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Contemporary Economic Issues

Dive into the entire spectrum of policy debate over our economic well-being and our future.
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Overview

Aside from war and peace, most of today's important public issues are economic ones. Can U.S. economic leadership be sustained? Should we include environmental and worker protections in trade pacts? What, if any, are the side effects of minimum-wage laws? Is immigration good for the U.S. economy? What's the best way to cut pollution? Produced in 1998, these 48 lectures address 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, and a tour of the global economy.

About

Timothy Taylor

My wife says that I am an evangelist, with economics as my religion. I'm not sure this is altogether a good thing! But maybe it explains my enthusiasm for prepping and giving these lectures.

INSTITUTION

Macalester College

Professor Timothy Taylor is Managing Editor of the prominent Journal of Economic Perspectives, published by the American Economic Association. He earned his Master's degree in Economics from Stanford University.

Professor Taylor has won student-voted teaching awards for his Introductory Economics classes at Stanford University. At the University of Minnesota, he was named a Distinguished Lecturer by the Department of Economics and voted Teacher of the Year by the Master's degree students at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

In 2007, Professor Taylor published the first Principles of Economics textbook, available as a free download from Freeload Press. He has also edited a wide range of books and reports and published articles on globalization, the new economy, and outsourcing. From 1989 to 1997, Professor Taylor wrote an economics opinion column for the San Jose Mercury-News.

By This Professor

Unexpected Economics
854
Economizing, the Economy, Economics, and Economic Policy

01: Economizing, the Economy, Economics, and Economic Policy

This introductory lecture explains what economists mean by economics and economizing, and sets the overall approach and context for the course.

33 min
America’s Competition Policy—Antitrust and Mergers

02: America’s Competition Policy—Antitrust and Mergers

Antitrust policy seeks to discourage the anticompetitive outcomes that can flow from mergers and acquisitions, and encourages the more efficient ones. The three waves of mergers since 1960 are described, and shifts in thinking about the proper role of antitrust policy are traced.

31 min
The Great Deregulation Experiment—Airlines and More

03: The Great Deregulation Experiment—Airlines and More

How has government deregulation of certain industries (airlines, banking, trucking, etc.) worked out since the late 1970s? Is there a case for returning to regulation?

30 min
Frontiers of Deregulation—Telephones and Electricity

04: Frontiers of Deregulation—Telephones and Electricity

Once thought by most economists to be "natural monopolies," telephone services and electricity have been deregulated and opened up to competition in the 1990s. What changes have come with those moves?

31 min
Financing the Healthcare Industry

05: Financing the Healthcare Industry

The United States is the only industrialized country in the world without a national health care system. While the industry provides superb services, it costs a lot and millions of Americans are uninsured. What can the experience of other countries teach us? Can a single reform plan work, or should we pursue an array of incremental steps instead?

31 min
Competitiveness in Banks and Savings and Loans

06: Competitiveness in Banks and Savings and Loans

Events of the 1980s and '90s have shaken up key U.S. financial institutions. Learn about the savings and loan crisis, the current shrinkage in the number of banks, and the "universal" banks that may be the future of this industry.

30 min
Reinventing Regulation

07: Reinventing Regulation

What is the reasoning behind regulation? How can we apply cost-benefit analysis to the hard choices that often confront makers of regulatory policy?

30 min
Issues in Environmental Regulation

08: Issues in Environmental Regulation

Over the last few decades, the United States has adopted many environmental laws that set high goals but say little about how to achieve them. Many have worked: the environment has been getting cleaner even as the economy has expanded. Yet controversial issues remain, including Superfund, the Endangered Species Act, and the greenhouse effect.

31 min
Privatization—Steering, not Rowing

09: Privatization—Steering, not Rowing

Privatization and its close cousin, contracting out for services—once provided directly by government—together form a growing trend. What are the best arguments for and against such policies?

30 min
Medicine for Unemployment—What Works, What Doesn’t

10: Medicine for Unemployment—What Works, What Doesn’t

What are the two widely held misconceptions about the nature of jobs and unemployment? What policy implications ensue once these fallacies are exposed?

29 min
Are America’s Jobs Decreasing in Quality?

11: Are America’s Jobs Decreasing in Quality?

The U.S. economy has created many new jobs over the last few decades, but are they good jobs? Professor Taylor sifts these concerns and tells you what the evidence reveals about them.

29 min
The Growing Inequality of Wages

12: The Growing Inequality of Wages

Since the mid-1970s there has been a growth of wage inequality in the United States, and it has not been offset by greater mobility in income distribution. Why? What can be done?

30 min
The Rise and Fall (and Rise?) of American Unions

13: The Rise and Fall (and Rise?) of American Unions

Why have U.S. unions been in decline for the last half-century? What consequences flow from this decline? Can they turn it around?

31 min
Discrimination Against Women and Minorities in the Labor Market

14: Discrimination Against Women and Minorities in the Labor Market

In theory, free markets should work against discrimination, but in fact, they have coexisted quite readily with it. How can the theory be adjusted to fit reality? How should we measure and remedy discrimination?

