A note to instructors

Economy, Society, and Public Policy
by the CORE team

Target audience

Our target audience includes:

  • students at undergraduate and postgraduate level who are not taking economics as a major subject
  • anyone who wants to learn how to use economics to understand and articulate reasoned views on some of the most pressing policy problems facing our societies: inequality, financial instability, the future of work, climate change, wealth creation, and innovation
  • anyone who wants practical training in understanding and using data to measure the economy and policy effectiveness
  • anyone interested in social and economic policy, who is taking a degree related to policy, or is hoping to have a policy-related job in the future.


  • no prior courses in economics or statistics are required
  • familiarity with basic mathematical operations, percentages, decimals, 2-D graphs

Continuing in economics

  • After taking the ESPP course, many students who would like to engage with major policy problems but have found standard economics courses unappealing may want to study some more economics.
  • The course prepares students with a toolkit that will help those who wish to transition to more advanced economics courses to do so, if pathways are available.

Course design principles

  • Students begin their study of economics by understanding that the economy is situated within society and the biosphere.
  • Students study problems of identifying causation (not just correlation) through the use of natural experiments, lab experiments, and other quantitative methods.
  • Social interactions (modelled using simple game theory) and incomplete information (modelled using a series of principal–agent problems) are introduced from the beginning of the course.
  • A result is that phenomena studied by the other social sciences such as social norms and the exercise of power play a role. They are absent from typical economics courses.
  • For similar reasons, the insights of diverse schools of thought—from Marx and the classical economists to Hayek and Schumpeter—play an integral part in the course.
  • The way economists think about public policy is central to ESPP. This is introduced in Units 2 and 3, rather than later in the course.
  • Tailored to ESPP: Doing Economics. This is a set of step-by-step hands-on empirical projects that use real data sets to address important problems arising in the course. Each project allows the student to produce a finished report using skills that are transferable to other courses, and to the workplace.

Flexible course design

Economy, Society, and Public Policy can be taught either as a one-term or one-semester course, or as a two-term or two-semester course. It introduces the key economic actors: firms, customers, employees, owners, borrowers, and lenders as well as government policymakers, citizens as voters, and the central bank, plus their market and non-market interactions. A model of the aggregate economy is developed in Unit 8, which allows students to see how decisions made in the labour and product markets by owners, workers, and customers interact to determine unemployment and the distribution of income.

  • For a 10-week course: The first 10 units provide a self-contained introduction to economic actors and markets within a framework that illuminates reasons for public policy intervention. A one-semester course with 12–13 weeks, can also take in Units 11 and 12.
  • For a two-term or two-semester course to include macroeconomics: The instructor would combine Units 1–12 of ESPP with Units 13–17 from The Economy. Two weeks could be assigned for some of the units, to allow for data-based work.
  • For a two-term or two-semester course with a focus on public policy (but not on macroeconomic policy): A course can be formed from Units 1–12 plus the following: the unit on the future of work from The Economy (Unit 16 ‘Technological progress, employment, and living standards in the long run’, which does not rely on Units 13–15) and the four capstone units covering globalization (Unit 18), economic inequality (Unit 19), environmental sustainability (Unit 20), and innovation and the networked economy (Unit 21). There is plenty of material in these five units for a full term or semester of study.

ESPP and Doing Economics as part of a connected curriculum

Doing Economics: Empirical Projects by Eileen Tipoe and Ralf Becker

These hands-on projects are designed so that they can either be used independently, in conjunction with the ESPP units, or in conjunction with units from The Economy.

If you are teaching a social science, engineering, business and management, or public policy program in which students have to take an economics course and a quantitative methods course, you can use ESPP and Doing Economics projects to connect these parts of the curriculum.

Suggested course structures

Semester 1: Economy, Society, and Public Policy

Using units from Economy, Society, and Public Policy:

ESPP Unit Title Doing Economics
1 Capitalism and democracy: Affluence, inequality, and the environment Empirical Project 1: Measuring climate change (datasets: Goddard Institute for Space Studies temperature data; US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration CO~2~ data)
2 Social interactions and economic outcomes Empirical Project 2: Collecting and analysing data from experiments (datasets: student-generated experimental data; Hermann et al. 2008)
3 Public policy for fairness and efficiency Empirical Project 3: Measuring the effect of a sugar tax (datasets: Global Food Research Program’s Berkeley Store Price Survey; Silver et al. 2017)
4 Work, wellbeing, and scarcity Empirical Project 4: Measuring wellbeing (datasets: UN GDP data; Human Development Index)
5 Institutions, power, and inequality Empirical Project 5: Measuring inequality: Lorenz curves and Gini coefficients (dataset: Our world in data)
6 The firm: Employees, managers, and owners Empirical Project 6: Measuring management practices (dataset: World Management Survey)
7 Firms and markets for goods and services Empirical Project 7: Supply and demand (dataset: US market for watermelons (1930–1951); taken from Stewart (2018))
8 The labour market and product market: Unemployment and inequality Empirical Project 8: Measuring the non-monetary cost of unemployment (dataset: European Values Study)
9 The credit market: Borrowers, lenders, and the rate of interest Empirical Project 9: Credit-excluded households in a developing country (dataset: Ethiopian Socioeconomic Survey)
10 Banks, money, housing, and financial assets Empirical Project 10: Characteristics of banking systems around the world (dataset: World Bank Global Financial Development Database)
11 Market successes and failures Empirical Project 11: Measuring willingness to pay for climate change mitigation (dataset: German survey data, taken from Uehleke (2016))
12 Governments and markets in a democratic society Empirical Project 12: Government policies and popularity: Hong Kong cash handout (datasets: University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme and the Hong Kong poverty situation report (published by the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department))

Semester 2, option 1: Macroeconomic policy

Using units on the aggregate economy from The Economy:

Unit Title
13 Economic fluctuations and unemployment
14 Unemployment and fiscal policy
15 Inflation, unemployment, and monetary policy
16 Technological progress, employment, and living standards in the long run
17 Capstone: The Great Depression, golden age, and global financial crisis

Semester 2, option 2: Economic Policies for innovation, sustainability, and fairness

Using units from The Economy on the future of work, globalization, inequality, environment, and innovation:

Unit Title
16 Technological progress, employment, and living standards in the long run
18 Capstone: The nation and the world economy
19 Capstone: Economic inequality
20 Capstone: Economics of the environment
21 Capstone: Innovation, information, and the networked economy