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ECO 105Y L9901 Prof. Avi J. Cohen

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Fall/Winter 2019/20 Winter 2020

1

MIcroeconomic Op-Ed Writing Assignment

(15% of course grade – 90 marks)

PURPOSE

One goal of this course is to help you understand and apply basic economic concepts to daily life. Part of
your role as an informed citizen involves making sound arguments about economic issues that matter to
you and communicating these arguments effectively to others. This assignment will give you practice
developing a convincing written argument about an economic issue for a general audience.

TASKS

1. On the Quercus module How to (Re-)Write an Op-Ed, watch the video How to (Re-)Write an Op-Ed,
which builds on the videos you must have watched already — How To Read Critically and
How to (Re-)Write an Abstract.

2. Your assignment is to write an Op-Ed, which refers to the section of a print newspaper that is
opposite the editorial page and devoted to opinion and commentary rather than straight news.

3. Choose an article, editorial or opinion piece in a recent (published since 1 September 2019) online
publication that involves a controversial microeconomic issue that interests you. [You may NOT use
any article discussed in lectures or Economics Out There.] The economic issue can be Canadian or
international.

4. In response, write your own commentary in which you take a position on the issue,
supporting your position by making an argument based on sound economic reasoning.
• Complete the Draft/Revise/Edit stages for your Op-Ed (see How To (Re-)Write an Op-Ed)

and submit your Draft 4 to peerScholar on Quercus by the 1st Deadline.
• Provide feedback to classmates about their Op-Eds by the 2nd Deadline.
• Incorporate your classmates’ feedback and submit a final draft on Quercus to both turnitin and

peerScholar. On peerScholar, also include your reflection on what you learned from the writing
and assessment process. Submit all by the 3rd Deadline.

FORMAT

• Your commentary must be 300-500 words or you will lose marks.
• Include right after your Op-Ed a word count (not including title) in parentheses,

e.g. “(490 words).”
• Submit your Op-Ed to peerScholar on Quercus by copying and pasting into a text box.

ECO 105Y L9901 Prof. Avi J. Cohen
Fall/Winter 2019/20 Winter 2020

2

DUE DATES & SUBMISSION STEPS

1) 1st Deadline — 22 January 2020 (Wednesday) — The first submission of your Op-Ed to
peerScholar on Quercus for ECO105Y. Your draft must be complete and written in full
sentences. You will lose marks for submitting an outline or point form draft. No pictures or
graphs can be included. All words.

Copy and paste your draft into the text box in the CREATE step, including: 1) Your Title; 2) Your
Op-Ed (with word count- excluding title – in parentheses at end); 3) Leave some space; 4) Put in
some cut-and-paste form of the original article. This could be just a URL, or text from the
article. If the original article is a print-only source, provide a complete reference. When in doubt,
include more original article material rather than less. Save a copy of your draft.

If you submit by this deadline, you are eligible to earn up to 15 marks for assessing your peers’
Op-Ed assignments. If you miss this deadline, you will miss the assessments in 2) and so lose
the 15 marks for assessments. You also lose the benefit of getting feedback from classmates
that might improve your final draft. Without feedback from classmates you also lose on the
Reflection — the highest grade you can get on the Reflection is 6 marks instead of 9.

2) 2nd Deadline — 29 January 2020 (Wednesday) — Submit three assessments of your fellow
students’ abstracts in peerScholar. For each, give: a Rating (out of 5 stars); List 1 thing done
well; List 1 thing needing improvement; an Overall Rating paragraph. You can also comment
on specific sections of your peer’s assignment using the Highlight and Comment feature.
Address your suggestions to the writer, not to the Professor/TA.

If you submit by this deadline, you receive a maximum of 15 marks, according to this grading

Rubric for Assessment

15 Strengths and weaknesses for each assigned paper, with specifics
10 Fair attempt but weak, lacking specifics
5 No real effort

0 Missed 22 January 2020 deadline, or did not attempt assessments

3) 3rd Deadline — 5 February 2020 (Wednesday) — Your final submission and your reflection on
what you learned from the writing and assessment process. Final draft must be submitted
on Quercus to both peerScholar and turnitin. If you submit by this deadline, you receive
a maximum of 66 marks for the final draft (marked according to the rubric below) and a
maximum of 9 marks for the reflection (6 marks if missed assessments). If you miss this
deadline, you lose all 66 marks as well as the 9 marks for reflection. Avoid this fate by
at least submitting your first draft the day this submission opens, the resubmitting a
final draft.

