President's Teaching Scholars Program



Steve Medema
Economics Department

UNHL 3820 (Economics of Life) Course Description:

This course, titled “The Economics of Life,” will build on the ideas behind my PTS research project and the principles of microeconomics course that impressed the selection committee when I was nominated as a Teaching Scholar. UHL courses are all multidisciplinary, and what I will be doing in “The Economics of Life” is introducing the students to applications of the economic approach to human behavior across the social spectrum. As such, the course will treat the application of economic analysis (and, in particular, the rational actor model and the theory of markets) to areas including politics, law, religion, and family life. Students will engage with primary source readings in these areas from the economics literature and from the literatures in these other social sciences in order to get a sense for how economics might help us to better understand these traditionally “non-economic” phenomena, how the other social sciences have traditionally gone about analyzing those same phenomena (and thus how those approaches differ from the economic approach), and, where available, critiques of the economic approach by scholars in the other social sciences. I also intend to give the students some exposure to the history of economic ideas as prelude to this, paying attention to how the definition and practice of the subject has evolved over time from the study of the wealth creation process to the study of market activity to the contemporary study of behavior under conditions of scarcity, and how this evolution in the definition of economics has facilitated the expansion of economic analysis from its traditional, economy-oriented domain to the examination of all manner of social phenomena.

As I noted above, the course will emphasize primary source readings. It will also be very writing intensive, building on the notion reflected in my PTS project proposal that regular writing exercises in a variety of forms are important for mastery of both the intuitive and the technical sides of economic analysis.

I fully expect that this course, which will be offered to sophomore and junior honors students, will push me in ways that I have not previously been pushed as a professor. There is a great challenge in teaching a seminar class made up of 15-20 honors students—students who are on average better placed to deal with sophisticated literature and analysis than students one would encounter in one’s introductory economics courses, but yet who are not steeped in economic analysis because they are not economics majors.