31 min
Taking the Economics out of Immigration

15: Taking the Economics out of Immigration

Debates about immigration involve much more than economics, but immigration does have economic consequences. What are they? What role should economics play in guiding our national policy in this area?

30 min
Welfare Reform

16: Welfare Reform

Professor Taylor offers a concise introduction that is a "must" for anyone who wants to understand this complex and controversial subject. You'll cover the history of welfare over the last few decades, the current achievements of reform, and the problems that may loom.

29 min
Raising Wages for the Working Poor—Minimum Wages, Wage Subsidies, and Job Training

17: Raising Wages for the Working Poor—Minimum Wages, Wage Subsidies, and Job Training

Everyone agrees that work is better than welfare. Yet not all jobs pay enough to lift people out of poverty. The tools for addressing this problem are the minimum wage, wage subsidies (such as the Earned Income Tax Credit), and job training. You'll critically examine each.

31 min
The Race for Global Economic Leadership

18: The Race for Global Economic Leadership

The U.S. economy has been the world's leader in this century. Since World War II, however, Germany and Japan (and more recently, some East Asian countries) have narrowed the gap. Will the United States lose its leadership in the 21st century? To answer this question, you need to understand what causes economic growth in the global context.

30 min
Can We Increase U.S. Savings and Investment?

19: Can We Increase U.S. Savings and Investment?

By global standards, U.S. rates of personal saving and of investment in physical capital are quite low. Even though we offset these low rates with more efficient use of physical capital, steps to boost savings and investment remain worthy of consideration. You'll learn what these steps are and how they work.

30 min
Reform of the K-12 Education

20: Reform of the K-12 Education

Education is a key to growth, yet the performance of U.S. public schools has been declining despite higher per-student spending, lower teacher-student ratios, and more experienced teachers. Can this problem be tackled by educational reforms such as school choice and other measures rooted in performance incentives?

31 min
The Delicacies of Investing in Infrastructure

21: The Delicacies of Investing in Infrastructure

Basic infrastructure—roads, bridges, power lines, and so on—is essential to growth. Beyond that, we face the dilemma of whether to build more or to find ways of better using what we have. How does pork-barrel politics make the problem more difficult?

30 min
Technology, Research and Development

22: Technology, Research and Development

In general, new technology is key to rising living standards. Yet can we predict just which new technologies will prove important, and how? Can we improve our support for research and development?

30 min
Is the Stock Market Headed for a Crash?

23: Is the Stock Market Headed for a Crash?

U.S. stock prices skyrocketed in the 1980s and '90s to levels far above historical norms. What drove this upsurge? What are the main indicators that show how high the stock market "should" be? And, perhaps most important, what might the market's future hold?

31 min
The Supply-Side Economics Movement

24: The Supply-Side Economics Movement

Influential in the Reagan Administration and in the Republican Party, supply-siders stressed the value of tax cuts for economic growth. Consider the claims of the supply-siders and their critics, and hear Professor Taylor's assessment of the debate.

31 min
Sectoral Evolution—Farming, Manufacturing, Services, the Information Age?

25: Sectoral Evolution—Farming, Manufacturing, Services, the Information Age?

Within the expanding U.S. economy, some sectors have grown rapidly; others have shrunk in relative importance. Dominance has passed from farming to manufacturing to services and now might be shifting again, to information technology. What causes such shifts? Are we facing another?

30 min
Federal Budgets—Deficit, Balance, or Surplus

26: Federal Budgets—Deficit, Balance, or Surplus

Since World War II, the U.S. government has in most years spent more than it takes in, sometimes by a lot. What are the economic and policy implications of deficits as opposed to surpluses or balanced budgets? What are automatic stabilizers, and how do they work?

30 min
The Shaky Foundations of Social Security

27: The Shaky Foundations of Social Security

Social Security protects Americans from poverty in their old age, but its demographic foundations are insecure, and it is projected to run out of money in about 2030. The only options are higher taxes, lower benefits, or some mix of the two. Are there palatable ways to adopt changes?

31 min
Defense Spending and the Uncertainties of the “Peace Dividend”

28: Defense Spending and the Uncertainties of the “Peace Dividend”

Defense spending raises several significant economic issues (to say nothing of the crucial noneconomic questions with which defense policy must deal). How do we get the most for our defense dollar?

29 min
The Government in Health Care—Medicare and Medicaid

29: The Government in Health Care—Medicare and Medicaid

Often lumped together in discussions, these are actually two distinct programs that help to ensure health care for the elderly and the poor, respectively. They are funded differently and face different challenges. How can we prudently manage these potentially costly programs?

30 min
The American Tax Burden in Perspective

30: The American Tax Burden in Perspective

Taxes, an often-painful subject, are discussed here with a clear look at trends and a calm exposition of facts. By world standards, does the United States have a low- or a high-tax economy? What do economists think about whether taxes should be higher or lower?

