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Economics

Stephen Schumacher - Visiting Professor of Economics

Economics—or political economy—looks at how diverse societies establish and maintain patterns of resource use and how those patterns affect the quality of peoples’ lives and the character of the world that surrounds them. The substantive concerns of the field are often summarized as what, how and for whom: 1) do we produce symphonies, or organ transplants, or Cheerios, or national defense? 2) do we rely on small-scale craft production or on large-scale mechanized production? Is production organized as for-profit, not-for-profit, cooperative, informal or government enterprise? 3) are goods and services distributed according to ability to pay in the marketplace, or by custom, or by collective and/or governmental criteria? How large are incomes and wealth, and how evenly are they distributed?

We can also ask about the subject in terms of ways of knowing or learning about the economy. Studying economics can mean: 1) studying the history of ideas about how economic systems work; 2) examining the history, present status and future prospects of particular economies; 3) collecting and analyzing data about economic performance; 4) designing policy to manage the economy or achieve goals related to social welfare or environmental quality, for example; and/or 5) building conceptual models to illuminate key relationships in a complex world.

The economics curriculum at Marlboro is designed to introduce and develop these approaches to the field. In addition, many of the most interesting ideas in the discipline today lie at the intersections with other disciplines, including psychology, anthropology, ecology, political science, sociology, history, and philosophy.

My interests inspire research and teaching primarily related to development economics which seeks to understand how communities (especially in the poorest countries) can best steward the resources available to them to promote the welfare of the community and its individual members.  In seeking this understanding questions often come up related to the ways in which economies are connected (international economics) as well as the ethical and philisophical concepts that shoud be considered when attempting to define what is the right kind of economic development. I have a long-standing interest in the history of economic thought and emphasize the importance of philosophy and history in creating the economic ways of thinking. In addition to development, economics can be very useful when wrestling with questions from environmental studies and politics.  My research has mainly examined the role of natural disasters in economic development but I am also exploring the economic understanding of rationality and how closely that relates to actual human experience.  

Good Foundation for Plan

Students considering Plans in economics must expect to acquire facility with the dominant paradigms of the discipline. The most important courses in this regard are intermediate-level Microeconomics and Macroeconomics, not only because they provide the tools necessary for most applied work in the field but also because their perspectives are so well entrenched that most critical analysis in economics assumes familiarity with them. Microeconomics, in particular, is also highly recommended for students preparing for graduate study in business, law, international affairs, natural resources management or public policy.  Macroeconomics will be very useful for those wishing to study politics, public policy, or development.  Students will also be required to gain exposure to economic history and schools of thought.  Research Seminar in Economics is also required for Plan students. Some facility with algebra is required for almost all work in economics. Statistics is strongly recommended. Students considering graduate study in economics should inquire about preparation in economic theory, mathematics and statistics.

Primary Areas of Interest for Plan-level Work:

  • Economic development
  • International economics (trade and macroeconomics)
  • History of economic thought and theory
  • Natural disasters
  • Philosophy of economics
  • Environmental studies
  • Comparative economic systems

Starting Points (Basic and Introductory Courses)

Coordinating Limited Resources for Endless Possibilities: Principles of Microeconomics (SSC 607)

For many, the great challenge of our time is finding the right way to provide an adequate standard of living for all people while preserving the sustainable health of our natural environment.  There is no easy way to deal with this challenge and while there may be many options, all involve important trade-offs.  Microeconomics is the study of how a community can best manage the resources available to them.  This course will introduce students to the economic perspectives on rational choice, cost/benefit analysis, central planning, and markets.  The potential and weaknesses of these tools will be explored through application to a number of community challenges with a special emphasis on trade, the environment and human development.               Introductory | Credits: 4

Economic Principles & Problems (SSC 589)

Human beings have a unique power over nature and are endlessly creative in the way they interact with the world around them.  The world provides individuals and communities with resources and opportunities to accomplish a wide variety of goals.  Economics is the study of the decisions we make to accomplish our goals and how these decisions affect our communities and environment. This course is designed to demystify economics and give you useful economic tools to evaluate and contribute to the economic health of your communities. You will engage with a comprehensive introduction to microeconomics and macroeconomics, acquainting yourself with the prevailing economic theories used to analyze the world’s economic problems.  We will appraise the strengths and limitations of simple economic models, with the ultimate goal of increasing your awareness and understanding of economic issues, improving your ability to evaluate various policy options, and helping you decipher political-economic discourse.    Introductory | Credits: 4