Rubric for Reflection

9 Thoughtful and detailed, refers to peer comments, incorporated revisions
6 Fair attempt but lacking specifics — maximum if missed assessments
4 No real effort

0 No reflection

ECO 105Y L9901 Prof. Avi J. Cohen
Fall/Winter 2019/20 Winter 2020

3

AUDIENCE

Your audience is the general reading public. Assume your audience has some education and
background in current affairs and understands basic economic concepts, but is not knowledgeable
about the details of economic theory or policy. In other words, you’ll need to explain any economic
concepts and specialized vocabulary in a way that keeps their interest and respects their intelligence.
Your audience is not the professor or the TAs. You need to write more like a journalist than an academic.

WRITING STRUCTURE AND STYLE

1. You are writing for a public forum where other writers and readers can debate and comment on
issues so you must present a clear, concise, and interesting argument that uses evidence to
support your position

2. Choose a catchy title to capture your audience’s attention and tell your reader what your main
point is. Do this AFTER you’ve written a draft so you actually know what your point it. Read a
few articles in The Economist to see examples of catchy titles.

3. Make your main point early on: introduce your issue and point of view in your first paragraph.
Unlike an essay you don’t need a long introduction.

4. Organize your sentences into short paragraphs (about 3-5 sentences each): As this assignment
is only 1-2 pages, you should have 3-6 paragraphs. Do not use one-sentence paragraphs.

5. Make clear any economic reasoning on which your argument is based.
6. Support each point with evidence whether in the form of a statistic, an example, or economic

reasoning.

THE ECONOMIST STYLE GUIDE

If you want additional advice on writing, see the Style Guide of The Economist Magazine posted on
Quercus. The Economist is widely recognized as the world standard for economic journalism.

NEWS ARTICLE SOURCES

To find news articles to comment on, try the following sources. Other sources are also acceptable.

Globe and Mail Report on Business
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/

Financial Post
http://www.financialpost.com/index.html

Toronto Star Business
http://www.thestar.com/business

CBC News
http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/

ECO 105Y L9901 Prof. Avi J. Cohen
Fall/Winter 2019/20 Winter 2020

4

Economist Magazine
http://www.economist.com/
You can access The Economist through Robarts Library at http://go.utlib.ca/cat/7704354 . Click on any
link beside the word “Web” to browse by issues, or use the search box to find a specific topic.

OP-ED SOURCES

For other examples of commentaries you might use as models for you own commentary, or use as
articles to comment on, try the following sources.

Globe and Mail
Report on Business Commentary
https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/commentary/

The Star Opinion Pages
http://www.thestar.com/opinion

Financial Post Opinion FPComment
http://business.financialpost.com/category/opinion

Wall Street Journal
The best source for conservative (hands-off) opinions on economic issues, but you must pay for access.
http://online.wsj.com/home-page

New York Times Economix Blog
https://www.nytimes.com/section/opinion
Look for the economics articles in all sections.

EVALUATION

The final draft of your op-ed will be evaluated on how well you make reasoned economic arguments
and write clearly, convincingly, correctly, and concisely. In addition, your participation in the peer
assessment and reflection processes is worth 24 of the 90 marks, based on the rubrics above for
assessment and reflection.

Here is a sample rubric that will be used in marking your final draft, worth 66 marks. A 0 – 100% scale
is rarely used for writing assignments, as it is impossible to discriminate that finely between papers.
Letter grades are more commonly used.

