Public Economics

Dec 2018

Okay, let me clear the air people. This is the first time I have ever given a CULPA review, but I felt that I was morally obliged to do so. If you are even thinking of taking this class, please slap yourself in the face, repeatedly. Multiple people I am taking the class with say unequivocally that it is the worst experience they have had in Columbia University. It's unfortunate, really, because Professor Kopczuk seems like a genuinely sweet man. The only problem is that his lectures are weapons-grade boring. Of the 70 kids enrolled in the class, only 12 went to lecture consistently. The PSETS are the core of the course, and good luck doing them without the TA's. Long story short, you most probably won't learn a bloody thing, and he is so boring it should be criminal. Literally, they should make a TV show with the contestants trying to stay awake or pay attention while he lectures. Please, for the love of everything sweet and holy in this world, stay away. P.S., I'm doing pretty well in the class so please don't think this is coming from a "jaded" reviewer. My only interest is the salvation of your soul.

Dec 2017

I would disagree on several key points with the last reviewer. At least in my experience, when there were only 24 people in the class, this course wasn’t a sleeper easy A, given less than 12 people in the class can receive A-range. Further, Wojciech does release Problem Set solutions, and he also provides copious practice problems before the final (with solutions) which serve as great study guides. His Problem Sets are very well-designed, in that they really provide understanding the underlying model of whatever topic is being addressed in the PSet. The midterm and final were relatively straightforward and similar to practice problems. One issue, however, was that the averages for the exams were actually too “high” (around 85-90%). One mistake moves you back substantially in the pack. Nevertheless, it’s good to know you don’t have to kill yourself studying for these exams. I personally enjoyed Wojiech's class because of the content he focused on. The second half the class focuses entirely on taxation, which was exciting because the class coincided with the tax reform bill so you could really understand the details of what was happening in Congress. However, for the two months, you are not working out of a textbook, so the lecture slides are all you have to rely on. Nevertheless, he knows tax policy extremely well (he’s recognized among fellow economists as a top scholar of taxation), so he teaches the course to his strength. Wojiech is generally a nice guy in office hours, he’s willing to talk about class material or other topics. However, he is a slow lecturer and doesn’t manage time well. This meant he had to continually revise his lecture schedule and occasionally drop lecture topics altogether. However, he’s very good in that he always posts slides ahead of time. My last comment is that if you have the choice of taking Wojciech or Francois Gerard for Public (in different semesters), take Wojciech. The main differences are the following: Wojciech takes a special focus on taxes, Gerard on healthcare. Gerard’s PSets ask you to read academic papers and don’t relate well to the exams. Lastly, Gerard is very rude and not easy to talk to during office hours (I took Gerard’s class for three weeks last year).

May 2015

Up there as one of the worst professors I've had at Columbia. He didn't make an effort to make class interesting or worth attending, and he certainly didn't make an effort to seem like he cared about his students. He was rather rude or callous at times to my own and my peers' concern about homework or exams. I took this class against the recommend of a friend, and I would not recommend it to others. At the same time, the material isn't horribly difficult to understand. This class probably ranks as an average to above average difficulty class in terms of economics electives depending on the person. Again, prof = bad.

Jan 2013

I have a slightly different perspective from the past reviewer. I think this course is a sleeper easy A; I think some people are put off by the "math" required and don't realize just how straightforward this class is. Ultimately it's not a very good lecture or class, but I did very well with minimal effort. Here's how. Lectures & Recitation: Went to maybe 2 lectures, if that, and slept through them. Seemed bad. Didn't attend a single recitation, but TAs were helpful via e-mail if needed and the review sessions for exams were also helpful. TL;DR: Don't attend unless your morals make you. Problem Sets: Problem sets are based relatively exclusively on the lectures; however, the lecture notes themselves are not very good and occasionally the book was a required tool in coming up with the answers. The PSets are the heart of the course. I was able to ace the tests because I took the time to understand how to solve the Psets. If you copy the Psets & don't understand your answer, you'll probably have a much more difficult time during the test. The Psets have two types of problems: Concepts & Mathematics. Concept Problems are very straightforward; they either make you copy a definition from the lecture notes or make you come up with examples of concepts that are defined in the lecture notes. They are generally not important for the tests but the finals had a couple. Don't get scared by "Mathematics," the Econ problems for this course are the relatively easy problems you did in Intermediate Microeconomics. Basically, you're dealing with Demand, Supply, MC...and that's pretty much it. You're shifting these lines to create DWL, PS, and CS and calculating those. That is the easy stuff in micro and it's a big part of this class. Further on the Mathematics Problems - Each problem set will highlight 2-3 types of "Mathematics Problems." For example, finding the amount of labor a person should spend given a certain utility curve; etc. etc. Work through these and understand how to solve them, and you'll be able to solve all of the other types of this problem, kind of like learning a language where once you're fluent, it's easy. Exams: Exams draw heavily from the problem sets. Thus, if you understand the Psets you should have a really good time, though there may be one or two twists and tricks you should keep an eye out for. The most important thing to do for Exams is to make sure you can solve all of the practice problems you're given in addition to Pset problems Just keep doing them over until you can solve them. If you do this, and then take the time to go over the lecture notes and memorize some of the key concepts (which are not many), you won't face many surprises on the test. Final Note: I strongly recommend getting a group together to work with when you're doing problem sets for this course. It not only helps pass the time, but also helps when studying for finals to have others with whom you can compare solutions to practice problems since the solutions are not given. TL;DR: Poor lecturer but straightforward class. Quite possible to get an A, though some don't because of inadequate understanding of the problem sets or practice problems.

