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Introduction to Economics


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 4
  • Convenor: Professor Stephen Wright
  • Assessment: a two-hour final examination (50%) and coursework (50%)

Module description

The aim of this module is to introduce core issues in economics, with a particular emphasis on the role of evidence, contemporary and historical, and fundamental economic principles. This is Year 1, so the module will not attempt to provide final answers, or complete coverage of the subject; among other things, we will be setting the scene for what you will learn in subsequent modules. It will reflect the consensus, and absence of it, on economic theories and evidence, and the problems of establishing what might be true in this area.

The module will be centred on an exciting development: the Core Economics Project, the result of continuing collaboration among major universities throughout the world to produce a new module, more relevant to the modern world and to the lives of today’s students. It is currently being used at UCL, Kings College London, Bristol University, Columbia University (New York), the Central European University (Budapest), Sciences Po (Paris), the University of Chile, in Sydney, and in many other places. It is continuously evolving in response to current developments and student feedback.

Core provides a combination of a textbook (in interactive e-book form, or in PDF format), videos and interactive exercises. All the material can be accessed from a PC or a smartphone. Note that it is not accessed via Moodle. But it is straightforward to register at (you do not need any authorisation from Birkbeck; it is all open access).

At various points in the module we may also make use of some supplementary teaching materials that will usually be provided online.

Learning objectives

At the end of the module, you should be able to demonstrate that you:

  • know and understand key features of economic data, in modern economies and in the process of historical development
  • can identify the roles of key elements of a modern economy: firms, workers, consumers, markets, technology and financial institutions
  • can use key economic principles, such as the insights that can be gained from models of constrained choice
  • can identify key policy issues
  • understand the role of models, competing theories and empirical evidence
  • understand and are able to explain the basis for the supply and demand framework under competitive markets
  • can explain how failures of competition can change outcomes in certain circumstances, for example, the impact of monopoly power, externalities; incomplete markets; strategic behaviour and altruism
  • understand evidence and various theories relating to macroeconomics:
    • the workings of an economy as a whole
    • the role of banks and money
    • the causes and effects of business cycles and unemployment
    • innovation, growth, development and inequality
    • the possibilities of public policy to stabilise and promote growth
    • international trade and finance and crises.