Peter J Wilcoxen > PAI 300 Economics for Policy Analysis

General Information, Textbook, Software, and Requirements

Spring 2024

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, 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. You'll need to use Excel specifically, not Apple's Numbers or Google Sheets. Also, for all but the first few assignments it will need to be the full app installed on your computer rather than the web version (the default in Teams). You may want to download it soon if you don't have it already.

Assignments and Grading

Grades will be based on the activities listed in the table below. Each category counts for about a third of the overall semester grade.

Component Notes
Attendance and Daily Exercises
1 point each, about 30 total
Weekly Exercises
4 points each, about 7 total
Briefing Memos and Flash Talks
8 points each, 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 one or two exercises 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.

Many of the daily exercises will involve spreadsheets, so you should be sure to bring your computer.

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 about once a week and due the following week. There will be 6-8 total and they'll be graded on a 0-4 point scale. Most will involve building Excel spreadsheets but there will be a few paper-and-pencil assignments as well.

Briefing Memos:

About 2-3 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:

About 3 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 about 5-6 memo and flash talk assignments. However, I'll drop the lowest score so only 4-5 will count. In effect, you can skip either one memo or one talk.

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.

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.

Using AI Tools

Artificial intelligence tools may be used in certain assignments but not others. Please follow the guidelines below. Check with me if you have any questions.

Prohibited uses: daily and weekly exercises

Daily and weekly exercises are intended to build your own analytical and spreadsheet skills and AI may not be used.

Allowed use: flash talks, under the rules given below.

AI may be used to help prepare flash talks. It is unlikely to be helpful in designing the actual presentation, which will have few words, but it may be used in background research and for developing custom illustrations, subject to the following stipulations:

  1. All flash talks must include an "AI Disclosure" line on the title page indicating whether or not AI was used in developing the presentation and, if it was, the name of the tool and what you did with it.

  2. Verifiable citations to sources other than the AI must be provided for all assertions, illustrations, or graphics that aren't the result of your own calculations. This verification is essential to ensure that your presentation isn't corrupted by an AI hallucination. Any facts or illustrations without citations will be subject to a significant penalty. 
Allowed use: memos, under the rules given below.

AI may not be used to carry out the analysis in a memo assignment but it may be used to improve the memo's exposition (grammar, spelling, word choice, logical order, and so on). Examples of permissible expositional uses include: composing a first draft from an outline; refining the wording of specific paragraphs; making the text clearer and more concise; or polishing the memo at the end. However, any use of AI is subject to the following stipulations:

  1. All memos must include an "AI Disclosure" heading at the top after the To, From, Date and Subject headings that indicates whether or not AI was used and, if it was, includes the name of the tool and what you did with it;

  2. If you use AI, you agree to include the disclosure heading if you subsequently submit the memo to a potential employer or other party as a writing sample;

  3. If you use AI, it should only be used to improve the exposition, not to add any detail. In particular, the memo must be carefully vetted to make sure that the AI tool does not hallucinate or add any material or information beyond what was given in the assignment. Any added material will be subject to a significant penalty.
Also, you must not let an AI add anything beyond the specific details in the assignment and your results, even if you know the AI's addition to be true. That's because the purpose of the memos in this class is to help you practice summarizing the results of an economic analysis that you've done clearly and concisely. They are not intended as open-ended research papers.

Finally, the penalties in the second flash talk rule and the third memo rule are serious and there for an important reason: in the future it will be your professional responsibility to understand and be able to defend anything you write, and you'll need to avoid letting an AI add anything that might not be true.

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 holds students accountable for the integrity of all work they submit and for upholding course-specific, as well as university-wide, academic integrity expectations. The policy governs citation and use of sources, the integrity of work submitted in exams and assignments, and truthfulness in all academic matters, including course attendance and participation. The policy states that any work a student submits for a course must be solely their own unless the instructor explicitly allows collaboration or editing. The policy also requires students to acknowledge their use of other peoples’ language, images or other original creative or scholarly work through appropriate citation.

These expectations extend to the new, fast-growing realm of artificial intelligence (AI) as well as to the use of websites that charge fees or require uploading of course materials to obtain exam solutions or assignments. Students are required to ask their instructor whether use of these tools is permitted – and if so, to what extent – before using them to complete any assignment or exam. Students are also required to seek advance permission from instructors if they wish to submit the same work in more than one course. Failure to receive this permission in advance may violate the Academic Integrity Policy. Under the policy, instructors who seek to penalize a student for a suspected violation must first report the violation to the Center for Learning and Student Success (CLASS). Students may not drop or withdraw from courses in which they face a suspected violation. Instructors must wait to assign a final course grade until a suspected violation is reviewed and upheld or overturned.

Upholding Academic Integrity includes abiding by instructors’ individual course expectations, which may include the protection of their intellectual property. Students should not upload, distribute, or otherwise share instructors’ course materials without permission. Students found in violation of the policy 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 outlined in the Violation and Sanction Classification Rubric. 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.

The use of AI tools for course assignments is discussed in detail in the syllabus section "Using AI Tools".

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility

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. It 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.

This is personally important to me as well. If you ever feel discriminated against or unsupported because of your identity, please don't hesitate to let me or someone else in the department know, or contact one of the resources on this page.

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.

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 01/16/2024