Perverse pricing, variable voting and criminal conspiracies

December 18, 2016

Al Slivinski, Professor, Department of EconomicsWhy do people and organizations act the way they do? What motivates their behavior?

These are the underlying questions that drive Al Slivinski, Professor of Economics at Western University. And it is these questions he will investigate during a mini-lecture for March Break Open House, entitled “Perverse pricing, variable voting and criminal conspiracies: what you learn in economics (and how you learn it).”

The presentation gives students the idea of subject matter and style of lectures in three different economics courses taught by Slivinski, and they show the wide-array of subjects dealt with in the discipline.

“We have had students come in, expecting to hear about how to make money in the stock market, or banking,” said Slivinski. “They expect it to be about money. We do teach that, but it’s a remarkably small part.”

Perverse pricing is part of Managerial Economics, a 2nd year course, and it explains underlying motivation of strange ways firms price things. This is always changing and getting more difficult with algorithms and variable pricing, Slivinski said.

Variable Voting comes up in Political Economics. The topic helps people understand why people vote or do not, why voter participation is dropping, analyzes different electoral systems, and how campaigns are financed.

Slivinski’s approach to teaching is not just to give answers, but “somewhat Socratic,” he said. “I start with a question and get a conversation going, try to draw answers out of students; this is what they can expect in Economics courses.”

But, he noted, these courses, and the courses Slivinski teaches are not the “hard-nosed 2nd year theory courses”; those courses he says, are “less Socratic and are focused on giving students the tool they need to do these courses.”

Graduates from economics are prepared for a wide-variety of careers and possible future studies, Slivinski said. One of the more important aspects taught in his courses is the ability to write and communicate.

“In Economics we don’t try to teach you to write answers. We try to give you means to figure out the answers,” said Slivinski. “The world is complicated, and if you are hired, and your boss asks you a question, there won’t be a correct answer to write down. We give students the ability to discover options and present them.”

Slivinski’s March Break Open House mini-lecture will be on Saturday March 11. The lecture will be at 12:00 pm in Room 2050, Social Science Centre.