Modern Economic Issues

Course No. 5610
Professor Robert Whaples, Ph.D.
Wake Forest University
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Course No. 5610
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Course Overview

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?

In Modern Economic Issues, Professor Robert Whaples has crafted a course designed to answer just these sorts of questions—a primer in 21st-century economics for the non-economist. He first presents the results of a survey of professional economists around the country on what they consider today's most urgent economic issues—the ones all of us most need to understand. Professor Whaples then puts his award-winning teaching skills to work to shape an accessible course, explaining not only those urgent issues but also the raw data economists use to describe their shape and impact.

The result is a course that finally makes the connection between the economics you may have studied in school and the economics of the lives we experience every day.

For example, how do you make the decisions—big and small—that make up your daily life?

What factors come into play when you're deciding whether to buy this car or that one, or even commute by bus? Mow the lawn or take a nap? Grill a burger with a bubbling slice of cheese or eat a simple salad?

Most economists will tell you that you make decisions on this personal level by acting as what they would call a "rational maximizer," comparing, whether explicitly or implicitly, what you expect to gain from your decision against what you expect to give up.

You weigh comfort and convenience against the rising cost of gasoline. The need to maintain your home's "curb appeal" against your need for sleep in a much-too-busy life. Your raw craving for that burger against the realities of an expanding waistline.

Learn to See the Tradeoffs in Every Decision We Make

And make no mistake about it: There is almost always something to give up, a tradeoff that is inherent in every decision we make in life—a concept memorably expressed by Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman's famous reminder that "there's no such thing as a free lunch."

But this same kind of personal analysis is just as applicable to the major issues of public policy, where the needs and wants of a nation and its people—whether financial security, safety from terrorism, or even an available kidney for someone desperately waiting on a transplant list—involve tradeoffs. Tradeoffs that are sometimes obvious and sometimes not.

Issue by issue, Professor Whaples explains those tradeoffs, guiding you through and then past the numbers, teasing out the full range of differing societal costs and benefits that will be part and parcel of any policy option our leaders choose to implement.

What does it mean, for example, if Wal-Mart decides to open a store in your town? Should your local government be enthusiastic, or should it be concerned? Should your own feelings be the same, or are your personal priorities different? What will the presence of the world's largest corporation really mean to you as a consumer, to smaller stores worried about competing, or to your local job market?

Whether dealing with the traditional sorts of topics most of us are used to seeing in an economics course—Social Security, inflation, unemployment, immigration, taxation, and the like—or issues perhaps surprising, such as gambling, major sports franchises, and even overeating, Professor Whaples offers a steady flow of insights about how the American economy really works, and how the consequences of policy decisions can have a longer reach than we might imagine, sometimes ironically so.

For example, Americans are having far fewer children than we used to—the so-called "birth dearth"—because the Social Security safety net removed one of the reasons cited by economic historians for having large families in the first place: the need to be supported in one's later years.

The irony, of course, is that it is this very decline in births that Social Security helped bring about that has itself become a looming threat, with a dwindling number of adults in their working years now available to support the increasing number of retirees who will be dependent on the system.

Go Beyond the "What" to Explore the "Why" of Today's Most Important Economic Issues

Carefully balancing the statistical data—the "what" of each trend or issue—with insightful explorations of how those trends or issues took their present shape—the "why"—Professor Whaples repeatedly takes the numbers that have long been the bane of those intimidated by economics courses and explores their implications in very human terms.

Showing us the human side of the numbers with which economics must be unavoidably concerned is second nature to Professor Whaples, who earned degrees in both economics and history in the process of becoming an economic historian. Honored as both a scholar and a teacher, he is intimately concerned with the real-life consequences of economics for flesh-and-blood people. In fact, his 1990 doctoral dissertation on the shortening of the American workweek was written from both economic and historical perspectives, and was honored by the Economic History Association as the "Outstanding Dissertation in American Economic History" for that year.

Professor Whaples begins the course with a thorough grounding in the basics of economics and the most important measuring sticks by which professional economists gauge an economy's performance. He always moves toward the human side of the equation, letting us see the translation of basic economic forces into the realities of our own lives.