Since we have to integrate the score on this assignment with your other numerical scores, your grade
will be based on the marks you earn in each category of the rubric below. You will receive a numerical
mark (for Excellent, Good, Competent, Problematic) in each of the four categories, which will be added
to get a score out of 66 marks. For example, if you get the top (Excellent) score in each category, you
score will be (13+27+14+7 =) 61/66 = 92%. If you get the second (Good) score in each category, your
score will be (11+22+12+6 =) 51/66 = 77%. With the lowest score in each category, your score will be
(7+12+8+4 =) 32/66 = 47%.

ECO 105Y L9901 Prof. Avi J. Cohen
Fall/Winter 2019/20 Winter 2020

5

Excellent Good Competent Problematic Pts

Title, Intro,
Audience,
Background
Information

13
Title/intro get
reader’s attention.

Aimed at
appropriate
audience.

Right amount of
background
information.

11
Clear title/intro, but
could be more
interesting.

Mostly aimed at
appropriate audience
.

Some background
information.

9
Boring title and/or
too long/short intro.

Appropriate audience
questionable.

Minimal or excessive
background
information.

7
Unsatisfactory or
missing title and/or
intro.

Wrong audience.

Missing relevant
background
information. 14

Economic
Argument,
Reasoning,
Counter-
argument,
Evidence

27
Clearly stated
argument, use of
economic reasoning.

Presents and
effectively refutes
counterargument.

Reader convinced by
at 1-2 solid reasons
or examples.

22
Fairly clear,
convincing argument.
Adequate use of
economic reasoning.

Adequate use of
counter-argument
and refutation.

1-2 reasons or
examples, although
may leave questions
for reader.

17
Somewhat confusing
argument. Weak in
applying economic
reasoning.

Missing counter-
argument or
refutation.

Weak or no
supporting reasons or
examples.
Reader left confused.

12
No clear argument.
Confused/no use of
economic reasoning.

Confused/no use
counter-arguments.

Poor quality and few,
if any, supporting
reasons or examples.
Reader unconvinced
and/or put off. 29

Structure,
Closing

14
Logical order of
ideas. Excellent
paragraph structure
(very clear topic
sentence & 1 main
idea per paragraph).

Closing gives a clear
and convincing call
to action.

12
Mostly logical order
of ideas. Good
paragraph structure
(fairly clear topic
sentence & mostly 1
main idea per
paragraph).

Closing gives a fairly
clear and convincing
call to action.

10
Somewhat logical
order of ideas. OK
paragraph structure
(topic sentence and
attempt to structure
each paragraph
focused on 1 main
idea).

Closing gives a call to
action, although not
well supported.

8
Confusing order of
ideas. Illogical or
inconsistent
paragraph structure
(confusing or missing
topic sentences and
paragraphs no clear
focus).

No clear or
convincing call to
action at close. 15

Quality of
Writing

[minus 2 from
any score for
not meeting
word count]

7
Pleasure to read.
Writing enhances
understanding and
interest.

Clear, correct,
concise sentences
with active voice.

Very few errors and
none that impede
meaning.

6
Mostly easy to read.

Mostly clear, correct,
concise sentences
with active voice.

A few errors that
slightly impede
meaning, if at all.

5
Some problems with
clarity, concision, and
correctness at the
sentence level.

Some passive voice
and/or jargon.

Some errors that
impede meaning.

4
Many problems with
clarity, concision, and
correctness at the
sentence level.

Considerable passive
voice and/or jargon.

Many errors that
impede meaning.

8

Total 66

ECO 105Y L9901 Prof. Avi J. Cohen
Fall/Winter 2019/20 Winter 2020

6

Rating (out of 5 stars)

Comments

List 1 thing done well:

List 1 thing needing improvement:

Overall assessment – one general paragraph of constructive comments assessing the op-ed
overall:

ECO105Y Micro Op-Ed Exemplars 2016-2017

1

1

Much Ado About Nothing:
Rabid Reactionaries and Environmentalist Extremists Lash Out over PM Trudeau’s
Altogether Lacklustre National Carbon Strategy.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s comments in the House of Commons early last October concerning a
national carbon strategy sparked perhaps the greatest drama in recent Canadian politics.
Provincial environment ministers very publically, and somewhat melodramatically, walked out of
negotiations with Ottawa saying they were being subverted and strong-armed. Since then, the
slinging of proverbial muck has only grown more intense, especially after the PM finally used the
dreaded word “tax.” Scandalous. What critics from the left and right fail to understand is that
carbon pricing is premised on basic economic concepts of negative externalities and
internalization. Carbon pricing will not pull the rug out from under the Canadian economy. And
what government would pursue policies that would self-sabotage?