Dec 2012

This class is not a great experience. For one, the TA's teach all the math. Kopczuk tries to go over it in class, but it's impossible to follow him. For one, he uses slides, so the steps of the math aren't explained thoroughly (in lecture or just on the slides). For another, he spends so much time in class talking about how the US tax system or welfare system or government is set up that he doesn't ever have time to cover the math. Don't go to lecture... So, if you take this class, plan your schedule around BOTH recitations, too. Because he sets up recitations on two different days, every two weeks. This way, every week you have a recitation, but the material in each different TA's recitation is supposed to be identical. (Does that make sense? So one TA will teach a recitation in Week 1 on Tuesday. Then the other TA will teach a recitation in Week 2 on Wednesday. Week 1 and Week 2's recitations are supposed to be identical). The thing is that, for one, sometimes weeks were skipped for recitations, so if you planned on going on Wednesday, you were screwed. For another, sometimes problem sets were one week apart, so these recitations were not identical. The TAs for this class (Ferran and David) were great, though! Ferran is really soft-spoken, but he helped a lot and was always able to understand and answer questions. David's sarcastic, witty, and really energetic. I, frankly, would have rather asked Ferran a question than David, but I would have rather been lectured by David. This class is Microeconomics 2.0, so if you didn't get Micro in Intermediate, don't bother taking this as an elective. Frankly, I think that unless you're a policy sci major or you really are interested in the material, there's better electives out there for you to take in the Econ department. I would not take this class if I had the option.

Jul 2012

If you should see his name come up and consider taking his class, don't. He was visiting Spring 2012. Exams are quite challenging, grading is pretty unreasonable, and he reads from slides so you can skip lecture, which I consider to be a terrible use of $4,000 and 10 weeks of one's life. Full disclosure, I'm in GS with all A's in econ. I got a B+ in the end but nearly 100 on all the problem sets and worked my tail off for the exams. No idea how you get an A but I have never consistently fallen asleep in a class at Columbia before this so aside from being surprised by the grade in the aftermath, I was fairly disappointed with the whole experience. It was a large lecture class but the attention from the TA's was lackluster and certainly didn't make up for the subpar leadership.

Dec 2010

Professor Kopczuk is a great guy and will go through great length to explain everything in an easy to understand way. It was my feeling that he has a broad knowledge of empirical research, and is often expressing opinion about the quality of such research and theories which is good, as opposed to simply dropping it on the class. He's fair and the problem sets and exams aren't tricky. I think he made a mistake during the first week or two of class, though, by going over basic economics stuff that people who are taking electives should be familiar with. I believe this, together with practically no class discussion (at least at the beginning) made a lot of the students skip class, which was a shame, since this sort of material is really helpful, especially when combined with data from actual research, to anyone who's interested in a career in public offices or policymaking. Overall it was a good class, he's a funny guy and very nice person, and I recommend this class as an economics elective. If not for the material, then simply because the majority of electives stink.

Dec 2005

This class doesn't have a textbook and reference material is pretty hard to find, but his notes are complete. The first third of the class is mostly micro (easy), and the second two thirds are mainly concerned with examing different types of decision making functions--this part is much more abstract than it sounds. His English is fine, and his accent wasn't a problem. He made most concepts interesting, but proofs of theorems often dragged on far too long. He didn't hold office hours every week, but he held extra ones before the midterm and the final. He was generally approcahable. This is a good class if you are comfortable with abstract concepts.