The first lecture is a typical example of his approach. Terms such as rational maximizer, marginal cost, and demand curve fall neatly into place within the real-life example of padding over to one's thermostat on a cold winter's morning to decide where to set it, gauging where the cost–benefit tradeoffs might be—a process very similar to the one being performed at the other end of this transaction, by the marketplace players that provide our heating fuel.

As Professor Whaples so brilliantly shows, tradeoffs are a fundamental part of a system of economic forces that has been in play since long before the word economics even existed, from the moment the first want had to be balanced against the first inventory of resources, forcing someone to make a choice.

Modern Economic Issues is also about the economic implications of making those choices at the level of public policy. By showing the full range of economic factors that can come into play as a result of a given policy, and how our economy works, this course can help you become an even more insightful judge of policy recommendations and of the leaders and policy makers who advocate them.

Moreover, you will understand how professional economists view the full range of tradeoffs inherent in any decision. And you may well learn to supplement your own analyses as you make the real-life economic choices each of us faces every day, becoming an even wiser consumer and manager of your own economic future.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    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, and efficiency—and the operation of the marketplace. x
  • 2
    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. x
  • 3
    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. x
  • 4
    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? x
  • 5
    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. x
  • 6
    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. x
  • 7
    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. x
  • 8
    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. x
  • 9
    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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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? x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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? x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x