If we could all tone down the political rhetoric, we can attempt to premise this debate on facts.
Industrial activity and pollution will always have negative repercussions for society. The cost of
cleaning up environmental messes and the additional burden to health-care systems are negative
externalities of pollution. Negative externalities are costs which stem from a lack of defined
ownership concerning common goods, in this case the environment. There have been no
mechanisms for ensuring that individuals pay their fair portion of environmental damage as no
individual can claim ownership over the environment. Until now, that is. The entire point of carbon
pricing mechanisms is to divvy up those costs and impose, or internalize, them onto polluters so
that society is not left with the bill.

The method of carbon pricing suggested by Trudeau is an emissions tax. Ideally, the price per
tonne of emissions set by the tax equals the cost of the negative externalities of pollution.
Trudeau’s plan only begins to reflect the full cost, beginning at 10$ per tonne to 50$ in 2022. This
is where radical environmentalists believe Trudeau is being too weak. Alternatively, provinces can
implement a cap and trade system. This mechanism creates a market for emissions in which the
government auctions permits for producers to pollute, with the total amount of emissions allowed
by the permits equal to the province’s emissions target. Some environmentalists disapprove of
this because selling “permission” to pollute is unseemly to them.

Brad Wall, the firebrand premier of Saskatchewan, epitomizes the conservative stance. He
argues that carbon pricing hinders business and growth while rendering Canada uncompetitive in
the world market. This is quite exaggerated. The tax only seeks to reflect the true costs of doing
business, which most people would agree the businesses themselves should pay. If carbon
pricing just barely covers the cost of pollution, it won’t restrict competitiveness and will incentivise
businesses to cut costs and approach the economy in a new way.

The economy and the environment are about trade-offs, one without the other is unsustainable.
A certain degree of pollution is necessary for the economy to function, and if we balance it with
modest proposition such as carbon pricing, we can insure that the environment and the economy
can move forward into the millennium stronger than ever.

(499 words)
https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/10/03/justin-trudeaus-liberals-unveil-plan-to-price-
carbon.html

ECO105Y Micro Op-Ed Exemplars 2016-2017

2

2

Take the High Road, Canada

With an incoming Trump administration comes an expected resurgence in the American fossil
fuel industry. The timing is less than opportune for Canada, as the liberal government has taken a
tough stance on the oil and gas industry, and instead has pushed for increased research into
sustainable resource development. Although Financial Post’s Joe Oliver argues that Canadians
should abandon their stance of “morally superior denial,” I resolve that Americans are in fact
those who are in denial; by ignoring the very real threat of climate change and inherent negative
externalities caused by resource extraction, the Trump administration will cause irreversible
damage that future generations will be forever indebted to. Canada should be commended for
their morally superior stance on this issue.

The environmental and societal impact of climate change cannot be ignored. Unlimited resource
extraction will lead to vast expenses burdened onto both current society and future generations.
From an economic standpoint, these inherent costs felt by a third party are called negative
externalities. The negative externalities associated with resource extraction are extensive; by
continuing to make this resource widely accessible on a global scale, we are responsible for
increasing carbon dioxide levels within the atmosphere. This leads to a rise in global
temperatures and declining air quality, cites Environmental expert and University of Toronto
professor, Andrea Olive. The costs of these worsening global conditions cannot be
underestimated, and will leave nobody untouched.

One could argue that our industry will not remain competitive against pro-oil states, and the short-
term economic repercussions will be too great. Trudeau’s response to this particular point is that
Canada will face great opportunity for investment within a few years time. Although Oliver may
label this as a naïve stance, I commend Canada’s foresight within this sector. Through their
support of sustainable resource development, the Canadian economy is undergoing changes
now that other countries will be forced to make in the coming years. The potential for future
investment is truly significant.

Finally, