Example Course 9: Economics for a Better World

Using economics for a better world: thinking about normative principles and comparing different visions for future economies

Example Courses

In this chapter, we demonstrate how to create actual courses using the Economy Studies design toolkit, showing various example courses. Each of these courses flows from our central philosophy: teach students how to study the economy, rather than teaching them one form of economic thinking in the abstract. In terms of our principles, they vary: some of these example courses focus more on pluralism, others on real-world economics, others yet on thinking about values. As for the building blocks, each of the example courses uses at least one of the ten building blocks, while most use more than one.

These courses are described rather briefly in this chapter, as full syllabi, slides or exam questions would take up too much space in a physical book. More extensive course descriptions, syllabi and teaching material can be found in the online database of our partner organisation Exploring Economics.

The courses shown here are highly diverse, and mainly intended to inspire and to show the range of possibilities. Depending on the knowledge available within a department, the courses designed there could be vastly different from the examples shown here.

Example Courses:

  1. The Challenges of Our Time (Main BB1, Additional BB2, BB3, BB8, BB9, BB10)
  2. Argentina and the IMF (Main BB9, Additional BB2, BB3, BB6, BB8, BB10)
  3. The Economics of Oil (Main BB8, Additional BB3, BB6)
  4. A Historical Perspective on Economic Success (Main BB4, Additional BB1, BB6)
  5. The Digital Economy of South Korea (Main BB2, Additional BB3, BB5, BB6)
  6. Agent-Based Modelling (Main BB7, Additional BB4, BB9)
  7. The World of Production (Main BB8, Additional BB2, BB3, BB4, BB5)
  8. The Political-Economic System of India (Main BB6, Additional BB2, BB3, BB10)
  9. Economics for a Better World (Main BB10, Additional BB1, BB2)
  10. Coordination and Allocation Mechanisms in Norwegian Agriculture (Main BB5, Additional BB2, BB3)
  11. The Economics of Financial Crises (Main BB8, Additional BB3, BB4, BB6)

Example Course 9: Economics for a Better World

Course outline:

The first half of the course is devoted to introducing the various ethical philosophies and principles on the basis of which normative economic decisions can be made. These include the utilitarian principles such as Pareto and Kaldor-Hicks efficiency that are often applied in welfare economics, as well as other ethical principles such as fairness, legitimacy, security, stability, and reciprocity. Besides learning about these abstract ideas, students learn about how citizens think about various normative questions through looking at public opinion surveys and interviews.

Students are given weekly assignments of moral dilemmas concerning economic issues and given the assignment to work out, according to a randomly assigned moral principle, what the decision should be. Furthermore, the students are always asked in a follow up question to reflect upon this and explain what their own position would be and how that relates to the principle.

The second part of the course is devoted to normative visions on how the economy should look. Firstly, the focus is on normative debates and political ideologies surrounding political-economic systems and economic mechanisms. Secondly, attention is paid to normative questions surrounding today’s main societal challenges. For both aspects, it is important to ground discussions in real world knowledge of the history and current situation and developments. 

For this second part of the course, students have to choose one societal challenge and work in small groups to write an overview about the different visions on the future concerning this issue and present this to the class. After these presentations, students debate with each other over what visions they find most convincing. As a final exercise students need to write an essay in which they need to make the argument for specific policies concerning a societal challenge on the basis of certain normative principles and vision. 

Teaching Materials:

  • The Routledge Handbook of Ethics and Public Policy: The book discusses the ethics of many public policy areas such as trade, tax, central banking, minimum income, health, development and climate policy.
  • A Guide to Ethics and Public Policy: Finding Our Way by D. Don Welch
  • Moral Views on Market Society by Fourcade
  • Jacobs, M., & Mazzucato, M. (Eds.). (2016). Rethinking capitalism: Economics and policy for sustainable and inclusive growth. John Wiley & Sons.
  • What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel
  • The Routledge Companion to Social and Political Philosophy: Especially part 2 on Political Theories and Ideologies, 3 on Normative Foundations, 4 on Distributive Justice, and 8 on Issues in Social and Political Philosophy.

Required background knowledge:

Introducing the Economy (BB1), Economic Organizations and Mechanisms (BB5), Political-Economic Systems (BB6)

Nominal workload:

6 ECTS (180 hrs)

This course uses the following building blocks:


  • Economics for a Better World (BB10)


  • Introducing the Economy (BB1)
  • Know your own Economy (BB2)