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Your professor

Robert Whaples

About Your Professor

Robert Whaples, Ph.D.
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...
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Modern Economic Issues is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 75.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Outdated After listening to about half the lectures I can definitely say that the 2008 financial crisis invalidated at least part early course material. I wouldn't buy it again. The course material is clearly dated and viewed through the Rose colored glasses of the mid 2000s.
Date published: 2017-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great information, great teacher The professor keeps my attention, is non-biased, and is clearly an expert in the field. He earned my respect in the first lecture.
Date published: 2017-07-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Outdated This course is 10 years old (2006) and much of the information is totally out of date. Listen to lecture 3 and you will get the point. I purchased this author's course several years ago on cassette and thought the current offering was an updated edition. It isn't t and I wasted my money. An interesting course but so old as to be useless.
Date published: 2016-09-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Out of Date This is the first course I have bought that has disappointed me. Firstly, having been recorded in 2006, for a course on economics, it is just out of date. As I listened to the presentation, I was left wondering how different some of the lessons might be today, following the economic collapse of 2008. I also wondered how the presenter might be a little less certain in his pronouncements of economic forecasts given the failure of economists to predict the event. However much they might try to whitewash it today, the fact is that our bankers, government watchdogs and economists nearly destroyed our economic system. They should be a little less smug and more uncertain of their predictions today, than they were 10 years ago. Another concern of mine is with regard to the presenter's treatment of global warming, which in some respects highlight a more general concern. While obviously focusing on an American audience, the economic impact of global warming was limited to consideration of its impact on the US. The millions that might die in other areas of the world didn't seem to attract much attention. Limiting our outlook in such a way is not only isolationist in nature, but leaves the analysis vulnerable to global influences and therefore uncertainty. Forecasts of global oil prices might also benefit from an update, and nowhere was the presenter's forecast so off base as in this lesson. In fact the treatment of oil price only highlights the failure of economic forecasting based on an assumption that conditions will remain unchanged. The development of horizontal drilling and fracking, together with changes in global politics totally changed the oil market, and while the presenter was unaware of such trends in 2006 when the course was recorded, the sense of certainty expressed at that time was clearly misplaced. Economists of today are beginning to recognise the limits to their craft, in that it is clearly vulnerable to major influences that may be unknown at the time of analysis and it relies on individuals and groups acting in their own rational interests - something that we clearly do not do. In as little as 10 years, the disparity between the presenter's forecasts and reality, only highlights the failure of conventional economics to predict the future. I would hope that such issues as human nature and even human stupidity, might make it into any economic analysis today. While I still enjoyed some of the lessons, I do believe that this course should be withdrawn and updated. I would not recommend it to others.
Date published: 2016-01-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Modern Economic Issues Though having had the course for several years, I am just now listening to it. Shame on me. Yes the course is not current, BUT I'm not sure that I'd recommend removing it from the market. Instead I would very, very much appreciate having Professor Whaples putting together a follow-up course even tough he has some egg on his face. So what! In some ways he has done some economic forecasting, but, as I said, so what. I have still gained a significant perspective from his presentations, and I would here like to thank him very much for that. Economic forecasting is quite similar to weather forecasting. Given the available data available, a meteorologist uses current science to make a forecast. Then the unforeseen and developing low drops down from the north totally changing the stated given forecast. However what was not perceived does not prove the science to be ineffective. It simply proves the science to be quite complex. Please, please, PLEASE convince Professor Whaple to compile a second lecture series, which follows up and expands upon this existing lecture. I would highly recommend this lecture especially to students studying economics for a profession. If in grad school now (they would have been around 18 in 2007) and they have made a point of understanding the economic conditions of the last decade of the 20th and first decade of the 21st centuries, those students should gain a lot from this lecture series. Professor Whaple, I'm looking forward to a follow-up series. Thank you.
Date published: 2016-01-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Needs updating There are some items in here that show the course's age, such as Professor Whaples saying that Circuit City is a good store (it has gone bankrupt). I also found some errors in the Guidebook (the word is "minuscule," not "miniscule," and "micron" is not a word: the correct term is "micrometer." These are minor quibbles, however. I suggest that in the update, he mention that a large part of the increase in college costs is attributable to the enormous increase in the number of administrators now required, much of it mandated by government regulations, although some of it can be attributed to empire building. He also needs to add the cost of living per day in various countries: saying that someone makes only a dollar a day is not bad if the daily cost of living in that country is 25 cents. I highly approve of his recognition that "data" is plural, and I thought his wrap-up in the last lecture was outstanding. Please send out an updated version!
