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Principles of Economics


This exciting course is taught in a non-technical way and will provide you with a sound knowledge of the key principles of Economics. Economics is the issue of our times and influences almost every aspect of our lives.

This course is open to anyone who is curious about Economics and there are no entry requirements. We welcome individuals from all backgrounds, including students who are currently studying another subject but who want to broaden their knowledge in another discipline.

Taught in a non-technical way, the course will provide you with a sound knowledge of and an ability to apply the key principles of economics to every day events. Within this course, we will look at both microeconomics and macroeconomics: that is, the study of individuals, consumers and firms, as well as looking at the wider economy and concepts such as economic growth, unemployment and the financial crises.

The course will begin by exploring the fundamental economic question. We live in a world with scarce resources, including oil, money, time, energy and goods and services. However, we have unlimited wants. Therefore, we consider how these scarce resources are allocated and in doing so, we will explore the importance of choice. The course will then develop many fundamental concepts, ideas and models that economists use to study all the questions that result from this fundamental economic problem.

Is this course suitable for me?

This course is open to anyone who is curious about Economics and there are no entry requirements. If you are thinking about a future career that may involve knowing some Economics, but have never studied it before or simply want to know more about the subject, then this course is well designed for you. It would also be of benefit to anyone working in the public or private sectors where having a basic understanding of economics would be useful.

What is economics?

Economics is everywhere and it can be used to explain most things: that’s why everyone should have a basic understanding of economics! Thinking like an economist will give you the tools needed to understand the decisions made by individuals, firms and governments; it will allow you to make better decisions and answer questions that we ask ourselves on a daily basis. Although economics does consider money, banking, growth and trade, it’s really about the allocation of any resource (not just money, raw materials, time and effort but even things like love!), and how that affects decisions-making and no matter who you are, you will always have to allocate your resources and make choices. Here are just some of the things that economics can help to explain.

If your neighbours ask everyone in the local community for contributions for a new bench to go in the village, would you make a donation? Should you make a donation? Economics can provide an answer and save you money. Most of the working population have to pay income tax, but how would our behaviour change, if income tax was now voluntary? Everyone’s been to the cinema and most people have experienced a bad film. What happens if, after 30 minutes of watching the film, you conclude that it’s the worst film you’ve ever seen, but you paid £10 for the ticket, so you better stay. Once you’ve learnt some economics, will your decision to stay and suffer through the remaining hour change? Will you now decide that, despite paying £10, the correct decision is to leave?

If an individual is taking legal action, there will be a chance of winning and a chance of losing. A decision will have to be made as to whether they should continue with the case. Economics can help to demonstrate that the way in which the solicitor frames the possible outcomes will influence the individual’s behaviour as to whether or not to proceed with their case. Something that is helpful to know for both the client and the solicitor. You go on holiday and visit a theme park or museum and outside of it, you see a sign and in English you read: ‘Entrance this way’ with an arrow pointing to the right. But, you also notice an arrow pointing to the left accompanied by a foreign phrase. Should you follow the English instructions and enter to the right or would it be cheaper to try the left arrow? This type of firm behaviour is something we observe every day and economists can explain why.

A question that is often asked concerns the pay of top sports men and women. The following players are great footballers: Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack and Emmanuel Adebayo, but not the world’s greatest ever footballer. Have you ever wondered why the wages they receive are so much higher than the wages received by Lin Dan and Domagoj Duvnjak? Probably not. They are Chinese and Croatian and are seen as the world’s greatest ever badminton and handball players, respectively. Economics allows us to look at the theory that explains why the greatest ever sportsman in one discipline can be paid so little relative to merely great sportsmen in other disciplines.

Bankers’ bonuses have been a topic of great frustration for many people. Economics answers the key question: why Bankers receive such big bonuses, irrespective of the performance of the bank. The financial crises and subsequent recession have had a lasting effect on individuals, firms and economies. What caused it; why did governments respond in the way they did; why were interest rates cut; why did inflation become a problem? Did the fast growing economies of China and India have a role to play? Is the phrase ‘When America sneezes, the world catches a cold’ the real explanation behind the global financial crisis?

There is a never-ending supply of questions and puzzles that economics can answer and by providing you with the tools of economic analysis, this course will look to answer these questions.

Course Aims

The aim of this course will be to provide you with the tools you need to think like an economist. We will aim to draw upon a variety of applications to demonstrate the important role that economics plays in shaping the lives of everyone. We will aim to explain why the wages of teachers, civil servants and nurses are less than accountants and solicitors and why tube strikes occur, but accountant strikes don’t. We will provide students with an understanding as to how governments decide whether to invest money in the existing rail infrastructure or build HS2, why flood insurance is so problematic and why countries are inclined to host big sporting events, such as the World Cup and the Olympics.

