Peter J Wilcoxen > PAI 723 Economics for Public Decisions

Memo 1

Due Monday 2/27 via Blackboard

Choose either of the two case-study exercises assigned so far this semester (Exercise 3 on the gas tax or Exercise 4 on sugar trade restrictions) and prepare a 1-2 page memo on the policy examined in it. If you choose the gas tax, address your memo to the "Committee on Finance and Revenues" (part of the DC City Council); if you choose the sugar quota, address it to the "Senate Committee on Agriculture".   

If you haven't written this kind of memo before, it should have roughly the following structure: (1) a brief summary of the current situation and the proposed policy change; (2) a discussion of what your analysis says about the policy change (it should cover your key findings with concise explanations); and (3) an overall conclusion assessing the strengths and weakness of the policy as a way of achieving its explicit or implicit goals.  

The main purpose of the memo is to present all the facts as clearly as possible, NOT to express your personal opinion.  It's analytical reporting, not editorial writing.  For example, "Policy X costs more than Policy Y but delivers fewer benefits" is a factual critique and would be great in a memo.  Similarly, "Policy X is regressive" or "Policy Y is progressive" are also factual and appropriate for a memo. "Policy X is bad because it is unfair to Group Z" is an opinion and should be left out, although something like "Group Z might oppose Tax X because it bears a larger burden of the tax." is OK.

The memo should be clear and as free of technical jargon as possible: you are preparing it for people who are smart but not economists, and it's also likely that your memo would be circulated widely among the rest of the staff.  (Be sure to note prohibited technical terms in "More Tips on Writing a Policy Memo" below.) A graph or two can be used to illustrate key points but everything must be explained clearly in words as well.  

Please note that this is an individual assignment: you must write the memo yourself rather than working in a group. Also, this exercise is graded on the quality of your exposition: that is, how clearly and concisely you present the analysis.  With that said, please be sure to get the analytical details right: consult the answer sheet for the exercise, if necessary.

Format:

Please format your memo as professionally as possible.  Either single or double spacing is acceptable: single spacing is almost certainly what you'd use in professional circumstances but double spacing is also OK.  The maximum length is 2 single-spaced or three double-spaced pages. There's no explicit minimum length but if your memo is less than 1 single-spaced page you're probably being too terse.

Submitting:

Please submit the memo electronically via Blackboard.  PDF format would be best but other formats are OK if you don't have software that can produce PDF. 

Additional Information

Tips on Writing a Policy Memo
More Tips on Writing a Policy Memo
Grading Rubric
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Peter J Wilcoxen, The Maxwell School, Syracuse University
Revised 02/15/2017