Date published: 2015-10-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Needs updating The professor does a very fine job. But this course needs to be updated. About one third of it is devoted to fundamentals of economics...nothing wrong with that but it is material that one might have already mastered in college or business school (I acknowledge that not everyone took economics in college nor necessarily attended business school). The remaining 2/3 addresses a series of specific topics that would not be covered in college or business school and this was precisely why I purchased this course and found it worthwhile. However, like other reviewers, I note that this course was developed pre-2008. Thus such major topics of "modern" importance such as the causes and nature of the Great Recession, the odd dynamics of the slow recovery, are simply not addressed. This should now be re-titled the "Not-So-Modern Economic Issues"
Date published: 2015-10-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Modern economic issues This course should no longer be offered. It is completely obsolete after the crash a few years ago. This is not really the fault of the professor. It is the fault of great courses. Either the course should have been updated or removed. Certainly no one should have been made to pay for it. I have purchased many courses but this is the first time I was truly angry at the company
Date published: 2015-01-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from "Modern" It's Not This is a very well designed and delivered course. The speaker is engaging and conversational. BUT, this course is from around 2007 and it's amazing how many things are no longer correct. Some examples: - a whole course on what we can do about the healthcare industry, insurance issues etc - pre obamacare - a reference to Circuit City as a well run modern company - of course they went out of business - references to a recent survey of economists who think the US will have strong growth for years to come, of course he says unless there is a world-wide economic meltdown - pre worldwide economic meltdown - references to how the US unemployment is in great shape and lower than most rich countries There were places I laughed out loud. Honestly, Great Courses, this course is past its usefulness. You should just take it down.
Date published: 2014-11-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Slightly flawed This course pretty much mirrors Timothy Taylor's full economics course and suffers some of the same problems--the chief being that it was done before the 2008 recession. Here I think the complexities are presented well (better than in the Taylor course) with the sharp splits in economic opinions well detailed. The one part I found very lacking though was his lecture on energy. Trying to give a concrete example he goes into detail concerning drilling in Alaska versus increasing fuel mileage. Unfortunately he uses faulty data ignoring light trucks and SUVs that make up 40% of the vehicles and TOTALLY ignores population increase during the time it would take to increase the mileage numbers. When talking about the economics of drilling he seems to give no weight to the security aspect of domestic resources and despite earlier concerns about balance of trade, they are absent here. Still, I think just getting a good view of all sides on most of the issues is very worthwhile.
Date published: 2014-04-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from decent course I liked this course a great deal. The only reason I did not give it 5 stars was because I didn't really hear much that was new to me. I have listened to other TC courses on economics and this one compares well with the others. I have seen two complaints of this course. One was that a listener did not like the professor constantly quoting from surveys of economists about this or that point. He does do that often but that really didn't bother me that much. I thought he was just demonstrating that whatever point he was making was either in the mainstream of economic opinion or not. That way, you would have some perspective on what he was saying. The other complaint from another listener was they disagreed with the professor's philosophy since the professor seems to be from the free market Chicago School. Well, I like the Chicago School so the points he made resonated with me and made sense. His quoting of surveys of other economists also pointed out that his was not some lone opinion but many of his peers agreed with him. Overall, it is a good course and if you are not familiar with economics you will learn a lot.
Date published: 2013-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from As good as the "dismal science" gets I gave this course 5 stars because, for economics, it held my attention very well and I enjoyed all that I learned. I usually listen to TGC history lectures and have found some of the technical science and business courses difficult to plow through. They can be especially hard to follow if you are exercising while listening. But not this one, I loved it. There are a few things you need to know: It was produced in 2007, so the data used is 2006 or older. But all the points are still valid. On one hand it was interesting to see his rosy perspective 1 year before the economy tanked. But an updated version of this course would be more relevant. The course should be titled "Modern American Economic Issues" as the lecture topics were all framed from the reference point of the USA. I liked this aspect, but if you want a world view you might be disappointed. There are a lot of statistics and other numbers thrown at you. This can be