in productive capital or to refrain from taking the risk? What motivates governments’ choices about taxing and spending? The financial crisis of 2008 and the long and painful recovery have made answering these classic economic questions even more pressing. Economic analysis of necessity must include assumptions about human behavior alongside the analyses of the institutional dynamics that constrain economic choices, but those assumptions have varied drastically. Adam Smith assumed that people were motivated by a complex combination of self-interest and “sympathy” for the plight of others. Jeremy Bentham, in contrast, argued that only self-interest mattered, as people strived to “maximize pleasure, minimize pain.” Karl Marx emphasized the ways that human choices and human potential were limited by the logic and imperatives of the economic system. John Maynard Keynes attributed entrepreneurs’ willingness to invest in the face of uncertainty to “spontaneous optimism” and an “urge to action rather than inaction.” Modern neoclassical economics has largely based itself in Bentham’s utilitarian view, relying upon a simplified model of humans as “individual rational maximizers,” one-dimensional beings sometimes referred to as “homo economicus.” These differing assumptions about human behavior matter, because they lead to different understandings of how an economic system functions, how human well-being can be achieved (and even what is meant by well-being), and what roles government policy can play. In recent years, a new focus on economic behavior has combined insights from economics, psychology, and biology with a growing body of empirical study to examine more closely the motives and behaviors behind economic activity. These studies are revealing human behavior to be both more multidimensional and more contradictory than the simplified assumptions behind “homo economicus.” For example, people are self-interested but also can be generous, including to others that they don’t even know. They can exhibit convictions about ethics and fairness in their economic choices and will, at times, go against their own interests in order to discipline someone who has behaved against the ethical rules. Their choices may also violate narrow assumptions about rationality, as research shows that people may find it difficult to act in their own long-term interest, even when it is their stated intention—finding it much easier, for example, to plan to save tomorrow than to actually save today. This course will examine the development of economic arguments about human behavior, beginning with Smith and moving to the present. We will then investigate the studies of the behavioral economists to see how their findings have affected public policy, with a particular emphasis on the financial crisis and its aftermath. 

Faculty

History of Economic Thought

Year

As industrial capitalism emerged as the dominant economic system in Europe and North America in the 18th century, theorists sought to understand the logic of this new way of organizing production and distribution. What determined the price of goods? The wages of labor? The profits to owners of capital? They theorized about the dynamics of the system. What caused the economy to grow? Would it grow unceasingly? Cyclically? Or would capitalism inevitably decline into stagnation or collapse at some point? Theorists were also concerned with the role of government policy in this new capitalist system. Should the government actively regulate the economy, or should it play a minimal role and leave markets to determine outcomes without intervention? Should trade with other countries be regulated or free? What was the responsibility of the government with respect to the poor? Should they be assisted? Controlled? These questions were vigorously debated by political economists from the onset of capitalism and, to this day, continue to be the focus of disagreements among economists and political economists. This course will examine the development of economic theory through a focus on these debates about value, distribution, economic dynamics, and the role of government. The emphasis will be on reading authors in the original, including Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, Alfred Marshall, John Maynard Keynes, Joan Robinson, and Milton Friedman.

Faculty

Introduction to Economic Theory and Policy

Year

Economic theory attempts to explain urgent economic questions such as the causes of growth and depression, unemployment, inflation, poverty, and discrimination. Economic policy attempts to achieve desired outcomes. Yet, there is considerable controversy among theorists over the answers to economic questions and widespread dissatisfaction with the policy outcomes. This course will seek the basis for the controversy by examining the development of economic theory and the application of the theory in policy practice. The approach will emphasize the differing views offered by contending schools of economic thought and make the connection between theoretical assumptions and policy applications. Readings will include both theoretical and concrete policy-oriented writings. Topics will include the role of the Federal Reserve Bank, the effectiveness of public investment, the effects of globalization on the U.S economy, the effects of mergers and concentration on the behavior of US firms, and the use of government intervention to combat discrimination and poverty.

Faculty

Political Economics of the Environment

Year

Is it possible to provide economic well-being to the world’s population without destroying the natural environment? Is sustainable development a possibility or a utopian dream? How do we determine how much pollution we are willing to live with? Why are toxic waste dumps overwhelmingly located in poor, frequently minority, communities? Whether through activities such as farming, mining, and fishing, or through manufacturing processes that discharge wastes, or through the construction of communities and roadways, human economic activity profoundly affects the environment. The growing and contentious field of environmental economics attempts to analyze the environmental impact of economic activity and to propose policies aimed at balancing economic and environmental concerns. There is considerable debate, with some theorists putting great faith in the market’s ability to achieve good environmental outcomes; others advocate much more direct intervention in defense of the environment; and some question the desirability of economic growth as a goal. Underlying these differences are political economic questions of distribution of power and resources among classes and groups within the United States and across the globe. This course will explore the range of views, with an emphasis on understanding the assumptions underlying their disagreements and on the policy implications of those views. The concepts will be developed through an examination of ongoing policy debates on issues such as air pollution and global warming, the decimation of the world’s fish population, automobiles and the reliance on petrochemicals, and the possibility of sustainable development.

Faculty

Political Economics of the Environment: Sustainable Development

Fall

The seventh of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals reads: “Ensure environmental sustainability.” Indeed, on the surface, sustainable development is a goal about which everyone could agree. Who would be for unsustainable development? In fact, there is no consensus on the meaning of the term. Some definitions emphasize the importance of preserving natural capital for future generations, while others aggregate all forms of capital together—arguing that our only obligation to the future is access to an equivalent standard of living. A related dispute is over the relationship between environmental sustainability and human well-being, as well as how the relationship may differ by gender, class, and other factors. This course will examine these differing views of sustainable development, both in theory and through the examination of specific development projects. Economists approach environmental questions through three differing theoretical schools: environmental economics, ecological economics, and political economics. These schools use differing techniques to value the environment, offer different understandings of what would be good environmental and economic outcomes, and advocate different policies to achieve sustainability. Underlying these differences are political economic questions of the distribution of power and resources, both globally and within specific countries. This course will explore the range of views, with an emphasis on understanding the assumptions underlying their disagreements and on the policy implications of these views. Topics will include the policies of the World Bank, sustainable agriculture, the controversial issue of resource privatization, and cases of specific commodities such as gold and cotton that illuminate the problems and complexities of sustainable development.

Faculty