Introductory Economics Course at CSU Focuses on the Impacts of COVID-19

A group of seven Colorado State University professors took a new approach to an Economics 101 course this fall, teaching as a team focusing on the impacts of COVID-19.

Terry iverson

An excerpt from the class in which students discussed the monetary value of a human life with Associate Professor Terry Iverson was featured in an article in The New Yorker this month and The Denver Channel.

But the course, which was conducted remotely, was much larger than that. Professors in the Department of Economics each taught a section of the class, covering their particular areas of expertise. These included impacts on marginalized groups, food production / agriculture and higher education. There was even a section on “greening” the post-COVID economy with sustainability efforts, a section taught by renowned environmental economist Ed Barbier.

Iverson was the one who came up with the idea of ​​team-teaching the COVID-19 course late last spring, and he served as the lead instructor for all 60 students in the class.

“The idea was to use COVID-19 as a prism, or mirror, to examine our existing socio-economic systems, particularly the growing precariousness of work and the dual threat to lives and livelihoods posed by pandemic, ”said Professor Ramaa Vasudevan, another instructor of the course.

Ramaa Vasudevan
Ramaa Vasudevan

Competing interests

In the conversation highlighted by The New Yorker, the students presented their first ideas about the value of a life as they reflected on a dilemma that many sectors of society have faced over the past year: how to reconcile public health and economic health? What is the right compromise between saving lives and saving jobs?

Professors Alex Bernasek and Elissa Braunstein, Head of Department, also played a role in teaching the course.

They agreed that the pandemic not only created new inequalities, but exacerbated existing ones that lay just below the surface of a fragile economy. They pointed out that working women – especially women of color – have been disproportionately harmed by COVID-19, as women are more likely to be the primary caregivers for loved ones. This includes their own children, many of whom were homeschooled in 2020.

Elissa braunstein
Elissa braunstein

Braunstein, whose section of the course covered “the economics of care,” explained that the pandemic has forced many women to make choices between childcare and work, resulting in higher levels of unemployment or under. -use.

Vasudevan said the class went beyond examining things like race and gender to incorporate social class and work relationships. She also compared and contrasted the Fed’s response to the financial crisis of 2020 with its response to the Great Recession of 2008, to explain the social power of finance in the economy.

Colorado impacts

Bernasek said that in Colorado in particular, Hispanic women have been one of the groups most affected by the pandemic. Tourism is a key sector of the state’s economy, she noted, and the service / hospitality industry – from restaurants and bars to hotels – has been among the hardest hit by COVID -19, especially in rural and mountainous Colorado counties which rely heavily on visitors dollars.

Bernasek added that in the section she taught with Professor Steven Shulman, they even covered funding for higher education in Colorado, with colleges and universities like CSU becoming increasingly dependent on fee income. education while state funding has become scarce in recent decades.

Alex Bernasek
Alex Bernasek

“The students were certainly introduced to things they didn’t understand before,” Bernasek said. “It was fun to work together and coordinate to bring in our different perspectives.”

For one of the students’ last homework, Iverson had them pretend it was last August and they were writing a policy proposal for Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on what to demand from CSU, given what they now know about the pandemic and their experience as students this semester.

Returning to the question of what a life is worth, Iverson wrote in the assignment, “In thinking about these questions, please take into account the university’s moral obligations to its students, its health and safety obligations. towards the public and the existing economic conditions. constraints facing the university.

The Department of Economics is part of CSU College of Liberal Arts.