difficult to follow, especially while exercising. But don't get caught up in all of the numbers just follow the point the numbers will illustrate. Professor Whaples is funny at times and always to the point. He clearly states the lecture objectives and then gives ample data from research and survey results to back his statements. He is unbiased and tells the few times when something is his own opinion. He made 18 hours of economics as fun as I think it could be. After listening to this course though, it is sad to see where the USA is headed in 2013. Our politicians should all be required to listen to this course. The basic economic principles taught are not usually put into public policy as our political leaders pander to special interests and doing what is popular (entitlements) instead of what is economically sound (but tough to sell). It will be interesting to see when the house of cards starts to really shake and 2008 happens again, but probably worse this time around. As we continue to march towards European socialism I am sure that stagnation, instead of growth, will be the new norm. As professor Whaples states: "When you cut up the economic pie to redistribute it more evenly, the size of the pie shrinks." Welcome to chronic high unemployment and more and more people living off the dole. Thanks Obama.
Date published: 2013-01-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Certainly NOT all current issues I cannot recommend Prof. Whaples' course. For a start, the course dates from 2007 and accordingly is out of date -- period -- and even allowing for that, it isn't all it might have been. But first the good news. The topics covered per the course description, (which see), are fairly comprehensive. Prof. Whaples lecture style is relatable for any but the rankest economic neophyte; he provides plenty of relevant detail in a comprehensible manner. He constantly refers to polls of professional economists, most of which he conducted himself, and which add credibility to the points he makes. The course is fairly U.S.A.-centric but given the prominence of the American economy that isn't totally inappropriate. Prof. Whapes does examine alternate economic points of view to an extent but doesn't stray too far from the dogma of the infallibility of markets and marginal productivity, (marginal cost vs. benefit), as the determinant -- and justifier -- of all things. Now for the not so good news. Given the economists' attitudes of 2007, one wouldn't to play for, Hyman Minsky's financial instability hypotheses or Robert Shiller's "Irrational Exuberance". Still one might hope for some premonition of the crisis of 2008 already looming despite denialist pooh-hoohs. Unfortunately you won't find an prescience here. Absurdly, with benefit of hindsight, Prof. Whaples, supported by his poll of economists, states that the U.S.A. is likely to sustain decades of growth at perhaps 2.5% per annum increase in GDP. I felt he was on-side with the many economists' opinion of 2006-7 that recessions had a thing of the past (!!). Even more disappointingly, Whaples repeated touted the continual growth of U.S. GDP per capital with scant mention of the fact that virtually all of this was going to the top 20%, and most to the less than 1%. At the same time, though he mentioned a growing rich-poor gap, I felt he saw not risk to the economy in this. He saw it rather as the generally salutary working out of law of marginal productivity. I recall he allowed that some very high incomes, say of sports stars and celebrities, are "rents" in the economic sense, but he made little or no mention in particular of the ballooning remuneration of bankers and hedge fund managers. I don't recall he even mentioned median -- as opposed to average -- GDP per capita, or it stagnation in previous 30 years and actual decline in the last decade. I was pleasantly surprised by Whaples overall endorsement of pollution reduction. He seemed most supportive of "Pigouvian" taxes that try to capture some of the "negative externalities" in the price of polluting products. He seemed also to approve of "cap and trade" sorts of measures. But this was more than offset by his attitude to climate warming which, again, seemed to reflect the feelings of economists he polled. This opinion was, to generalized, that the effect of global warming on the economy of the U.S.A. would be minor to the end of the 21st century, less than negative 2%, and that the cost of seriously combating climate change isn't worth the benefit. Personally I don't put much reliance of economists' ability to predict 90 years in the future (!!), Secondly this attitude ignores worst case but possible climate outcomes, and thirdly, flouts the precautionary principle. There were various other topics on which Prof. Whaples' conclusions will be construed as regressive by some, viz. poverty, gender and race gap, inflation, etc. In the case of inflation for example, he accepts the theory that CPI inflation is overstated by about 1% per annum on account of "quality" improvements. Ridiculous since while it's true that automobiles of today are much better quality than those of 30 years ago, they still cost much to buy as they do if you happen to need to buy a car. Overall I cannot recommend this course until there is a very substantially revised edition.
