Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Class Notes and Assignments - Week 1 (Monday, 8/8/11)

Government and Economics - Week 1 (Monday, 8/8/11)

I.  Introduction to Class
     A.  Textbooks
          1.  American Government, Thirteenth Edition, by Walter Volkomer
          2.  Naked Economics - Undressing the Dismal Science, by Charles Wheelan
          3.  All students currently have (or will have by the end of the day today) these books.
     B.  Main Ideas
          1.  Each of us will be affected by the kinds of economic and government system we have.
          2.  A premise of the study of economics is that individuals want to maximize their own utility.  People act in their own self interest.              
          3.  The system of government determines who has the "power" to decide how things work.  In our American system of government, we have decided that they power resides with the people.

II.  Background Information
     A.  American Government - The US Constitution
          1.  The document that spells out the way our government will work, the US Constitution, establishes three branches of government:
               - Legislative Branch:  has the power to make laws; the most powerful branch; Congress (House of Representatives and Senate)
               - Judicial Branch:  has the power to decide whether the laws are constitutional and therefore able to stand; the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land
               - Executive Branch:  the President; Commander in Chief of the military; has authority to veto acts of Congress
          2.  Federalist 10 and 51
               - Suggested reading for information about the intent of the founders
               - Deal specifically with "factions" and "checks and balances"
          3.  Amendments; Bill of Rights
               - introduced this "blog" ( as an example of the individual's freedom of expression that our Constitution protects
               - contrasts this freedom with the restrictions imposed upon citizens of other countries (specifically the Middle Eastern countries and the recent "Arab Spring")
     B.  Economics
          1.  The Relationship between Scarcity and Choice
               - Economics is referred to as the "Dismal Science" because it is the study of the allocation of limited resources
               - Used the survey of the public's attitude toward spending on public education as an example.  Click here for a blog post about this example.
          2.  First Acronyms of the Year:  LES or FES (Liberty/Freedom-Equality-Security)
               - We often confuse the term "equality."  Some think of equality of opportunity, and others think of equality of results.  The free market, capitalist society envisioned by our founders, and most Americans today, depends on the equality of opportunity as opposed to the equality of results.
               - As freedom of opportunity is enhanced, inequality of results tends to increase.
               - The attempt to ensure security usually comes at the expense of freedom.

III.  Assignments and Resources
          1.  Students are required to read one chapter from each of the books each week.  During our next class, we will discuss the first chapter from each book.
          2.  Students are encouraged to "practice good citizenship" (click here for a blog post dealing with this topic) by deciding how much time and energy to devote to learning about Government and Economics.  In addition to the assigned textbooks, the blog (, and other outside reading (Federalist 10 and 51, Self Reliance, etc) were mentioned as resources for eager students to expand their understanding of the topics that will be covered.
          3.  We request that students provide feedback about the class.  Which areas are the most confusing, the most interesting, etc.?

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