Peter J Wilcoxen > PAI 723 Economics for Public Decisions

Memo 1

Due Sunday 10/4 by 11:59 pm.

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 clear and concise memo summarizing the policy's economic impacts.

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 and provide 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 avoid the 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.

Recipients, Sources and Format:

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". 

When you need to refer to any of the numbers that were given in the original assignments (e.g., information about demand curves or elasticities) you can give the source as the "Bureau of Statistics". Please note that this applies only to numbers given in the exercise: nothing that you calculated yourself should be attributed to the Bureau.

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 two single-spaced or three double-spaced pages. There's no explicit minimum length but if your memo is less than one single-spaced page you're probably being too terse.


Please submit a Word or PDF file on Blackboard.

Additional Information

Information from July 2018 Colloquium  
Tips on Writing a Policy Memo  
More Tips on Writing a Policy Memo  
Grading Rubric  
Site Index | Zoom | Admin
Peter J Wilcoxen, The Maxwell School, Syracuse University
Revised 09/28/2020