Peter J Wilcoxen > PAI 300 Economics for Policy Analysis

General Information, Textbook, Software, and Requirements

Spring 2023

General information that you may need at the beginning of the semester.

Contact Information

Email address: wilcoxen at
Office hours time: Mon and Wed, 10:00-11:30 or by appointment
Office hours location:
Eggers 225

Course Web Site

All course materials, including instructions for assignments and the corresponding due dates, will be posted at the URL below. In addition, Microsoft Teams will be used for submitting most assignments. Blackboard will not be used.

Course Content

This course focuses on two skills needed for policy analysis: (1) economic modeling and analysis of decision-making by individuals and firms, including how both kinds of agents react to policy changes; and (2) professional quality quantitative analysis, writing, and presentation. Economic topics include demand, supply, competition, monopoly, welfare analysis, strategic behavior, market failure, decision-making under uncertainty, cost-benefit analysis. For a detailed list, see the Course Outline page.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course you will be able to: (1) construct quantitative economic models suitable for analyzing a wide range of decisions and policies; (2) use those models to analyze impacts on individuals, firms and governments; (3) discuss key economic concepts such as efficiency, elasticity, and net present value; (4) be comfortable building and using complex, professional-grade spreadsheets; (5) be comfortable analyzing large datasets; and (6) prepare professional-grade written documents and presentations.


No previous courses in economics are required. The math used will involve graphing, algebra and spreadsheets but no calculus.


There's no required textbook. However, if you'd find one useful, a good bet is Jeffrey Perloff's Microeconomics from Pearson/Addison-Wesley. It's totally optional. It's a good book but we're not going to follow it very closely. If you do decide to get a copy, it's not necessary to have the latest edition: renting the 6th or 7th edition rather than the 8th, for example, would be fine.


There are two required applications. Both are are covered by the University's Microsoft site license and available for free:

Microsoft Teams: phone and computer

Teams will be used for distributing and submitting most assignments. You'll need it on both your phone and your computer.

Microsoft Excel: computer

Many of the assignments will involve Excel. Please note that except in unusal circumstances you'll need to use Excel specifically, not Apple's Numbers or Google Sheets. The others are perfectly good spreadsheets but they have significant differences in their user interface and functionality that would add confusion during class.

Assignments and Grading

Grades will be based on the activities listed in the table below. The weight of each component in the overall semester grade is indicated in the "weight" column.

Component Weight Notes
Attendance and Daily Exercises
Weekly Exercises
Briefing Memos
16-24% See Flexibility Option below.
Flash Talks 16-24% See Flexibility Option below.

Attendance and Daily Exercises:

Attendance is required: you'll lose a point of your final grade for each day you're absent without being excused in writing in advance.

On most days there will be an exercise in class. They'll be graded on a 0-1 scale and almost entirely on effort: as long as you make an honest try and submit a response you'll get credit for it. However, if you don't give it a serious try or don't submit a response you'll get a 0.

On days when there is not a daily exercise, you'll get a point for being in class and a 0 if you miss class without having let me know in writing in advance.

Weekly Exercises:

These will be given out once a week and due the following week. They'll be graded on a 0-4 point scale. There will be about 8 total. Most will involve building Excel spreadsheets but there will be a few paper-and-pencil assignments as well.

Briefing Memos:

Three times during the semester the weekly exercise will be replaced by an assignment to write up the results of an analysis as a 1-2 page briefing memo. A briefing memo is a short document that's used to inform a policy maker about an issue. Here they will be very short memos that usually present a table of numbers, a graph or two, and a short description of where the numbers came from and what they show. They'll be graded on a 0-8 point scale.

Flash Talks:

Three times during the semester the weekly exercise will be replaced by an assignment to prepare and deliver a 5 minute "flash talk" on an economic policy issue or event of your choice. These assignments have two purposes: (1) to help you practice giving a top-notch presentation, and (2) to give you a chance to teach other people in class a little about a topic that interests you. They'll be graded on a 0-8 point scale.

Flexibility Option:

All together, there will be 6 memo and flash talk assignments. However, I'll drop the lowest score of the 6 so only 5 will count. In effect, you can skip either one memo or one talk. Overall, the memos and talks together will count for 40% of the final grade.

