Nicholas Reksten

BA, PhD, American University. Primary research interests are in the fields of environmental/ecological economics, feminist economics, and inequality studies. Current research explores the characteristics and motivations of large companies to set voluntary greenhouse gas reduction goals and the political economy of greenhouse gas regulations. Another work in progress seeks to assist international development professionals in diagnosing constraints to growth by considering gender inequalities and power relationships. Previous projects include an analysis of the current and historical role of the state in providing education and training for workers and its changing role as a source of inequality and an evaluation of the Inter-American Development Bank’s plan for understanding how projects impact and change gender inequalities. Recipient of the American University Department of Economics Weaver Award for Teaching Excellence by a Graduate Student for work as an adjunct instructor. SLC, 2014–

Course Information

Current undergraduate courses

Economics of the Ecological Crisis

Year

Humanity faces perhaps its greatest-ever collective challenge as population growth and economic development degrade and change the natural environment across the planet. Scientists and economists largely agree that massive changes from business-as-usual practices and growth paths will be needed to prevent catastrophes like climate change and mass extinctions. In this course, we will seek to understand the relationship between capitalism and the environment from a variety of perspectives, including ecological, environmental, and institutional economics and theories of sustainable development and eco-socialism. The course will be divided into two broad parts. First, we will examine economic theory. Why does capitalism have a tendency to overexploit the environment? Could we imagine “taming” capitalism to make it sustainable, or is another economic system required? What would such a system look like? Economists are deeply divided over this question, and even those who advocate for system change have recently tended to acknowledge that it may not be possible given the timeframe that humanity has for adjusting its environmental course. Another major issue that we will discuss in this section is valuation. When is it appropriate for society to place a quantifiable value on environmental goods and services, and how should that be done? The second part of the course will look more carefully at individual issues such as climate change, energy policy, local air and water pollution, and common property resource management. We will also discuss potential public-policy solutions for mitigating environmental damages and introducing new technologies such as renewable energy. Throughout the year, we will utilize economic theory, case studies (making use of the Center for the Urban River, for example), and the political economy of various environmental issues in considering our ultimate question: Can humanity avoid the worst impacts of climate change and other environmental threats over the coming decades?

Faculty
Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Introduction to Economic Theory and Policy

Year

Economics explores the ways in which people organize themselves to sustain and enhance their quality of life and well-being. Societies throughout history and across the globe have developed numerous ways of coordinating economic activity through a variety of institutional arrangements. This introductory course will introduce basic economic concepts and contemporary issues from a variety of schools of thought, including insights from neoclassical, Keynesian, Marxist, institutionalist, and behavioral economists. We will use the tools developed in the course to explore some of the central questions of economics. Why is capitalism the dominant economic system throughout the world? Why are some countries poor while others are rich? How do institutions shape economic outcomes? How do people and firms make choices about what to buy and produce? How does the level of competition between firms in a market impact their decisions? What are some of the causes and economic consequences of unemployment and inflation? How do we measure economic activity in a society to include market and household production, as well as considerations for environmental degradation? To what extent can policy makers impact key economic indicators? We will also look at the causes of the 2008 global financial crisis and subsequent weak recovery, the recent European economic crisis, the fiscal position of the US government, and other issues that economists and policy makers are debating now.

Faculty
Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Previous courses

Economics of Inequality

Fall

Over the past 30-40 years, inequality has significantly increased in most developed economies and has virtually exploded in the United States. The causes and consequences of this heightened inequality are of great interest to social scientists and political actors. In this course, we will review the history of inequality and the manner in which it has been addressed by economists. We will investigate potential consequences for economic dynamism and political democracy of ever-increasing wealth and income disparities and declining social mobility. This will form a foundation from which we can discuss questions that are especially poignant for contemporary societies and policy makers. Why do some groups see record increases in wealth and income, while others see theirs stagnate or decline? Is there an optimal level of inequality? If so, what is it? What sorts of policies can help achieve that level, and to what extent is inequality determined by deeper economic factors like technology and historical patterns of education and wealth? The first part of the course will explore different ways in which to measure and conceive of inequality and its historical trends both within and between countries. In the second part, we will discuss and analyze theories of inequality from neoclassical, Marxian, institutionalist, and other perspectives. Finally, we will examine the sources and consequences of inequality, including potential policy solutions. This will entail delving into relevant research from other social science disciplines such as psychology and sociology.

Faculty

Political Economics of Energy and Climate Change

Spring

Humanity faces perhaps its greatest-ever collective challenge in the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent catastrophic global climate change. Many of the solutions for doing so involve changes to how societies produce and consume energy, specifically by improving energy efficiency and employing more renewable energy. In this course, we will examine the threat that climate change poses and how we may avoid its worst impacts from the perspectives of both environmental and ecological economics. How should the present generation value the impact of its actions on future generations? How should societies determine the proportion of resources to devote to mitigating climate change instead of adapting to its impacts? Who should reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and by how much? What are the political and institutional barriers to doing so? Which policies can best be used to regulate emissions? Why is renewable energy such a small portion of the energy portfolio in most economies? Exploring these questions will involve investigating economic theory and the political economy of climate change policy both in the United States and in other major economies, and we will consider how a low-emissions economy can be more equitable and improve well-being for most of its constituents.

Faculty