On the macroeconomic side, the course will aim to explain the financial crises by giving students the economic theory that explains what actually happened and why it happened. By drawing on real-world cases, such as the collapse of the Lehman Brothers and Northern Rock, we will apply economic theory and offer an insight into why the world works as it does and the changes we are likely to observe over the coming decades. We will aim to address broad topics, such as the emergence of China, India and Brazil and explain how this has affected Western economies, firms and individuals. We will look at the economics that explains these changes and address questions that many people have concerning the likely impact that their continued growth and increasing economic power will have, no matter where you live and work.

By drawing on real-world applications, students will learn to use the tools of economic analysis to offer an insight into every day events, answer simple and highly complex questions on a range of topics and explain the seemingly inexplicable behaviour of individuals, firms and governments.

Syllabus and Course Overview

Economics is everywhere and it can be used to explain most things: that’s why everyone should have a basic understanding of economics! Thinking like an economist will give you the tools needed to understand the decisions made by individuals, firms and governments; it will allow you to make better decisions and answer questions that we ask ourselves on a daily basis. Although economics does consider money, banking, growth and trade, it’s really about the allocation of any resource (not just money, raw materials, time and effort but even things like love!), and how that affects decisions-making and no matter who you are, you will always have to allocate your resources and make choices.

The course will begin by exploring the fundamental question that the subject of economics is concerned with: the allocation of scarce resources, where a scarce resource is anything that is in finite supply relative to demand such as money, time, effort, love and of course goods and services.

The course will then develop the fundamental concepts, ideas, methods and models that economists use to study this question in a variety of scenarios and situations. The role of markets and the state in the allocation of scarce resources will of course be a key part of this course. But there will be much more besides.

The topics to be covered include:

  • The key economic problem.
  • Choice and opportunity cost and the production possibilities.
  • Different economic systems.
  • Demand and Supply
  • Competitive markets.
  • Imperfect competition and firm behaviour.
  • Game Theory and Strategic Behaviour.
  • Market Failure and government intervention.
  • Application of policy.
  • Economic growth and the business cycle.
  • Unemployment and inflation.
  • The financial crises and the role of the banking sector.
  • Fiscal and Monetary Policy.
  • Trade, Development and the interdependence of nations.
  • Globalisation and the emergence of the BRICs.

Learning outcomes

Upon completion of this course, students should be able to:

  • Explain what it means to ‘think like an economist’.
  • Understand the role of marginal costs and benefits in making economic decisions at the individual, firm and government level.
  • Demonstrate the difference between macroeconomic and microeconomic issues.
  • Apply the tools of economic analysis to a range of issues.
  • Assess how effective markets are at allocating resources and when there may be a role for government intervention.
  • Analyse the behaviour of firms and how the degree of competition can explain market outcomes.
  • Examine the economic performance of nations and use economic theory to explain the progress of economies.
  • Understand the growing interdependence of nations and how this can be used to offer an explanation for the global nature of the financial crises.

Course structure

4 hours of teaching per day, comprised of lectures and small group teaching. The structure will be:

  • 3 hours of lectures.
  • A 1 hour seminar in small groups.

Students will also be given time each day for independent study. Towards the end of the third week, students will also be provided with time for revision.

Course Assessment

The module will be assessed via a 2-hour examination. It should be noted that the exam is not compulsory. Everyone who completes the course – whether or not they sit the exam - will receive a certificate of attendance. However, by taking the exam you will also receive a grade/mark for the course which can be helpful to you.

Course Reading list

Below are some introductory textbooks, any of which will be useful references for many of the topics taught on this course.

  • P. Samuelson and W.D. Nordhaus; “Economics”; 19th edition (2009); McGraw Hill/Irwin.
  • J. Sloman and E. Jones; “Essential Economics for Business”; 4th edition (2014); Pearson.
  • D. King; “Economics”; (2012); Oxford University Press.

Economics can be applied to most everyday issues and the following are books that will provide background reading and a fascinating insight into the application of economics. Many of them will be familiar titles:

  • S.D. Levitt and S.J.Dubner; “Freakonomics”; (2006); Penguin Books.
  • S.D. Levitt and S.J.Dubner; “Super Freakonomics”; (2010); Penguin Books.
  • T. Hartford; “The Undercover Economist”; (2007); Little, Brown.
  • T. Hartford; “The Undercover Economist strikes back”; (2013); Little, Brown.
  • T. Hartford; “The Logic of Life”; (2010); Hachette Digital.
  • C. Wheelan; “Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science”; (2010); WW Norton.
  • S.E. Landsburg; “The Armchair Economist”; (2012); Simon and Schuster Ltd.