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GDAE Teaching Modules
on Social and Environmental Issues in Economics

Debt ad Deficits ModuleThese modules are designed for use as stand-alone supplements in undergraduate or graduate-level courses, and are downloadable as PDFs free of charge.

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Economics in Context Modules
Topical Modules on Contemporary Issues Environmental Issues in Economics

Economics in Context Modules

Economics in Context: Goals, Issues, and Behavior
by Neva Goodwin, Julie A. Nelson, Frank Ackerman, and Thomas Weisskopf

This module draws on the first two chapters of Microeconomics in Context to present the study of economics in a broad social and environmental context. The traditional economic goal of efficiency is presented as an intermediate goal in the pursuit of a final goal of well-being. The module introduces the issues of externalities and transactions costs, and adds the activity of “resource maintenance” to the usual discussion of the activities of production, distribution, and consumption. Finally, the module updates the standard treatment of economic agents by drawing on recent research on motivations and behavior.

The student reading consists of 27 pages which includes discussion questions, review questions, and exercises. Instructor notes and exam questions are available for teachers (contact us).


Consumption and the Consumer Society
by Neva Goodwin, Julie A. Nelson, Frank Ackerman, and Thomas Weisskopf

This module presents material drawn from chapter 10 of Microeconomics in Context to explore the various motivations behind consumer behavior. The historical development of the “consumer society” is summarized, including a discussion of the institutions underlying mass consumerism. The relationship between consumption and well-being is surveyed, as well as the ecological impacts of consumption.

The student reading consists of 26 pages including discussion questions, review questions, and exercises. Instructor notes and exam questions are available for teachers (contact us).

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Macroeconomic Activity in Context
by Neva Goodwin, Julie A. Nelson, and Jonathan Harris.

This module, which draws on the first chapter of Macroeconomics in Context, presents an introduction to macroeconomic goals and a basic "roadmap" of the most significant events and theories of the last century. We place these subjects, however, into a broader context of concern for well-being. The module defines the three goals of macroeconomics as (1) improvements in living standards, (2) stability and security, and (3) financial, social, and ecological sustainability.

The student reading consists of 25 pages which includes discussion questions, review questions, and exercises. Instructor notes are also available for teachers (contact us).


Useful Macroeconomic Tools and Concepts
by Neva Goodwin, Julie A. Nelson, and Jonathan Harris.

This module, which draws on the second chapter of Macroeconomics in Context, introduces standard concepts of economic modeling, efficiency, scarcity, opportunity cost, the production possibilities frontier, and the advantages of market systems. It also includes a review of graphing techniques. However, the module sets these into a broader context of concern for well-being by discussing the institutional requirements of markets and the limitations of markets.

The student reading consists of 36 pages which includes discussion questions, review questions, and exercises. Instructor notes are also available for teachers (contact us).


Macroeconomic Measurement: Environmental and Social Dimensions by Neva Goodwin, Julie A. Nelson, and Jonathan Harris.

This module, drawn from the sixth chapter of Macroeconomics in Context, presents an overview of innovations in national accounting related to measuring well-being. The module describes satellite accounts for the environment, methods of counting household production, and the construction of well-being indicators such as the Genuine Progress Indicator and the Human Development Index.

The student reading consists of 32 pages which includes discussion questions, review questions, and exercises. Instructor notes are also available for teachers (contact us).

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Topical Modules on Contemporary Issues

Debt and Deficits: Economic and Political Issues
by Nathan Perry

Debt and deficits have been a major news topic, and the source of much economic and political controversy. This module clarifies the issues for students, reviewing the essentials of budgets, the history of surpluses and deficits, and the role of the national debt. It relates the facts about deficits and debt to classical and Keynesian theories on the impacts of deficits, discussing issues such as crowding out and endogenous money. A balanced assessment of arguments about the impact of debt will help students to develop informed opinions. A review of experiences in the U.S. and Europe with stimulus and austerity policies gives current relevance, and recent deficit projections and proposed policy responses are evaluated.

The student reading consists of 42 pages which includes discussion questions, review questions, and exercises. Instructor notes are also available for teachers (contact us).


Taxes in the United States: History, Fairness, and Current Policy Issues by Brian Roach

Tax policy is one of the most debated, and often misunderstood, issues in U.S. politics. This module provides students with an overview of the U.S. tax system, including the historical development of tax policies. The difference between progressive and regressive taxes is explained and current data are presented showing how the tax burden falls on different groups.

The student reading consists of 34 pages which includes discussion questions, glossary, references, and additional resources.

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Corporate Power in a Global Economy
by Brian Roach

Standard economic theory fails to address the economic and political significance of modern multinational corporations. In this module explanations of firm growth based on economies of scale and scope are supplemented with a discussion of the transnational mobility and influence of large corporations. The social and environmental responsibilities of multinationals are considered, with an emphasis on externalities and the need for a “triple bottom line.” The module concludes with a discussion of ways to encourage large firms to adopt goals that are aligned with the broader goals of society.

The student reading consists of 36 pages which includes discussion questions, glossary, references, and additional resources.


