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Modern Economic Issues

Better inform yourself about the most impactful economic issues of today with this course by an award-winning economist.
Modern Economic Issues is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 77.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting issues plus basic economic principles. Not experiencing an Econ course in my education, I found these lectures helpful in understanding some of the key issues in modern society from the economists perspectives as well as some of the basic concepts. While not that important it would be nice to hear more recent (than 2006) data.
Date published: 2022-04-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I love this course I read the criticisms of how old this course is. Either the reviewers were overqualified to be taking the course or they learned so much they are now experts on how outdated it is. I'm listening to this course for the third time and I loved refreshing my knowledge of basic economic theory. Being able to disagree and criticize means you know a lot about the topic. Most people would be better able to understand business and a lot of other topics - environmental challenges, benefit programs, supply chain problems - if they had taken this course.
Date published: 2021-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More Relevant Today Although this course is dated 2007 it is actually more valuable today. We have had 13 years to evaluate Dr. Whaples' logic and though issues have changed, the abilities he provides have not. This course is really about how to understand a multitude of problems that will occur in all of our lives, including everything from pay gaps, how to aid to poor countries, how to think about obesity, the costs of education, understanding the gamble behind a massive Federal deficit, the effects of postal service monopolies, climate, whether your city should sponsor a major league team and even the moment's hot topic of income inequality. There are multiple cross-lecture applications such as how different immigration policies promote GDP or conversely worse income inequality in the U.S. black population. There are many, many more topics (see lecture titles) and each of these 36 lectures give you a framework about how to think about such issues. The corporate governance lectures are a must-understand for anyone from a stock-holder to a protestor. Whaples’ method is even-handed. He begins a topic showing why the system is not workable (or works excellently). He then gives lots of data about the topic including excellent papers on the subject. You begin to think that the case is open and shut and then Whaples does something currently unheard of: he presents THE OTHER SIDE!! Soon you realize that there is a lot that goes into thinking about every economic decision you make (or allow others to make for you). THAT’S THE POINT OF THIS COURSE. Some problems presented appear to have no really great answers. His poll of other economists then serves as a reference "best guess" that many reviewers, including myself appreciate. The 13 years that have elapsed demonstrate the stability of Whaples' ideas. Critics can point out that the nation is no longer concerned about Walmart eating up small businesses (L25) since Amazon has become the hot topic. But the framework is the same with modifications that you will pick up in other lectures. L15 on the supply/demand curve for oil is pre-fracking and its logic is definitely dated because of fracking. But don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. His ideas on productivity trends in schools (L23 & L24) could save you a ton of money and alone were worth the course. One of his school proposals was only this week approved by SCOTUS. There is much cross-information between lectures. L5 on inflation and L13 on aging help one understand the difficult position that the Fed today finds itself in regarding budget deficits (L10). Additionally, L5 's inflation seems under control but the Fed have lost a debt reduction tool (L10). Whaples L7 (Inequality), L19 (Marriage), L20 (Pay Gaps), and L21 (Immigration) have important interrelationships that are complex and not correctly expressed in sound bites. If you have fixed ideas, this course is not for you. If you want your country to succeed, this course supplies all the basic tools.
Date published: 2020-07-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Dated or Not? Looking over 11 yeast of reviews of this course, I am struck by the earlier reviews praising the course and some later reviews suggesting that the (then recession) invalidated the course, especially Professor Whaples prediction of continued GDP growth in the American economy. But as I write this, the US economy has been on an almost unprecedented upturn since the mid years of the Obama administration. Does this then invalidate the reviews criticizing the course as to being outdated? And then again some economists now believe that we may headed yet again for another slump. Would that then revalidate those reviews? I think not in both cases. I would suggest that Dr. Whaples predictions were incorrect as to some short-term trends, but when looking at longer-term charts the continued growth of the economy seems accurate. For me then, it is premature to call a course out of date because it did not address what happened yesterday, as economic cycles tend to rise and fall. I think that overall the topics he chose to address in his course remain valid. For example, the early lectures do not depend on the current state of the economy. I find in particular lecture eight on Trade Barriers fascinating given the current government emphasis on tariffs and trade deficits (full disclosure, I am a “free-trader” in a modified sense). Lectures 12, 13 and 14 on Social Security, an aging population and health care are possibly more important now than when they were written, although we seem no closer to a solution. Mostly Professor Whaples presents a standard economists' view of societal problems—a view that many find annoying and depressing, but one that is nonetheless important. I sometimes thought that he did not fairly represent some of the non-economic issues of particular topics, as for example in the lectures on schools, trade unions and organ transplants. But it is possible that some of my non-economic views need revision. At least I now have some arguments to consider. I loved lecture 34 on gambling (lots of ideas I had never considered) and was not impressed with the following lecture on overeating. So all-in-all the course is a bit mixed. The professor’s delivery and lecture style was first-rate, as was the course organization. I took the course in audio and did not miss visuals. A fine course with every lecture bringing forth something to ponder, but decidedly not dated, even though not written yesterday.
Date published: 2019-09-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from unfortunately very dated The issues are valid but the course is in desperate need of updating. The course was recorded just before the entire world economy unraveled. Many issues that created the crash were addressed but only in the context of the bubble and fraud. Much data has been gathered since 2007 bearing on the issues raised in the course. This raises an important issue that I hope The Great Courses will consider. In the old days when print was the only mass media, major encyclopedias like World Book offered a yearly update addressing new discoveries etc. Rather than waiting for an entire new course perhaps the Great Courses could prevail on the lecturer to do an update issued to subscribers at a price somewhat less than an entire new course. Just a thought. It would make courses like this one more relevant and complete.
Date published: 2019-06-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Course is outdated The course needs an update and without this the course is definitely not relevant to the economy oftoday.
Date published: 2019-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from informative well presented; very interesting; gave me new insights
Date published: 2019-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very applicable to today's world. Listening to this 2007 course in 2018, I was a little apprehensive. While he obviously cannot predict the future, almost all of what was taught still applies today. I thought the vast majority of the topics of lectures were reflective of economic issues that we hear about in the media. He dealt with them in a very even handed manner, particularly the ones that appear to have political or social implications. Some of the negative reviews were totally off base. Complaints from them about how terrible the economy is have been proven false. Sure there was a recession, starting in 2008 that was triggered by sub-prime lending in the housing market, but this doesn't invalidate any of his teachings. I strongly recommend this course to anyone interested in modern economic issues.
Date published: 2018-05-22
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How do the major economic issues that dominate today's news—questions about gross domestic product or budget deficits or trade imbalances—impact the average citizen? Why are health insurance and college tuition increasingly expensive? What can be done about soaring energy prices? Professor Robert Whaples explains not only the urgent issues we all need to understand


