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Economics with a Twist

Master's in Public Administration

Economics with a Twist

MPA Program at CCNY

MPA students in Professor Brett Whysel’s economics course learn how individual financial decisions are connected to economic issues affecting our broader society, and they gain valuable decision-making skills to boot.  
 
The interdisciplinary course integrates psychology, decision-making, and behavioral economics with the traditional concepts taught in public economics courses, such as externalities, public goods, and fiscal policy.
 
Professor Whysel, who designed the course, draws on his background in philosophy and investment banking as well as his current role as co-founder of Decision Fish, a robust financial empowerment program that was featured as a Best-for-NYC changemaker business
 
“One thing the course adds to what is already out there is its close examination of people’s economic decisions, beyond the standard assumptions of rationality,” Whysel said. “We are amidst a widespread personal financial crisis in this country, with too many people living paycheck-to-paycheck, and helping people make sound decisions is a way out of this crisis.” 
 
Professor Whysel aims to help MPA students develop critical thinking and evidence-based logical reasoning in order to make better decisions as leaders of social change.
 
Students also learn how public policies can foster sound decision-making by changing incentive structures and access to information. Meanwhile, each week students develop a hard skill such as financial forecasting, data analysis, or cost-benefit analysis.
 
Grading in the course is based on students’ participation in a team project, rather than exams or quizzes. “Students tend to just cram for exams and then forget everything afterward,” said Whysel. “They’ll learn more if they care about the topic they are working on.”
 
Teams are formed through “affinity mapping”, a process growing in popularity in the management niche known as User Experience Design, whereby students group according to their common social concern.
 
After forming groups, the students develop a shared vision for change and decide on a concrete economic policy proposal that they work on week-by-week throughout the semester. 
 
Ultimately, the course teaches problem-solving on both a personal and society-wide level. “My hope is that when students go into the workplace, they’ll know what tools exist and where to go to find them,” Whysel commented. “I hope to teach them to be life-long learners.”
 
When he isn’t teaching, Professor Whysel is a contributor at Forbes - you can read his articles here  - and organizer of the Behavioral Economics NYC Meetup.