Working in Groups

Daily Exercises:

Working in groups is encouraged on the daily exercises: that will make them more fun and less frustrating.

Weekly Exercises:

Working in groups of up to three people is also encouraged on weekly exercises. If you work in a group, please be sure to note all of your collaborators on your assignment. Also, it's OK to submit a single answer for the whole group. Please don't share answers between groups, although it's OK to talk about the exercises with people outside your group in broad terms.

Briefing Memos:

On the memo assignments, you may do the analysis (e.g., calculations) with a group but you must write the memo individually. The exposition, from overall structure down to the actual text, should be yours alone. If you have any questions about this rule, please don't hesitate to ask.

Flash Talks:

Flash talks are individual assignments. However, it's OK to practice them in groups and give each other feedback.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility

The official University statement includes this commitment: "In our quest to become a campus community that embodies Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) and to live as an expression of belonging, becoming and bestowing, Syracuse University rejects and rebukes all forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, religious harassment and hostility, classism and all other forms of discrimination, othering, hate and non-accessibility in all its myriad expressions." This is personally important to me as well. If you ever feel discriminated against or unsupported because of your identity, please let me or someone else in the department know, or contact one of the resources on this page.

Academic Integrity

Syracuse University's Academic Integrity Policy reflects the high value that we, as a university community, place on honesty in academic work. The policy defines our expectations for academic honesty and holds students accountable for the integrity of all work they submit. Students should understand that it is their responsibility to learn about course-specific expectations, as well as about university-wide academic integrity expectations. The policy governs appropriate citation and use of sources, the integrity of work submitted in exams and assignments, and the veracity of signatures on attendance sheets and other verification of participation in class activities. The policy also prohibits students from submitting the same work in more than one class without receiving written authorization in advance from both instructors. Under the policy, students found in violation are subject to grade sanctions determined by the course instructor and non-grade sanctions determined by the School or College where the course is offered as described in the Violation and Sanction Classification Rubric. Syracuse University students are required to read an online summary of the University’s academic integrity expectations and provide an electronic signature agreeing to abide by them twice a year during pre-term check- in on MySlice.

Disability-Related Accommodations

Syracuse University values diversity and inclusion; we are committed to a climate of mutual respect and full participation. There may be aspects of the instruction or design of this course that result in barriers to your inclusion and full participation in this course. I invite any student to contact me to discuss strategies and/or accommodations (academic adjustments) that may be essential to your success and to collaborate with the Center for Disability Resources (CDR) in this process.

If you would like to discuss disability-accommodations or register with CDR, please visit Center for Disability Resources. Please call (315) 443-4498 or email for more detailed information. The CDR is responsible for coordinating disability-related academic accommodations and will work with the student to develop an access plan. Since academic accommodations may require early planning and generally are not provided retroactively, please contact CDR as soon as possible to begin this process.

Discrimination or Harassment

The University does not discriminate and prohibits harassment or discrimination related to any protected category including creed, ethnicity, citizenship, sexual orientation, national origin, sex, gender, pregnancy, disability, marital status, age, race, color, veteran status, military status, religion, sexual orientation, domestic violence status, genetic information, gender identity, gender expression or perceived gender.

Any complaint of discrimination or harassment related to any of these protected bases should be reported to Sheila Johnson-Willis, the University’s Chief Equal Opportunity & Title IX Officer. She is responsible for coordinating compliance efforts under various laws including Titles VI, VII, IX and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. She can be contacted at Equal Opportunity, Inclusion, and Resolution Services, 005 Steele Hall, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244-1120; by email:; or by telephone: 315-443-0211.

Religious Observances

SU religious observances notification and policy, found at the URL below, recognizes the diversity of faiths represented among the campus community and protects the rights of students, faculty, and staff to observe religious holidays according to their tradition.  Under the policy, students are provided an opportunity to make up any examination, study, or work requirements that may be missed due to a religious observance provided they notify their instructors before the end of the second week of classes for regular session classes and by the submission deadline for flexibly formatted classes. If you prefer, however, you can notify me directly by email. In either case, just check with me and we'll work out an arrangement that fits your schedule. More information is available here.

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Peter J Wilcoxen, The Maxwell School, Syracuse University
Revised 01/16/2023