On teaching public finance to public administrators

Tonight is my last night of teaching public finance for the semester.1 Over the next two weeks or so, my students are working on a group paper analyzing options for alleviating food deserts in Baltimore, as the syllabus requires. But the last night of instruction is tonight, and we are covering wealth taxes.

This semester has been interesting. I have run the class as flipped classroom, which is probably fairly unusual in graduate classes. But I found it was very helpful. First, in a flipped classroom, students are supposed to review material ahead of the class and the homework is done collectively. I noticed, fairly quickly, that review was not happening. But I found working directly from the problems was much better for teaching applications than the deeper theoretical structure of Hyman’s Public Finance.

The final note I have is that my students struggled with both terminology and motivation. For instance, more than once I had to break down a problem into different words to make it understandable. That’s okay. Also, understanding motivation was difficult. The clearest example of this came from when we worked through a simple corporate tax problem. In that problem, we first find the profit then the marginal tax rate as a percentage of profit. Then we found the economic profit (subtracting the presumed opportunity cost of capital), and the marginal tax rate on the profit then. But understanding why would do this was something of a logical leap.

In some regards, this is understandable. I have pushed into purer economic content in a course designed for public administrators and nonprofit professionals. However, even nonprofit and government professionals need to understand economics. And they made it through the class, with some fear and trepidation. But they made it and they can now wrap their heads around the role of government in the economy. And that’s a good thing.

Image by Michael Daddino / Flickr.

  1. The last night of class is technically December 7th, but I cancelled class for personal reasons.