Corporate Governance and Accountability
Neva R. Goodwin

Some managers believe that they need not concern themselves with social and environmental issues because markets can be trusted to enforce efficiency and make businesses serve the social good. But economists recognize that such beneficial results occur only if certain assumptions hold. In reality, market failures may exist because of numerous factors, including externalities, transaction costs, market power, problems of information, and consideration of equity. This module discusses the issues market failures raise for managers and some of the potential solutions.

The module includes a 14-page background reading, 25 cases illustrating real-world examples of market failure, and numerous references for additional information.  This module is freely available from the CasePlace.org website.


The Gulf Oil Spill: Economics and Policy Issues
by Brian Roach, Jonathan M. Harris, and Adrian Williamson

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Summer 2010 has been called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. The Gulf spill raises numerous questions about energy, economics, and the environment. This module considers various aspects of the spill, including its economic impacts, its implications for offshore oil development, and its lessons for national and global energy policy. The methods for estimating the economic damages from oil spills are described, along with preliminary estimates of the spill's impacts. The module discusses policy making in presence of low-probability high-impact outcomes. The true cost of our dependence on oil is considered. Finally, the module describes various policy options for reducing our dependence on oil.

The student reading consists of 38 pages which includes discussion questions, glossary, references, and web links.

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Environmental Issues in Economics

Macroeconomics and the Environment
by Jonathan M. Harris and Anne-Marie Codur

This module presents an expanded circular flow analysis that takes the biosphere into account. It reviews critiques and alternatives to GNP/GDP, emphasizing natural resource and environmental as well as social sustainability, then discusses the implications of long-term growth of population and economic output, contrasting the goal of economic growth with the goal of sustainable development.

The student reading consists of 35 pages which includes discussion questions, glossary, references, and problems. Exercise answers are available to instructors (contact us).


Microeconomics and the Environment
by Jonathan M. Harris and Anne-Marie Codur

This module places the standard economic analysis of externalities and public goods in the context of the two paradigms of economics and ecology. It presents elements of economic analysis of the global climate change issue, sustainable fisheries management, and some concepts of industrial ecology.

The student reading consists of 58 pages which includes discussion questions, glossary, references, and problems. Exercise answers are available to instructors (contact us).


Trade and the Environment
by Jonathan M. Harris

This module, based on chapter 19 from Harris and Roach’s Textbook, Environmental and Natural Resource Economics: A Contemporary Approach, presents an analysis combining trade theory with the theory of externalities to show how the basic principles of gains from trade must be modified in a real world with many environmental complications. The institutional and policy issues involved in considerations of sustainable trade and “greening” global environmental institutions encourage the student to place the theoretical issues in the context of real-world policy.

The student reading consists of 24 pages which includes discussion questions, references, and web links.

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The Economics of Global Climate Change
by Jonathan M. Harris and Brian Roach

This module, which updates chapter 18 of Harris and Roach’s Textbook, Environmental and Natural Resource Economics: A Contemporary Approach, discusses the scientific evidence on climate change, including recent projections on temperature and sea-level rise. It then evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of economic analysis of the issue, including discussion of valuation of environmental damages, carbon taxes, tradable permits, and current policy issues related to the Kyoto process.

The student reading consists of 42 pages which includes discussion questions, references, exercises, and web links. The module is accompanied by a PowerPoint file with figures and tables. Exercise answers are available to instructors (contact us).
This module is also available in French with a PowerPoint of figures and tables


Forests, Agriculture, and Climate: Economics and Policy Issues
by Jonathan M. Harris and Maliheh Birjandi Feriz

Deforestation and agriculture together contribute about 30% of global carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.  Policies to reduce emissions and store carbon under REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) and by carbon-saving agricultural practices have enormous potential to contribute to efforts to mitigate global climate change.  But institutions to promote forest preservation, reforestation, and emissions-reducing agricultural practices are often lacking.  This module discusses the causes of deforestation and degradation, and the sources of agricultural emissions, as well as the potential for reduction and the economic and political reforms needed to achieve it.  It includes a section on the positive and negative impacts of biofuels.

The student reading consists of 42 pages which includes key terms and concepts, discussion questions, references, and web links. Download a PowerPoint file with figures and tables.
This module is also available in Spanish.


Environmental Justice: Income, Race, and Health
by Rachel Massey

Data and case studies are presented illustrating how minority and low-income communities often bear a disproportionate share of environmental costs. The uses and limitations of economic analysis are explored, including the topics of valuing human life and health and the difference between efficiency and equity. The module addresses issues of environmental justice both in the United States and internationally. Suggestions for more equitable environmental policies are presented.

The student reading consists of 24 pages which includes discussion questions, glossary, web links, references, and suggestions for additional readings.


Economics of Renewable Energy
by David Timmons, Jonathan M. Harris, and Brian Roach

This module provides thorough coverage of the issues involved in shifting from dependence on fossil fuels to renewable energy. This module presents: the potential for renewable energy; economic issues including costs, externalities, subsidies, and financing; and policies for a renewable energy transition

The student reading consists of 52 pages which includes discussion questions, references, exercises, and web links. The module is accompanied by a PowerPoint file with figures and tables. Exercise answers are available to instructors (contact us).

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