Date published: 2012-09-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Much interesting info. Don't believe the 4.2* avg Many of the reviews below emphasize that this course is outdated and obsolete based on our economic downturn of the last few years. >>These comments are accurate, but there is so much interesting information here that it is a mistake to dismiss it on those grounds.<< This course covers a very wide range of socio-economic areas, supporting the course with robust statistics, references to research, and survey results from professional economists on these areas. (He conducted his own survey of economists for this TGC course. How cool is that?) The professor is articulate, friendly, engaging, and relatively easy to follow. (There's a lot of info and trends described, so I did have to rewind a few times to catch it all.) Each topic is truly interesting and important. I have listened to most of Prof Taylor's TGC economics courses, too, and was happily surprised to find that all these courses all reinforce each other but do not just cover the same old ground. I've been a fan of Prof Taylor's ("Unexpected Economics" is a delight), but I think Prof Whaples is an even better lecturer. Prof Whaples presentation style is more relaxed but still as engaging. I'm getting good critical thinking arguments. It would be very useful for friends who may disagree on certain topics to sit down and listen to together. So, if you are looking for an understanding of where our economic system "went wrong," this >isn't< the course for you. But if you want to learn what economists and social scientists know, >>get this course.<<
Date published: 2012-03-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good, but seems dated as it is pre 2007 recession This was good, informative, entertaining and interesting. But "Modern Economic Issues" seemed to be missing a key part of modern issues; the 2007 recession. To me, a modern general economic course that does not mention the 07 recession is not really a modern economic course.
Date published: 2011-12-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from This Is Economics? Audio CD This course, along with other TTC economics courses, has broadened my perspective. I used to think that economics was about the economy (inflation, growth, etc.). But now I see that economics is a way of thinking. Given a choice, people will do what they find in their interests. Dr. Whaples shows how this can be applied in a number of interesting areas, including overeating, organ transplant donors, and the benefits of pollution. Dr. Whaples is unbiased and incisive. My greatest complaint is that there are way too many statistics to follow in detail.
Date published: 2011-11-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Obsolete The economic principles presented are relevant and well articulated. Unfortunately, the conclusions and predictions fail to take into account recent economic and other realities. One example is the price of food. The professor claims that food prices can be expected to fall for the foreseeable future, yet we see rising food prices worldwide, and the current economic reality is that this trend can only be expected to continue. This disregard of resource depletion is only one of the areas where the course fails to take into account of reality.
Date published: 2011-08-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Fraught with outdated-ness Immediately upon popping in the first DVD of "Modern Economic Issues," Prof. Whaples comes across as erudite and informed, as well as a geekily-good speaker. However, this series was recorded in early 2007...remember what happened in the middle of that year? The US economy tanked. Virtually every lecture of this series is as optimistic and smug as if it were 1929. In fact, Prof. Whaples said in a June 2007 article: "Perhaps it’s time for us to stop worrying about a future of deprivation, and finally learn how to handle unrelenting prosperity." That is the unfortunate tone that the entire series takes. As such, I think it's safe to say it's outdated. However...all it would take is a redo of a few lectures or a 3-lecture supplement to make this valuable again. My other complaint is that there are next to no graphics in the course, and I had been hoping that there would be as I am a visual learner and economics is very confusing to me. All in all, content is 5 stars, as the topics are great; prof presentation is 4 stars for the lack of visuals; course value is only 2 stars because, at least until TTC acts, the course is outdated.
Date published: 2011-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Send your copy to your Senators Though presented before the most recent recession, I think this course extremely relevant. We will have many recessions in coming decades, many of which are caused or heightened by our politicians in Washington. A Course like this should be required before congressmen and women take office!
Date published: 2011-05-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Poor Follow-up to Contemporary Economic Issues A few months ago I listened to the course titled Contemporary Economic Issues which was taught by Professor Timothy Taylor. The course was excellent, and even though it was recorded in 1997, and therefore outdated, I was surprised to see that Modern Economic Issues really pales in comparison to its predecessor. Taylor's course was a 48 lecture marathon, which covered the economics underlying every major political issue of the late 90's. For that alone, I was amazed at how relevant so many issues were. It was also fun to see how many correct predictions Professor Taylor made, and even when he's wrong he gives us a glimpse into how the course of history might unfolded had it not been for the events of 9-11. Professor Waples however, lacks the style and ease with which Taylor made his lectures really come alive. The lectures in Modern Economic Issues are worth it for the content, but it is incredibly disappointing to have to listen past the lecturer in order to appreciate the content. Professor Waples has the annoying habit of belaboring his speech, and drawing out non-technical phrases in ways that come off as condescending. Also, as other reviews have mentioned, he tends to over-rely on the one survey he did of several economists as definitive proof that "economists agree on..." whatever point he's trying to make. Instead, Taylor tended to wrestle with the issues, and he could explore a side of an argument without making that argument. I find that kind of style more useful as a listener, and I am disappointed that Modern Economic Issues is such a far cry from its predecessor Contemporary Economic Issues.
Date published: 2011-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and timely This is a very well thought out and presented series of lectures on relevant modern issues. It will make anyone taking the course a more informed citizen and voter.
