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Contemporary Economic Issues

by Timothy Taylor

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48 lectures that addresses six major themes that cover the entire spectrum of policy debate over our economic well-being and our future: the forces of competition, America's workers, investing in America's future, budget and monetary policies, trade and exchange-rate policy, a tour of the global economy.… (more)

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Section 1: The Forces of Competition (Lectures 2-9)

You review the fundamentals of antitrust policies and shifts in thinking about antitrust policy.

You explore whether government deregulation of airlines, banking, and trucking has worked and you examine the current deregulation of telecommunications and electricity.

You study the U.S. health-care industry, the most expensive in the world, which does not measurably improve our health. What can the experience of other countries teach us? How should we reform health care?

You examine the savings and loan crisis and the "universal" banks that may be the future of this industry.

You assess environmental regulations. Many have worked, yet controversial issues remain, including Superfund, the Endangered Species Act, and the possible "greenhouse effect."

You conclude this section by examining the growing privatization of industries and government outsourcing.

Section 2: America's Workers (Lectures 10-17)

Professor Taylor opens this section by exposing the two widely held misconceptions about the nature of jobs and unemployment, and what follows once these fallacies are exposed.

In this section, you study:

* whether the jobs created by the American economy in the past few decades have been good jobs—or whether we are becoming a nation of fast-food workers
* why there has been a growth of wage inequality in the U.S. since the mid-1970s and what, if anything, can be done about it
* the causes and effects of the decline in U.S. unions
* the economic view of race and gender discrimination and the economic consequences of immigration.

Concluding this section, Professor Taylor offers a concise introduction to welfare and poverty that is a "must" for anyone who wants to understand this complex and controversial subject.

Section 3: Investing in America's Future (Lectures 18-22)

The U.S. economy has been the world's leader in this century. Will the U.S. lose its leadership? To answer this question, you need to understand what causes national economic growth. You learn:

* U.S. rates of personal saving and investment in physical capital are quite low and what steps we might take to boost them.
* Education is a key to growth, yet the performance of U.S. public schools has been declining. Should we adopt educational reforms such as school choice?
* Basic infrastructure—roads, bridges, power lines, and so on—is essential to growth. How does "pork-barrel" politics make building needed infrastructure more difficult?
* How new technology raises living standards and whether we can improve our support for research and development.

U.S. stock prices skyrocketed in the 1980s and 1990s to levels far above historical norms. What are the main indicators that show how high the stock market "should" be? (This course was recorded in 1998—yes, Professor Taylor saw a drop coming, and also rightly predicted that it would not cause a depression.)

Section 4: Fiscal and Monetary Policy (Lectures 23-34)

This section examines government spending and taxation. You'll study several hot policy topics:

* supply-siders, who stress the value of tax-rate cuts to economic growth, and their critics
* the shift from farming to manufacturing to services to information
* the economic effects of the federal deficit
* the means available to prevent the insolvency of Social Security
* how we can get the most bang for our buck in defense spending
* how we can manage the enormous costs of Medicaid and Medicare
* whether the U.S. tax burden is too high
* whether we should adopt a flat tax
* why the Federal Reserve has so much power.

Section 5: Trade and the U.S. Economy (Lectures 35-38)

You study why many economists believe so strongly in free trade, and why they would urge the U.S. to practice such a policy even if no other country did so.

In everyday discussions, the trade deficit often gets mixed up with disputes about free trade. You learn how to untangle these conceptually distinct, but often-confused topics, and gain a clear understanding of each.

You examine what can be done about the unevenly distributed costs and benefits of trade policies and whether we should put safeguards for environmental and labor standards into trade pacts.

Section 6: A Tour of the World Economy (Lectures 39-47)

Western Europe. Taken together, the nations of Western Europe have the world's biggest economy. What issues are raised by Europe's economic integration?

Eastern Europe. Much remains to be done before formerly communist countries will have market economies. Who can help?

Japan. Well into the 1980s, Japan maintained surging growth rates that some observers credited to its trade barriers and government subsidies to industry. You see that Japan must now chart a new course toward growth.

The East Asian "Tigers." Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia achieved very rapid sustained growth. First they were models, and since 1997 they have become cautionary tales.

China. The world's most populous country has undergone extremely rapid development. Is a leading position in the world economy a possibility?

India. With a population almost the size of China's, India is the world's biggest democracy. Its economic potential is extraordinary. How did it begin making progress in that direction in 1991?

Latin America. These economies began to recover in the 1990s from their dismal showing during the 1980s. What changes led to this? What potential for growth exists?

Africa. Africa's economies have been stagnating or even regressing. Is there a way out? Can foreign aid help?

The concluding lecture stresses themes and connections that can be missed amid talk of discrete policy issues. What have economists learned over the last few decades that is true and useful?
  curiousl | May 13, 2006 |
It was good back in 1998 but a bit dated now.
  beirne | Oct 25, 2005 |
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48 lectures that addresses six major themes that cover the entire spectrum of policy debate over our economic well-being and our future: the forces of competition, America's workers, investing in America's future, budget and monetary policies, trade and exchange-rate policy, a tour of the global economy.

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