By Allison Leon
Course Catalog: This course develops the economic theory of consumer choice. This theory characterizes optimal choices for consumers given their incomes and preferences, as well as the relative prices of different goods. This course develops tools for analyzing how these optimal choices change when relative prices and consumer incomes change. Finally, this course presents several measures of consumer welfare. Students learn how to evaluate the impact of taxes and subsidies using these measures. Completion of ECON 19800 is strongly recommended of students without a prior microeconomics course.
For some students in The Elements of Economic Analysis, the quieter days of summer are a perfect time to delve into the field of economics and seriously consider if it is the discipline in which they would like to major.
The course, taught by Victor Lima, Senior Lecturer in Economics and the College and Co-Director of Undergraduate Studies in Economics, introduces students to various methods of analysis that are used throughout the study of economics.
“I enjoy showing students the approach for the first time. It’s fun because many of the commonsensical results that come out of economics are only commonsensical once you’ve educated your common sense. One is building a foundation, and that takes time and has to be systematic and incremental.” says Lima.
Lima teaches the honors course during the regular academic year, and although the material is similar, the summer quarter allows for a different approach to the class.
“It’s taught to a smaller group of students. During the year, I teach three sections with an average of forty to fifty students, and it’s primarily lecture,” he says. “But during the summer, there are fewer students – this year, just eight or nine students -- so it’s easier to have a one-on-one with students in class. It becomes more of a discussion.”
Lima hopes students come out of the class with a better understanding of economics and how it can broaden our understanding of people and politics.
“I see the class as showcasing the power of the economic approach,” he says, “ and I believe the economic approach is extremely powerful in helping us understand the impact that policies might have and how people might respond to different sets of incentive that they face. I want to share understanding that with the students.”
Veronica Blau and Jennifer Liu are two students who took the class this summer.
Blau, a second year in the College, decided to get a head start on the sequence for the econ major, and opted to take this introductory course. That the course was available during the summer quarter and being taught by Lima played a role in her decision.
“I had heard that he works hard to make sure you know the material inside and out, and that’s exactly what he’s done,” she said. “His lectures are entertaining. He uses paradigms from the real world and connects it to things that we find interesting today. I leave every lecture knowing something new.”
She found that being on campus during the summer offers benefits to focusing on her work.
“Taking this now has given me more time to gain command over the material. Not being stressed with three other classes and being able to focus has been very beneficial. Because it’s the first class in the econ sequence, I thought it was important to have a good basis,” she says.
For Blau, choosing to pursue a major in economics is connected to her upbringing, as well as her strengths.
“I grew up surrounded by people in finance; it was the culture. I went to a private school where many of the parents are involved in finance,” said Blau, who is from New York City. “Coming to UChicago, it seemed like the right choice, combining a lot of my strengths and passions. Economics combines applied math and an understanding of human behavior, both of which I find particularly interesting. Finance, however, transforms and adapts economic theory into practice, while also requiring strong interpersonal skills.”
She’s also experiencing economics outside of the classroom by working as a research assistant, combining and analyzing data with with Michael Dinerstein, an assistant professor in economics at the College, and Constantine Yannelis, an assistant professor of finance at Chicago Booth. She began the position in January, as part of a project examining human capital depreciation in Greece as a result of forced unemployment, and plans to continue her work in the upcoming school year. She is also a member of the Undergraduate Investment Banking group, where students learn about the technicalities of investment banking.
Like Blau, Jennifer Liu, a second year in the College, was also aiming to get a better sense of the economics major when she decided to take this summer course. She is deciding between an economics and public policy major, and hoped the class would inform her decision. Like Blau, Lima’s reputation as a lecturer influenced Liu’s decision.
“I heard great things about Victor Lima, and I knew he usually teaches the honors course, so the fact that he was teaching an introductory course for the summer was a great opportunity,” she said. “He makes the class high energy: you’re always engaged. He asks a lot of questions to the class even though it’s small, and if we don’t have the answer, he helps us get to the point that we do.”
Outside of her classes, Liu is an intern at the local YWCA, a position she obtained during the school year through the UCSC. She is currently working in their Small Business Development Center.
“I am researching black-owned businesses on the South Side and seeing whether their business models were different from what is considered a typical business model. We are trying to see if there’s any framework we can provide as a support for businesses that are starting up.”
For Liu, the summer quarter has also allowed her to take advantage of what Chicago offers during this time of year. When she is not in class or at her internship, she attends dance classes at the Lou Conte Dance Studio and enjoys exploring the wide diversity of restaurants that the city offers.
“Summer classes offer the educational experience, but there’s also so much going on in Chicago at the same time. I’ve had the opportunity to explore the city in a way that I hadn’t before because I’m so busy during the academic year.”