Economics 336Y: Public Economics (Undergraduate)

Public Economics Teaching Notices

  • January 2, 2019: Happy New Year!

    I hope everyone had a refreshing break. Suitably refreshed, now it's time to get back to Public Economics...

    First Writing Assignment Revision:

    Please read the following comments (here) provided by the grader. I think these should prove instructive.

    Please leave a hard copy of your revision along with the original graded essay (and a note explaining your responses to the first-round comments you received) in the box outside my office door. The deadline is Monday December 7, 2019 at 5pm.

    (You will see there is a link in Turnitin where you can post your essay, again before Monday December 7, 2019 at 5pm.)

    The 'revision' assignment is posted under 'Public Economics Writing Assignments' below.

    Just let me know if you have any questions.

  • November 23, 2018: tenth lecture -- next installment:

    Please read the following note (here) with a discussion of OVB.

    As you will see, I am offering 2.5 percent of the overall grade in *bonus* points to everyone who can answer the question at the end, due next class.

    Have a productive weekend.

  • November 22, 2018: tenth lecture, and administrative item:

    Please find attached (here) some clarifying comments on today's lecture.

    The first round of the First Writing Assignment grading will be returned to you next class, with comments intended to help you revise your essays. The revision will be due right at the start of the next semester, as we agreed.

    As usual, just let me know if you have any questions.

  • November 16, 2018: ninth lecture, and administrative items:

    Please find attached (here) some comments on the last lecture.

    Turnitin information for the First Writing Assignment:

    You will need to go to, then login as a student, using the Class ID and Enrollment passwords given below.

    Class name: Public Economics 2018-19

    Class ID: 19674081

    Enrollment key: ib235

    The (physical) box where you can leave your assignments (before, and no later than, 5pm on Monday) is already in place outside my office.

  • November 9, 2018: Term Test 1 solutions (and regrade policy)

    The Term Test 1 solutions are posted HERE. Please take a careful look at these, in order to gain a clear sense of where your answers might be improved. Do let me know if anything is unclear.

    Regrade policy: If, after looking over the solutions carefully, you are convinced that you have been graded too harshly, you may request a regrade. To that end, you must provide a careful explanation _in writing_ that refers to the posted solutions. I will then regrade the whole test. (Please note: In the past, on occasion, scores have gone down following a regrade. This is not a one-way bet.) Please note also: any requests for a re-grade must be handed in next Thursday at the start of class.

    On a different note, on Monday November 12, there will be a very interesting seminar in Rotman downtown (starting at 4pm, room 157). The speaker, Nicolai Kuminoff will talk about the causal links between air pollution and dementia -- he's a first-rate scholar!

    The details of the seminar are posted here, at the top:

    And for those of you who are interested, here is the link to his fascinating paper:

    Just let me know if you'd like more information.

  • October 31, 2018: Term Test 1 -- a hint

    Class Notes 3 ends with two questions, one about orcas. In light of the up-coming term test, may I suggest you do some research into the orca question?

    Here is one recent article that provides some clues, for example:

  • October 30, 2018: Term Test 1 -- further comments (and more solutions)

    I would like to offer a few comments about what you should expect on the test here.

    I am providing a copy of the front part of Term Test 1 from 2014 below (under "Public Economics old exam questions"), as this overlaps with some of the things we covered. I am also posting my solutions to that part (I mean, excerpt).

    You will see I have now also added solutions to the questions raised in the 'Reading Week' note and the "biodiversity' note, posted below. Just let me know if you have any trouble locating these.

    Of course, do let me know if anything is unclear.

    Again, good luck with your exam preparation!

    Robert McMillan

  • October 28, 2018: Term Test 1

    As several of you asked, I am providing a copy of Term Test 1 from 2016 below (under "Public Economics old exam questions").

    These should give you an idea of the format and the sort of length you should expect. (Plus, you should be able to do Questions 2-6 and Question 10. As the coverage thus far has changed, I would just ignore the other questions -- they will not be so do-able.) Please attempt Questions 2-6 and Question 10. I am posting my solutions also.

    As discussed in lecture, William Nordhaus recently won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. The following piece he wrote -- `Global Warming is not a myth' -- may be of (general) interest:

  • October 27, 2018: more notes

    I hope everyone is having a productive weekend. I am providing two notes that relate to the discussion we were having towards the end of last class. Specifically:

    Please find attached (here) a note about biodiversity (including some sample questions).

    And (here) is a sample question (with an extended discussion) about endangered species.

    I am also attaching a note (here) that offers some intuition for the Ramsey Equation. Please read it carefully. This is important.

    Of course, just let me know if you have any questions. (I'll be posting solutions to sample questions shortly.)

  • October 26, 2018: seventh lecture, and MMN (2011)

    Please find attached (here) some comments on the last lecture.

    As promised, here is a link to MMN (2011), an important academic paper that computes the air pollution externalities associated with each industry in the US, though abstracting from concerns about global warming.

    There was a short blog by Paul Krugman in the NY Times a while back that referred to MMN (2011). It is relevant to some of our themes, polemic aside. See

    (From the perspective of a writing course, Paul Krugman is one of the clearest and best writers about economics, whether you agree with his politics or not.)