Date published: 2010-09-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from made me mad This is a course praising the free market. Professor Whapples believes in the "invisible hand" bringing the market to the efficient level of output. I believe Professor Whapples is an adherent of what is called free market economics, or Chicago School economics or Milton Friedman economics. I disagree with this school and with Professor Whapples. I cannot give this course more than two stars and its value more than one star because of this. These are the problems. First is the problem of the Chicago School. The basic premise is the less government interference the better. If the basic premise is the less the better how can you argue government regulation is good or needed when you believe any government regulation is bad? The same is true of social issues: unemployment insurance, minimum wage, public schools. Friedman was famous (or infamous) for saying, when LBJ legislated integration of bus lines and restaurants, this was wrong, the market would (or should be allowed) to take care of it. Second is Whapples survey. Having read his survey, I found out of 20,000 plus members of the American Economic Association he polled 84 members as a sample. So when he says 55 percent of economists agree he is saying 46 economists agree. I don't think 84 is a sufficient sample size, nor do I think this shows what "most" economists think. Third is his presentation. Statistics are hard to understand. Without clear charts they are very hard to understand. For example: Income inequality. Without a chart, the Gini coefficient Professor Whapples describes is not clear at all. With a chart it is clear, it is what is called the L curve; where 99 percent of us are at the flat and the rest are on the pillar of the L., or where 1 % at the top of the L control 42% of the wealth. Some reviewers have suggested he include charts,even animation. His course suffers enormously for the lack of charts in both the DVD and printed material, one reason I gave it one star. Finally, since his course was taped before 2008, in the awful present his prediction of continued prosperity is unreal. So I polled the reviewers: six say it needs updating in light of the current crisis; three say it doesn't; balance express no opinion. The reviewers are on both sides of the crash issue. Cousin Drew and Tom A absolve Whapples inability to foresee the crash - Tom A seems to think the current crisis is the result of government interference in the free market not the lack of it. Cybrweez, Duke, Goran think Whapples is unreal for not foreseeing the crash. I agree with the three. While Alan Greenspan and many free market/Friedmanite economists say no one saw the crash coming this is not true. Some economists did see a crash coming. Nouriel Roubini (Dr. Doom) of NYU predicted a crash in September, 2006. Paul Krugman of Princeton began to write warnings in early 2007, Both are opponents of the Chicago school. Other, less notable economists, warned about unregulated derivative markets, dangerous systemic problems with Wall Street, even Bernie Madoff. All their warnings were ignored. So when Professor Whapples says "most economists foresee continued robust economic growth" he is (or was) right in one way - most Chicago School economists foresaw this growth. He did not present the other side. I do think the best way for TTC to address this highly politicized issue would be to have some kind of discussion. Economic issues are not majority rules problems. This is not a parallel to having a regular biologist and an "intelligent design" biologist. Friedmanite economists are not 99 percent of economists the way regular biologists are 99.999 percent of biologists. There are still believers in Keynes out there. For all we know 45%. Please email me if this review is not acceptable and how I can further edit it so I can make it acceptable. I feel strongly about this course and would like to make my views known before I return it.
Date published: 2010-07-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Just ok course Maybe it is a pet peeve of mine, but I can't stand how Professor Whaples keeps quoting over and over again the one survey he did asking the opinions of different economists about different subjects. I am on lecture 14, and he must have quoted this survey 50 times. He seems to be continually putting forth various conclusions resulting from his ONE survey. It seems kind of self-serving and subjective and for me it is a distraction. I wonder why the teaching company did not suggest he moderate his over use of this.
Date published: 2010-06-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good study of economics I thoroughly enjoyed this course. Presentation was very well done, and I've used the course outline in discussing topics w/friends. I like the use of statistics to back up points, makes it harder to argue against. All these issues are big news items today, and yet so many have no idea about the impact of certain decisions, and the idea of trade offs. Economics can sound cold, or "unfair", but it's not about being fair, but about determining how things react to certain policies/decisions. The only reason I don't give it a 5, I remember some of the lectures talking about his guesses about short term results, and it seems after financial ruin/housing collapse, some of those guesses were pretty off. I couldn't believe he quoted things from 2005/6, and now we're in this deep recession. I would love a follow up.
Date published: 2010-05-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Needs an update I have just finished listening to Professor Robert Whaples course on Modern Economic Issues. I found Dr. Whales lectures to be interesting, enlightening and often even entertaining. I was impressed by the wide range of topics he covered in this course. The only bone I have to pick is with The Teaching Company. When I looked at the course materials that were mailed to me I noticed that they were copywrited in 2007. What a difference three years makes in a course like this! Dr. Whaples lectures are three years old and things have changed in a number of areas that he discusses. The Teaching Company should put out an updated version of these lectures ASAP and they should send free copies to people like me who received information that in many cases was out of date. I certainly would love to get Dr. Whaples take on our country's recent economic crisis.
