Course Title: Economics for the Social Sciences

Part A: Course Overview

Course Title: Economics for the Social Sciences

Credit Points: 12

Course Code




Learning Mode

Teaching Period(s)


City Campus


330H Social Science & Planning


Sem 2 2006


City Campus


365H Global Studies, Soc Sci & Plng


Sem 2 2007,
Sem 2 2008,
Sem 2 2009,
Sem 2 2010,
Sem 2 2011,
Sem 2 2012

Course Coordinator: Prof. David Hayward

Course Coordinator Phone: +61 3 9925 8216

Course Coordinator

Course Coordinator Location: 37.2.11

Course Coordinator Availability: by appointment

Pre-requisite Courses and Assumed Knowledge and Capabilities


Course Description

This course is one of the six large Common Course Architecture courses of the School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning.  An economy can be understood as the various ways in which people cooperate with one another to transform nature into goods and services for use. There are many different ways in which an economy can be organised and over the next 12 weeks we will explore some of these. We will show how the Australian economy operates and compare it with other developed economies to see how and in what way we are different.

Economies are the subject of intense investigation and analysis. This is the subject matter of the discipline of Economics. While it is often assumed that Economics is a unified discipline in which there is broad agreement, this is in fact not so. Economists frequently disagree not just in terms of their understandings but also in terms of their recommendations for making things better. The various ‘schools of thought’ within Economics form an object of interest for this course. Our concern is not with their theories, but the values that underpin them and which cohere to form reasonable consistent sets of ideas or ideologies.

Over the last three decades Australia’s public life, its media and public policy have been increasingly affected by the ideas, vocabulary and arguments promoted by economists. In these debates, one particular ideology has been dominant. We call this neoliberalism (others call it economic rationalism or economic fundamentalism). According to this ideology, everything already is, or could potentially be, a commodity;

• nearly everything is percieved to be sold in markets or talked about as if this should be so;
• private property is seen to be superior to other forms of property (such as collective forms of property), and the role of government is recommended to be kept as limited as possible;
• the scope of politics and policy interventions is substantially narrowed to questions of economic management;
• certain notions of rationality, measurement, cost-benefit analysis and utility dominate.

This signifies a huge shift in the ways we humans now understand ourselves, our lives, the planet, our future, our biographic life course, the things that matter, and the ways we live.

We will consider questions like the following:

• why should economics be of interest to us?
• How much choice do you have in participating in the economy?
• how does ‘the economy’ impact directly on your life?
• How does the Australian economy compare to others?
• What role should governments play in intervening in the economy and how?
• Should governments try to reduce inequalities, and if so by how much and through what means?

This course introduces economics to students studying first year in the following degree programs: Social Work; Psychology; Policy and Research; Environment; Planning; Legal and Dispute Studies.

Economics is a necessary course to understand for all these degrees. Our view is that when you graduate from RMIT – whichever degree program you have completed in the School – you will need to work in a context shaped by economics and economists. To engage in the debate, to be credible and be heard, you will need to know something of the common assumptions, language and analytical priorities of mainstream economists.

These days you will find it almost impossible to avoid key economic ideas like ‘market forces’, ‘budgets’, ‘costs’, ‘trade-offs’, ‘incentives’ and ‘efficiency’. This is true whether you end up working as a social worker, a psychologist or counsellor, a policy researcher, an environmental policy-maker or activist, an urban planner, or working in a legal context.

Hence, the design of this course reflects our commitment to enlarge your understanding of the world, beyond the specialised professional program that has brought you to this university. We can promise you an exciting and thought-provoking experience over the next 12 weeks.

The course is taught in a way which makes direct connections to each of the different degree programs.

All tutorials will be program specific except for the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) tutorial.

In this course we explore a number of key questions:

• What is economics about?
• Why is economics a social science?
• What kind of issues preoccupy economists?
• Why do economic ideas matter?
• How is economics related to social, political and environmental issues?
• How adequate are economists’ accounts of human conduct, human needs and how those needs are best satisfied?

Objectives/Learning Outcomes/Capability Development

The objective of this course is for you to begin to understand some of the ways we now live in a world that is pervaded by economic terms, data and analyses, and to respond to this following reflection on the specific topics covered each week in the course.

By the end of this course you will be able to identify and use some of the key words/concepts/vocabulary of ‘economics’, and understand how these words are then strung together in various theoretical ways and identify and critically evaluate some of the characteristic ways of seeing/thinking that characterise neo-classical economics. You will engage in and use some of the core generic technical and critical intellectual skills to do so, for example with reading, writing and researching and engaging reflexively and critically with ideas, propositions and knowledge claims.

We want you to be able to read, think and act effectively in a world in which economic ideas matter.

We want you to be able to read accurately, analytically and critically about social issues from an economic perspective. Some of the material supplied will include writings by economists and those who are sympathetic to an economic interpretation of the world. Throughout this semester, we will help you to become more comfortable in engaging with and thinking about economic issues, the value of economic vocabulary, the credibility of common assumptions, and the kinds of evidence made in support of economists’ claims.

But we want you to do more than this. By presenting arguments that are reflective and critical of mainstream economic positions we also want you to find your own voice. This involves forming your own reasoned responses to what other people - including world famous experts, writers and journalists and policy-makers - have to say. To do this you need to do the single hardest thing we are ever asked to do: to think well. This involves thinking with and against the vocabularies and intellectual schemes offered by the various disciplines and schools of thought that you are studying … including economics. In this way you will develop an evolving, clearer sense of what you think and why. So, by the end of this course, perhaps some of you will want to ‘think like an economist’ while others will see this as being ‘unhelpful’ In either case you will be able to say why and do this with clarity.

At the end of this course you will be able to:

• Identify, describe, understand and use some of the vocabulary of various economists and apply their intellectual frameworks in your understanding of the contemporary world;

• Think critically about a range of economic problems that matter to you and to your future profession;

• Identify and establish the extent to which economists are able to describe the contemporary real world accurately and assist us to make good practical judgements or to inform practical interventions that tackle various social issues.

In this course you will develop the following program capabilities:
• Critical analysis
• Knowledge
• Social responsibility
• Technical and professional skills

Overview of Learning Activities

You will be able to use a variety of opportunities to learn in this course. Lectures are designed to excite, engage, inform and stimulate you ideally to think about some big and important social questions as well as showing how and why certain key ideas matter. The lectures will do this by setting up big simple narratives and ‘beautiful problems’ about the keys ideas, persistent problems and skills you are being asked to pay attention to each week in the workshops.

Workshops are program-specific, giving you and your teacher the opportunity to pursue ideas, themes and problems specific to your vocational/professional practices. Workshops will also be designed for you to engage in discrete weekly learning activities that provide opportunities for building up various assessment activities, as well as helping you to develop your university learning abilities.

All of these learning strategies will rely upon students preparing for the tutorials by undertaking the prescribed weekly reading(s). It is expected that you will also further read about and follow up issues and ideas which particularly interest you in your own time. Additional electronic resources of various kinds including lecture summaries and other resources useful for the assignments will also become available throughout the semester.
Tutorials are program-specific (but Psychology and Social Work may be together), giving you and your teacher the opportunity to pursue ideas, themes and problems specific to your vocational/professional practices. Tutorials will also be designed for you to engage in discrete weekly learning activities that provide opportunities for building up various assessment activities, as well as helping you to develop your university learning abilities.

Overview of Learning Resources

Learning material for this course will either be made available in some lectures or in electronic format on the Online Learning Hub.  There may be a text or a reading pack to purchase.

Overview of Assessment

You will demonstrate your learning in this course by completing assessment tasks with a total word length or equivalent of 4,000 words.