30 min
Flat and Flatter Taxes

31: Flat and Flatter Taxes

What are the reasons for discontent with the current tax code? Why have solutions that recommend a flat, or one-rate, tax run into political trouble? Can any tax code remove all complexities? Is it possible to chop both tax rates and special tax breaks without going all the way to a pure flat tax?

30 min
Inflation—Why the Measure Matters

32: Inflation—Why the Measure Matters

How does the U.S. government actually compute the rate of price increases? Does this figure accurately represent the cost of living? Explore a controversy in economic measurement with real-world implications for us all.

29 min
The Federal Reserve and Inflation Fighting

33: The Federal Reserve and Inflation Fighting

Meet one of America's oddest and most influential organizations, the Federal Reserve. Many of its duties are obscure, but its control over interest rates regularly makes headlines. Why does the Fed have this power? How does it balance its duties to fight inflation and boost employment?

30 min
Economic Interpretations of Federalism—What Should States Do?

34: Economic Interpretations of Federalism—What Should States Do?

Drawing lines among state, local, and central authority has always been an issue in the United States. The trend has been to give the states more control. What are the benefits and drawbacks involved?

30 min
Foreign Trade—What’s Really at Issue?

35: Foreign Trade—What’s Really at Issue?

Why do many economists believe so strongly in free trade that they would urge the United States to practice such a policy even if no other country did so? What can be done about the unevenly distributed costs and benefits of even the best trade policies?

30 min
Free Trade vs. Labor and Environmental Standards

36: Free Trade vs. Labor and Environmental Standards

Putting safeguards for environmental and labor standards into trade pacts is justifiable in principle, but in practice can be a back door to protectionism. Do international companies seek out countries with low standards? Might free trade itself promote higher standards?

30 min
The Trade Deficit—What Are the Real Issues?

37: The Trade Deficit—What Are the Real Issues?

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

30 min
Can Anything Be Done About International Financial Crashes?

38: Can Anything Be Done About International Financial Crashes?

Recent years have seen an explosion in the size of world currency markets and, not coincidentally, crashes in Mexico, the Far East, Russia, and elsewhere. What can be done to calm nervous markets in such cases? Are there grounds for wondering whether foreign-capital flows even do much for the world economy?

31 min
A Single European Currency

39: A Single European Currency

In 1992, the nations of Western Europe pledged to phase in a common currency, the euro, within 10 years. What is the reasoning behind this move? Does it make economic sense? Will it prove politically feasible in the long run?

29 min
The Economics of European Union

40: The Economics of European Union

Taken together, the nations of Western Europe have the world's biggest economy. Since 1945, they have been moving toward greater integration. What issues are raised by the economic dimension of this development?

31 min
From Communism to a State of Transition in Russia and Eastern Europe

41: From Communism to a State of Transition in Russia and Eastern Europe

The shift away from Socialism across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union has come far in some places, but much remains to be done before all these lands can be said to possess secure market economies. How can the United States, other countries, and international organizations help?

30 min
Has Japan’s Economic Miracle Come and Gone?

42: Has Japan’s Economic Miracle Come and Gone?

From the late 1950s well into the 1980s, Japan maintained surging growth rates that some observers credited to its trade barriers and government subsidies to industry. Yet Japan had other bases for growth, and below-market loans to industry helped to create its recent troubles. Japan must now chart a new course toward growth.

30 min
Lessons from the East Asian (Rumpled) Tigers

43: Lessons from the East Asian (Rumpled) Tigers

Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia share the distinction of having achieved very rapid sustained growth. As a result, they have been subjects of intense study and debate, first as models, and since 1997, as cautionary tales.

30 min
China’s Economic Surge

44: China’s Economic Surge

China, the world's most populous country, has undergone extremely rapid development recently as the Communist government has allowed more free economic activity. Can the regime take the next steps toward badly needed institutional reforms and privatization of state-run enterprises? Is a leading position in the world economy a possibility?

30 min
India

45: 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? What was wrong with its prior policies?

30 min
Market Economics Comes to Latin America

46: Market Economics Comes to Latin America

Latin America's economies have begun to recover in the 1990s from their dismal showing during the 1980s. What changes led to this? What potential for growth exists? Can Latin governments tackle the lingering problems of gross inequality and unbalanced social spending?

29 min
Africa’s Plight

47: Africa’s Plight

Africa is the world's poorest continent. Its economies have been stagnating or even regressing for decades. Are there policy changes that can point the way out? Can foreign aid help? Should it be focused on particular projects or on the "structural adjustment" of whole economies? Explore some of the most hotly contested arguments around the question of economic development.

31 min
What Economists Know—and Don’t Know—About Economic Policy

48: What Economists Know—and Don’t Know—About Economic Policy

The concluding lecture stresses themes and connections that can be missed amid talk of discrete policy issues. What have economists—and those informed about their work—learned over the last few decades that is true and useful? What are they still struggling with? Professor Taylor's judicious assessment makes a fitting capstone to this probing look at topics that affect each and every one of us now and into the future.

31 min