Date published: 2010-04-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, but not great Professor Whaples has good insights on a wide array of economic issues. He helped clarify and refresh my thinking on some issues, but I found nothing profound in these lectures. They're good if you want a refresher on economics through the lens of relatively contemporary issues. But these lectures won't change your life.
Date published: 2010-04-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pretty good This course covered various economic issues that the US is facing today. It's somewhat a pity that this course was produced in 2007 so it did not cover the subprime mortgage (and housing bubble) issue which led to the global financial crisis. Having said this, I found most of the topics to be v interesting and relevant. Prof Whaples is very good at explaining the trade offs (costs and benefits) of policy responses to various issues such as casino gambling, urban sprawl, and the lack of organs in organ donor issues. There are some topics which are specifically US-centric. Coming from Australia, I found these topics to be less interesting (compared to more universal/global economic issues). These include: US healthcare issues, social security shortfall, and schools' productivity. But overall, this is a reasonably good course and I learnt a lot from it.
Date published: 2010-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Overview First off, let me note that this is not an introductory economics course (like Economics by Timothy Taylor, also offerred by TTC). Rather, this is a collection of important societal issues on which economics has something important to say. The lectures include every major topic you'd expect to see (inflation, economics, free trade, income gap, energy policy, minimum wage) and a couple of surprises (e.g., professional sports). Prof Whaples created a survey of economists and used the results of this survey in the lectures. It was very enlightening to see the issues on which economists are split more or less evenly versus those on which there is broad consensus (e.g., a 17-1 ratio against subsidies for sports stadiums). The professor also does an excellent job applying basic economic principles to each problem, allowing us to see the costs and benefits involved. On occasion, he overlooks the obvious (the lectures on health care and corporate governance were weak, and the uncritical acceptance of anthropomorphic global warming was irksome), but in general he does a good job of addressing all major viewpoints on the issues he discusses. His presentation style was lively and engaging, and he clearly loves his subject. He ends the last lecture by reminding us that economics can be fun, and that definitely came across in this series of lectures. As one final observation, I will note that those reviewers who say that the lectures are out of date because they were made before the current recession are 100% off the mark. The thinking embodied in this lecture is the core economic principles that are unchanged by temporary ups and downs in our economy. If anything, the ideas he presents are even MORE important now. This course should be made mandatory for members of Congress. (Too bad TTC doesn't have ratings in 1/2 star increments. This course is not as good as other courses I've rated 5 but better than courses I've rated 4.)
Date published: 2010-02-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Presentation matters Economics is not a subject that comes to me naturally, so I chose to listen to TTC course rather than read a book about it. I found "Modern Economic Issues" course helpful in that the content was approachable and relatable. I recommend this course to beginning economics students but ONLY AUDIO format. I regret very much that I purchased DVD format. Professor's presentation style was horrible. His intonation sounds like he is reading a book. His constant frowning and scowling expression was unpleasant to look at after some hours of watching the lecture series. By Part 3 of the series, I ended up letting the DVD run and listened to the lecture with my eyes closed so that I can focus on the content better. I understand that TTC's value-add is to bring valuable lectures from class room to home conveniently. I hope that TTC would extend its innovation by better differentiating DVD format from AUDIO format than merely video-taping professors. For example, I think DVD format could include animations to depict a concept better than words.
Date published: 2009-12-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not Best Purchase Ever I have yet to be impressed by an economist on TCC. I can tell that this holds for this course and the professor as well, even though I am only half way through the lectures. The core problem, as is the case with many courses on economy here on TCC, is lack of true scientific inquiry, leading to false assumptions and faulty practices. Referring to surveys asking the economic society about the benefit of the law of diminishing returns is about as interesting as asking 14th century alchemists about modern medical practices. The professor does it anyway. Apparently, the scientific economic method is a matter of a democratic vote among select few in the upper middle income bracket, rather than questioning the issue at hand using a new angle or existing research – a reconsideration of purpose and granularity from the perspective of complex systems theory perhaps? Nothing out of the ordinary to see or hear, although I might come back once I’ve suffered the rest of the course. The professor gets 3 stars for bothering to talk for hours.
Date published: 2009-11-16
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