Robert Whaples

Despite all of the changes in the economy since this course was taped, I continue to receive emails from Teaching Company customers commenting on the usefulness and relevance of this set of lectures.


Wake Forest University

Dr. Robert Whaples is Professor of Economics at Wake Forest University. He earned a double B.A. in Economics and History from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Whaples is the director of EH.Net (, which operates the Economic History Services website to provide resources and promote communication among scholars in economic history and related fields and to make research in economic history accessible to the worldwide public. He edits EH.Net's book review series and is the editor of the Encyclopedia of Economic and Business History. His Ph.D. dissertation, ìThe Shortening of the American Work Week: An Economic and Historical Analysis of Its Context, Causes and Consequences,î was awarded the Allen Nevins Prize for the Outstanding Dissertation in American Economic History by the Economic History Association. In 1999 he won the Economic History Association's Jonathan Hughes Prize for Excellence in Teaching Economic History.

What Economists Know about Economic Policy

01: What Economists Know about Economic Policy

We introduce the course's basic structure and explore the grounding of economics in the concepts of scarcity, tradeoffs, efficiency and the operation of the marketplace.

36 min
Economy Up or Down? How to Tell

02: Economy Up or Down? How to Tell

We look at several ways economists evaluate economic health and performance, and the problems some critics have with key indicators such as unemployment, inflation, and gross domestic product.

30 min
Economists' View of the Future

03: Economists' View of the Future

Will future generations live in a better world, or will things fall apart? This lecture explains the forces pushing long-term economic growth, and outlines the main hazards to the smooth economic sailing that economists foresee.