Dec 2005

1. Do not take it 2. Do not take it 3. Do not take it Prof. Miyagawa is the most unenthusiastic teacher in the entire university and it's also impossible to understand what he is saying during the class. A professor should help or encourage students to study the materials, but he does not really care about the students and his teaching. The school should do something about his attitude towards teaching. It seems like he only cares about his own research.

Dec 2003

First off, I have to echo a warning from another reviewer: the class didnÂ’t cover what most of my classmates expected. Public Economics is essentially the study of theoretical choice mechanisms. It has nothing to do with public policy, or anything of practical use for that matter. It was much like a Philosophy class in this respect. Some of my classmates found this very frustrating, but they dropped the class almost immediately. By the way, we covered different material than the previous sessions, so take all these reviews with a grain of salt, especially when it comes to content. I was relatively comfortable with the focus of the class, but found it exasperating for two other reasons. First, I have never experienced a dynamic in which there was so little interaction between a professor and his students. I could have been watching it all on video. Professor Miyagawa is extremely patient and helpful when a question arises, but it seems to throw him off track, and he never encouraged it. Thankfully, he shines when it comes to explaining difficult concepts and is very meticulous and organized in his lesson plan. It is best to just let him go and save your questions for later. (Unfortunately some of my classmates never caught on to this.) Second, there was no text, and very little homework. Personally, I need a text to help reinforce what is taught in class. The subject matter is so obscure that there was nothing in the library to help me through the rough spots. With only a few problem sets, I found it difficult to pace my study and had no idea how well I was retaining what had been taught. Also, because there were few problem sets, the midterm and the final essentially determines your grade. I was surprised both times with the questions we were asked on the exams. Unlike the previous review, I found the proofs largely irrelevant, although I do agree they were interesting. It wasnÂ’t all bad. Miyagawa is an animated and quirky professor, and class was more interesting than not. The theorems we explored were generally useless, but they were also genuinely interesting. I found this class very difficult. You really need a solid background in mathematical proofs, as well as microeconomics. Honestly, it seemed like a third of the class was completely lost, a third were struggling, and a third found it easy and couldnÂ’t understand what all the fuss was about. I was in the middle third. I managed to get by on what I know, but only because the curve was so strong. In short, I canÂ’t say I recommend this class, unless you are the type of person who wouldnÂ’t find fault with what IÂ’ve mentioned. Certain types of people just love this sort of thing, I know. As for me, IÂ’m going to look elsewhere next semester.

Jan 2003

I begin with a warning: The title of this class is strongly misleading. It is actually a course in social choice theory, which is mostly game theory applied in interesting ways to non-traditional problems, all related in varying degrees to problems of collective action. He begins by telling the class that it is a course in "mechanism design," which is kind of like game theory in reverse (that is, engineering situations so that agents acting in their own self-interest will come up with an arrangement favored by the engineer). Only the tail end of the course actually deals with this; most of the course instead covering a variety of subjects that have little to do with traditional economics--modeling marriage markets, finding optimal housing allocations, and in-depth studies of preferences over policy spaces (as well as much more). It's mostly game theory (but nothing like the game theory you learned in Micro or in the game theory elective). It straddles the line between economics and useless math, and has little real-world application, but is interesting and mind-expanding nonetheless. Those who fall faint at the sight of proofs, however, should avoid this class. Most of the class involves him writing theorems and proofs on the board. Don't run away though, the proofs are relevant and interesting. For instance, when he creates a model for dating and marriage, he proves that you should ask others to dinner rather than waiting to be asked out yourself. Pace is a bit slower than I would have liked, and the professor can sometimes be a bit disorganized (coming to class late and using the first 20 minutes of class to repeat the last 20 of the previous class, mostly). A highly recommended class, especially when compared to the absolute dead zone that comprises interesting economics electives in the department. Eiichi is very friendly and willing to help, and the TA is very knowledgeable. The subject matter, while a bit off-the-wall, is interesting and usually not too difficult to understand. He is usually clear on notation (although those not familiar with set theory notation would be advised to ask questions at the beginning), and everything that needs to be written down in your notebook makes it onto the blackboard. Since most of the class is proofs, we had only two problem sets over the course of the semester--the first one very east, and the second one (quite near the end) reasonably difficult. Midterm and Final are difficult--mean on the midterm was a 43 of 70. The majority of the test is relatively easy, and Miyagawa always manages to slip in a prove-on-the-fly question for the overachievers (that is, the math majors, who will find this class really quite easy). Grading is standard (B / B+ mean)