Course Syllabus


PLA 4151

Economics for Planners

Moshe Adler


Cities are run by city-governments.  These governments are providers of infrastructure and goods themselves and they also regulate the provision of goods by private firms; they promote health and welfare through land use and environmental regulation; and they are charged with ensuring that political power and economic resources will be distributed equitably. Yet governments operate in societies where resource allocation is governed primarily by markets. Economics provides tools, frequently controversial, to guide decisions about when and how government should be involved in providing or subsidizing services and in shaping market activity.


The first part of the course covers the fundamentals of economic analysis. The rest of the course applies these tools to urban issues.  The articles that the course covers are posted on courseworks.

The books for this course are on reserve:

Moshe Adler, Economics for the Rest of Us, the New Press, 2010 (also in Chines and Korean)

Heilbrun James, Urban Economics and Public Policy

Roger G. Noll and Andrew Zimbalist, Editors, Sports, Jobs, and Taxes:  The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums, Brookings Institute Press, Washington D.C., 1997

Hal Varian:  Intermediate Micro

Peter Lindert, Growing public: social spending and economic growth since the eighteenth century, Cambridge, 2004.

Articles are in a reader available from Village Copier, 1181 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10027  (212) 666-4777.

You will benefit from reading the first assignment before the first class.


Weekly assignment --30% of grade




I.         The Market and Pareto Efficiency

                        Adler, Chapters 2-4


II.         Utilitarianism    

Adler, Chapters 1-3

00.  Bentham: “Propositions of Pathology on which the advantage of Equality is founded”


III. Planning in whose interest?

Capture Theory 

01.  George J. Stigler, “The Theory of Economic Regulation,” The Bell Journal of Economics, 1971, pp. 3-21.

Direct Democracy

02.  John G. Matsusaka, Direct Democracy Works, Journal of Economic Perspective, Vol. 19, No. 2, Spring 2005

The Voting Paradox

Class Discussion

03.  Emily Badger, “The Bipartisan Cry of ‘Not in My Backyard’ ,” The New York Times, August 21, 2018


IV.         Fundamentals of Policy Evaluation

Marginal Cost Pricing

04.  Class Presentation

Consumer and Producer Surpluses:

Class Presentation                                   

Income levels and the demand for public goods

05.  Laurie Bates and Rexford Santerre, “The Public Demand for Open Space,” Journal of Urban Economics, 50, 97-111, 2001.           

Policy Evaluation in practice

     Sport Stadiums

06.  Noll & Zimbalist, Ch. 3

07.  Gerald Carlino and N. Edward Coulson, “Compensating differentials and the social benefits of the NFL,”Journal of Urban Economics, 56, 2004, 25–50.           


V.         Public Goods

The Economics of Public Goods

Class Presentation (Lindhal taxation)

Revelation Mechanism

08.  Class Presentation

Public Goods and Economic Efficiency

09.  Laurie Bates and Rexford Santerre, “The impact of a state mandated expenditure floor on aggregate property values,” Journal of Urban Economics,  53, 531-540, May, 2003

10.  Zhiqiang Liu . “The external returns to education: Evidence from Chinese cities.” Journal of Urban Economics, Volume 61, Number 3 (May 2007), pp. 542-564

11.a  Henrik Jacobsen Kleven, “How Can Scandinavians Tax So Much?” Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 28, Number 4—Fall 2014—Pages 77–98

11.b  OECD, Technology Tools to Tackle Tax Evasion and Tax Fraud,  Chapter 4, Taxing the Sharing Economy, 2017

12.  International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Simon Bowers, "Leaked Documents Expose Secret Tale of Apple’s Offshore Island Hop," Nov. 6, 2017


VI.  The Effect of Technology and New Plants on Cities and Work

13.  Edward Glaeser, “Are Cities Dying?”  Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Spring, 1998), 139-160

14.  Sari Pekkala Kerr, William Kerr, Çaglar Özden, and Christopher Parsons ,"Global Talent Flows," Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 30, Number 4—Fall 2016—Pages 83–106

15. J.Vernon Henderson, "Cities and Development," Journal of Regional Science, 50, 1, 2010, 515-540

16.  Michael Greenstone, Enrico Moretti, "Bidding for Industrial Plants," NBER, Working Paper 9844


VII.         Transportation and Mass Transit:

Getting People Out of the Car and onto Mass Transit

17.  Todd Litman, Transit Price Elasticities 

Roads and Traffic

18.  S. Cairns, S. Atkins and P. Goodwin,  "Disappearing traffic? The story so far."

VIII-IX. Externalities

19.  Ronald Coase, "The Problem of Social Cost," Journal of Law and Economics, 1960

  1. Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science, New Series, Vol. 162, No. 3859 (Dec. 13, 1968), 1243-1248

21.  Edward Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko, “The Economic Implications of Housing
Supply,” Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 32, Number 1—Winter 2018—Pages 3–30.

22.Elinor Ostrom, "Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems," Nobel Prize Lecture, 2009.

X-XI.  Segregation and Intervention

23.  Bo Zhao, Jan Ondrich and John Yinger "Why do real estate brokers continue to discriminate? Evidence from the 2000 Housing Discrimination Study," Journal of Urban Economics, May 2006 Pages 394-419.

24.  Andrew Hanson, Zackary Hawley  “Do landlords discriminate in the rental housing market? Evidence from an internet field experiment in US cities,”  Journal of Urban Economics, 70 (2011) 90-114

25.  Justin McCrary, “The Effect of Court-Ordered Hiring Quotas on the Composition and Quality of Police,” The American Economic Review, March 2007, 318-353

26.  David M Cutler, Edward L Glaeser and Jacob L Vigdor "The rise and decline of the American ghetto," The Journal of Political Economy, June 1999.


XII.       Subverting the Plan      

27.  John D Donahue, "Tiebout? Or not Tiebout? The market metaphor and America's devolution debate," The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Fall 1997, 73-82.

28.  Dowding, Keith; John, Peter; Biggs, Stephen, "Tiebout:  A survey of the empirical literature," Urban Studies, 767-790, May 1994.

29.  Schmidt, Amy B., "Private School Enrollment in  Metropolitan Areas," Public Finance Quarterly, July 1992, 398-321.


XIII.         Welfare, Wages and Poverty

30.  Hilary W. Hoynes, Marianne E. Page and Ann Huff Stevens, "Poverty in America: Trends and Explanations," Journal of Economic Perspectives, Volume 20, Number 1, Winter 2006, Pages 47-68

31.  Timothy Smeeding, “Poor People in Rich Nations: The United States in Comparative Perspective,” Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 20, Number 1, Winter 2006, Pages 69–90

32.  Moshe Adler, "Why Did New York Workers Lose Ground in the 1990s?" --Regional Labor Review, Fall, 2003.

33.  Moshe Adler, "Theories of Wages," Economics for the Rest of Us, Chapters 9-12.


XIV.       The Bottom Line

34.  Lindert, Growing Public, chs. 1, 7, 10, 11


Course Summary:

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