31 min
Productivity and Productivity Growth

04: Productivity and Productivity Growth

The key to growth in an economy is growth in productivity. We look at how this happens, and note some recent trends, before concluding with some key policy questions: How can we boost productivity growth? Is it worth the trouble?

36 min
Inflation—Why the Measure Matters

05: Inflation—Why the Measure Matters

We explore how inflation is measured and the problems that inflation or deflation can cause and examine the underlying causes, before turning to economists' thoughts about what policy makers ought to do.

30 min
Unemployment—A Global Perspective

06: Unemployment—A Global Perspective

How is the unemployment rate measured? Who is more likely to be unemployed? This lecture discusses the tradeoffs involved in various policies designed to influence the unemployment rate.

28 min
Economic Inequality

07: Economic Inequality

Economic inequality is higher in the United States than in many other economically advanced nations. We look at why and explore the lack of consensus on how to reduce inequality.

33 min
The Fallacy of Trade Barriers

08: The Fallacy of Trade Barriers

Building on insights first put forth by Adam Smith, this lecture explores why 92 percent of economists in a recent survey agreed that barriers to trade usually reduce the general welfare of a society, and why such barriers have nevertheless persisted.

32 min
Trade Imbalances and Saving

09: Trade Imbalances and Saving

We confront another worry many people have about international trade: Why does the United States seem to chronically run up huge trade deficits? Our task will be to understand what has caused such deficits and what can and should be done about them.

29 min
Budget Deficits—Past, Present, and Future

10: Budget Deficits—Past, Present, and Future

Combined federal, state, and local government spending in the United States exceeds the gross domestic product of every other country in the world, leaving annual budget deficits that usually run into the hundreds of billion of dollars.

32 min
Taxes and the Income Tax Code

11: Taxes and the Income Tax Code

This lecture examines the primary sources and types of taxes used in the United States, and then it considers principles of efficient and fair taxation developed by economists.

31 min
Rx for Social Security

12: Rx for Social Security

Critics complain that Social Security is a poor investment that will not be able to pay off on its current promises, that it depresses savings, and that it systematically shortchanges certain groups. We look at each of these criticisms and examine proposals to overhaul the system.

33 min
Economic Answers for an Aging Population

13: Economic Answers for an Aging Population

According to a survey of professional economists, the greatest challenges that Americans face in the future are tied to aging. We look at the many factors that come into play, including not only the Social Security funding gap but also productivity, innovation, and savings.

34 min
Financing World-class Health Care

14: Financing World-class Health Care

Only a fifth of Americans think our health system works well. In this lecture we examine the successes of this system and explore the root causes of inefficiencies in the health care industry.

33 min
Supply, Demand, and the Future of Oil

15: Supply, Demand, and the Future of Oil

Is there any way to insulate ourselves from price swings and dependence on foreign oil? Is there any effective way to pull down the price of energy? This lecture examines these crucial questions.

31 min
Pollution—Tax or Trade?

16: Pollution—Tax or Trade?

Reducing pollution levels has obvious benefits, but it also has costs. Though cleaning up our atmosphere certainly has been worthwhile, there are many cases of misallocated resources at the margin. We look at economists' preferred solutions to the problem of pollution.

30 min
Global Climate Change—Costs and Benefits

17: Global Climate Change—Costs and Benefits

This lecture considers the likely economic impact of rising levels of greenhouse gases which most economists believe will be surprisingly small, and explores the economic tradeoffs inherent in any good solution to pollution and climate change.

34 min
Minimum Wage and the Poverty Rate

18: Minimum Wage and the Poverty Rate

This first labor-market-oriented lecture begins by reviewing how wage rates are determined, before turning to a pro-and-con exploration of the important public policy initiative of raising the minimum wage.

28 min
It Pays to Be Married

19: It Pays to Be Married

Though average incomes in the United States are about the highest in the world, 37 million Americans still live below the official poverty line. This lecture explores the nuances of how poverty rates are determined and what prevents them from falling, examines the impact of marriage, and considers ways of combating poverty.

33 min
Pay Gaps by Sex and Race

20: Pay Gaps by Sex and Race

Pay gaps in the United States are present virtually everywhere. This lecture explores economists' understanding of pay gap disparities not only along gender lines, but also along racial and ethnic lines.