Introductory International Economics (SSC 434)

Throughout history communities have forged connections through trade, migration, and money.  The degree of connection varies and we are currently living in one of the major periods of globalization.  In the coming years, significant choices will be made to either increase the depth of connection between communities or increase the distance between them.  This course is designed to introduce you to the major economic theories related to international trade, international finance, and economic development.  Through this course you will learn to better understand the different ways communities are connected to each other, the reasons these connections have been created, and the impacts they have on communities.  Your knowledge will be applied through discussions concerning the political opposition to globalization that comes from its inherent tradeoffs.  This course will enable you to understand and contribute to discourse related to globalization, economic development, and international business activities.     Introductory | Credits: 4

Economic Development in Latin America (HUM 2382)

Although in Latin America there have been many attempts to develop the region with the intent of making life more prosperous, the reality is that state led modernizing strategies have not succeeded in democratizing or raising the standard of living for people in this vast and complex region. For that reason the Latin American initiave project has said that "While Latin America shares many features with the rest of the developing world, three features characterize most countries in the region: Latin America is the most financially open (that is, it has the fewest restrictions to the cross-border movement of capital), the most democratic" yet this region remains the most socially unequal of the world’s developing regions. In part, due to these contradictory features Latin America faces important development challenges. Why and how? This class will attempt to answer these questions.  Introductory | Credits: 4

Pursuing Interests (Intermediate and Thematic Courses)

Does Money Make the World Go Round? Money, Foreign Exchange, and Financial Crises in the International Economy

In a globalized world economies are connected to each other in many ways.  One of the most important ways these connections are facilitates is through the exchange of different currencies.  This course will explore the nature of money, explain how exchange rates are discussed, examine what makes one economy’s money worth more or less over time, and elucidate the causes and consequences of crises within this international system.             Intermediate | Credits: 4

Intermediate Microeconomics (SSC47)

This course considers the theories and methods of contemporary neoclassical microeconomics and of selected alternative approaches. We will examine prices, markets and market failures primarily from the perspectives of individual and organizational decision-makers and in consideration of efficiency and equity, among other performance criteria. Topics include determination of prices, individual and collective decision-making, the organization and regulation of production and the distribution of income. The course offers solid grounding in the theory and methods of economics as required for further work in the field; it is required or recommended for many graduate and professional programs in business, law and policy studies. Prerequisite: Introductory economics or permission of instructor    Intermediate | Credits: 4

Intermediate Macroeconomics (SSC487)

Political economists, politicians and pundits offer various and seemingly contradictory analysis and advice on the present state of the economy and the urgent policy challenges we face. Can we reconcile or at least appreciate these differences, and can we arrive at our own informed understanding? This course draws on insights from economic theory, institutional analysis and current events in considering such aspects of macroeconomic structure and performance as inflation, unemployment, growth, taxation, inequality, debt, money and credit, exchange rates and trade policy. This course and Intermediate Microeconomics together constitute the core sequence in economics normally required for Plan work in the field. Prerequisite: Introductory economics or permission of instructor    Intermediate | Credits: 4

Research Seminar in Economics (SSC522)

This seminar is primarily for seniors in economics who seek a forum for peer commentary on Plan writing and discussion of the challenges of discipline-based research. It is open to other economics students on Plan, or other students, based on the suitability of a research proposal. May be taken for 1-4 credits. May be repeated for credit.     Advanced | Credits: Variable

   Sample Tutorial Topics

  • The Role of Natural Disasters in Growth, Poverty, and Inequality
  • Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century
  • Fair Trade and the Indonesian Coffee Industry
  • Medieval Finance and Economic Thought
  • Regional Economies in China
  • The Economics of Trust
  • Economics' Assumptions and Implications
  • Weakness of Will and Economic Rationality
  • The Economics of Gold Rushes
  • The Economics of Health Care
  • What Makes an Economic Superpower?
  • The Historical Evolution of the International Policy Trilemma
  • Environmental Services Evaluation
  • Distributism