    Just let me know if you have any questions or if anything is unclear.

  • October 24, 2018: sixth lecture

    Please find attached (here) some comments on the last lecture.

    Just let me know if you have any questions or if anything is unclear.

  • October 11, 2018: Reading Week reading and thinking...

    I hope everyone is having a productive week.

    Please find attached (here) some things to think about during Reading Week, mainly reflecting on the readings I recommended yesterday. I am also posting some related questions -- solutions to follow...

    William Nordhaus was in the news earlier this week, as you may have seen. Here is an interesting link to Nordhaus on Stern from 2007. Please take a look at it and know (in essence) what his point of view is, and why:

    Just let me know if you have any questions or if anything is unclear.

  • October 10, 2018: climate issues

    Not wishing to bombard you, but there has been a *lot* in the news the past couple of days that is highly relevant to the themes in the course. I am posting some newsworthy links here. We will touch on these tomorrow (I mean, next week!) in class. See you there, then.

  • October 3, 2018: climate change

    Please find attached a note relevant to some of our themes last lecture here.

    I also posted some climate change questions below, under "Public Economics Sample Questions" (along with suggested solutions).

  • September 21, 2018: the Stern Review

    Last lecture, I was discussing the issue of climate change -- a very challenging Public Economics problem indeed!

    Please look up the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (2006). The executive summary is posted here:

    The full document (almost 700 pages of it) is here:

    We discussed the difficult problem of choosing the discount rate in the context of the Stern Review: it is critical to the conclusions that Stern draws. There is a very useful (if, in places, technical) treatment of this central issue in Weitzman's 'review' of the Stern Review. I would urge you to read the Abstract and Section 1 of his paper, posted here:

    (Side benefit: As well as being a brilliant economist, Martin Weitzman is a terrific writer -- you will get a flavour of his style from the opening of the paper.) Section 2 of the paper becomes more technical, discussing the Ramsey Equation, touched on in class. I will post a "Reader's Guide" to that shortly...

    [For those who are super-keen, more research by Martin Weitzman is posted on his website, though do proceed with caution -- much of this is pretty much at the frontier of research. See:

    I will have occasion to reference some of this technical material next lecture.]

  • September 21, 2018: Thinking of earning the 2 percent "office hour attendance" component of the class participation grade?

    If yes, then please at least consider attending my office hours (if only briefly).

    If you can't make the regular office hours before class, then it should be possible to schedule a different time. I am often around after class on Thursday, until quite late. And I will be in the office next Tuesday afternoon. If you wish to have a word then (instead), please send me an email.

    To be clear, the necessary requirement is that you set foot inside my office and introduce yourself in person, prior to Term Test 1. (That's it!)

  • September 14, 2018: Class notes and sample questions

    Please find attached a note that relates to our class discussion from yesterday, in .pdf format (with sample questions posted at the end).

    If anything is unclear, just let me know.

    To mention, I was encouraged that several students took the trouble to visit my office yesterday. Economists believe in incentives (as I keep saying). Please note that setting foot in my office is a necessary condition for receiving the 2 percent class participation component, prior to the first term test.

  • September 14, 2018: Thinking of applying to graduate school?

    If yes, then please consider having a word with me, especially if it's in economics.

    Applied Econometrics (ECO375/475): I emphasized the value of this very important course. Not least, it is a prerequisite for being considered by a good graduate school. Just to mention, ECO375 is given this semester, and ECO475 continues next semester.

  • September 6, 2018: Class notes and sample questions

    Please find attached a note that relates to our class discussion from today, in .pdf format (with a sample question posted at the end).

    (Related is a note that discusses the very difficult social policy question we touched on right at the end. This note is intended to capture some of the associated difficulty...)

    You will find some solutions to the 'Alcohol Prohibition' sample question posted below (under 'Public Economics Sample Questions'). Just let me know if anything is unclear.

  • September 6, 2018:

    Congratulations: you located the course website! The most recent posts will be listed at the top.

  • Public Economics Sample Questions

  • Sample Questions 1 on the topic of smoking bans, with suggested solutions on the second page.
  • Sample Questions 2 on Global Warming (with solutions on the second page and beyond).
  • Public Economics Term Tests

    Nothing yet...

    Public Economics old exam questions

    HERE is Term Test 1 from 2016. The coverage is slightly different, as noted, but it will give you an idea of the format etc.

    HERE are my solutions to Term Test 1 from 2016. (Yes, by the way, no calculators on the tests: you will not need them, but do bring your own in-built electronic device -- your *brain*, I mean. That will certainly be needed.)

    HERE is the front part of Term Test 1 from 2014. (I am including only the questions that overlap somewhat with our coverage.)

    HERE are my solutions to the front part of Term Test 1 from 2014 -- link now fixed.


  • 'No Calculators are Needed' -- a manifesto!
  • Exponential functions (hand-written).
  • Public Economics Writing Assignments

  • Hints on hand-written assignments

    Please find attached some hints on writing short answers.

  • Hints on writing an essay in Economics

    Please find attached some hints on how to write an economics essay.

  • First Writing Assignment.
  • First Writing Assignment Revision.
  • Grader comments on the First Writing Assignment.