34 min
Economic Impact of Immigration

21: Economic Impact of Immigration

This lecture begins with changes in the economic characteristics of immigrants coming to the United States, then moves on to the central question in the current immigration debate: How do immigrants affect the labor market and government expenditures?

32 min
Labor Unions in Contemporary Economics

22: Labor Unions in Contemporary Economics

We examine the historical and current role of labor unions in the U.S. economy, including their impact on compensation, productivity, investment, profits, and job satisfaction, before closing with a brief discussion of recent proposals to change laws affecting organized labor.

31 min
Productivity Trends in Schools

23: Productivity Trends in Schools

Though economists anticipate a bright future, they do spot a few clouds on the horizon, including the challenge that is the focus of this lecture: an underperforming educational system that has been the focus of many conflicting suggestions for reform.

34 min
Higher Education—Supply and Demand

24: Higher Education—Supply and Demand

The good news is that American universities are the best in the world. The bad news is that they are also expensive, with tuition continuing to soar. This lecture explores the factors behind exploding tuition levels.

30 min
Wal-Mart and Productivity Growth

25: Wal-Mart and Productivity Growth

Wal-Mart is the world's largest corporation, yet in recent years it has become a dirty word in some circles. This lecture uses the tools of economics to examine how the chain's presence affects consumers, competitors, labor, and suppliers.

32 min
Corporate Governance in a Strong Economy

26: Corporate Governance in a Strong Economy

Not all companies have been as successful as most economists would consider Wal-Mart to be. Management all too often crosses the line and breaks the law. We look at the dark side of corporate life and how it affects our economy.

31 min
Zero-Sum Game of Conspicuous Consumption

27: Zero-Sum Game of Conspicuous Consumption

Contemporary critics argue that the quest for status through what economist Thorstein Veblen a century ago labeled "conspicuous consumption" is a zero-sum game, wastes resources, and is a sign of an inefficient economy. This lecture examines this argument and considers what might be done.

30 min
Economic Upside of Postal Reforms

28: Economic Upside of Postal Reforms

Do the problems of the U.S. Postal Service actually arise from its unique monopoly position? This lecture explores the history of the Postal Service and its performance history, and it closes by looking at different approaches from around the world.

30 min
Is Everything a Commodity?

29: Is Everything a Commodity?

At their best, competitive markets can make for the most efficient allocation of resources. But where should we set their boundaries? Case in point: Thousands die each year waiting for organ transplants, but is paying people for organ donations a good solution?

29 min
Economics of the Baseball Industry

30: Economics of the Baseball Industry

This lecture examines whether or not the presence of professional sports franchises justifies publicly subsidized stadiums, before moving on to a closer look at Major League Baseball in general.

31 min
Examining Economic Response to Terrorism

31: Examining Economic Response to Terrorism

What are the short- and long-term impacts of terrorism on an economy? We look at the relationship between the two and consider ways to reduce terrorism, including a controversial proposal to establish a market to predict terrorist events.

33 min
Helping Poor Countries

32: Helping Poor Countries

Two centuries after the dawn of the era of modern economic growth, a number of regions have been left behind. This lecture examines the magnitude of their poverty, economists' understanding of why they have failed to prosper, and what might be done to change things.

33 min
Upsides and Downsides of Urban Sprawl

33: Upsides and Downsides of Urban Sprawl

We look at urban sprawl, beginning with how it is measured and the primary factors believed to cause it. In asking whether urban sprawl is ultimately good or bad, we close by considering the wisest policies to adopt in the face of evidence about its mixed impact.

33 min
Economic Costs and Benefits of Gambling

34: Economic Costs and Benefits of Gambling

What is the impact of casinos on consumer well-being, employment, and income levels? We try to determine whether or not casinos are a useful economic development tool, and consider ways to reduce the substantial social costs gambling can also generate.

32 min
Economists’ View of Overeating

35: Economists’ View of Overeating

While overeating may not seem an economic issue, most economists believe it is. We explore the economic forces that explain why Americans and people around the world have gotten heavier, the costs this imposes, and public policies that might address the problem.

31 min
American Economy in the 21st Century

36: American Economy in the 21st Century

We look at questions raised by these lectures, and conclude by recapping the most important points of the course and the most important advice economists have offered on the key challenges facing the American economy, now and in the future.

31 min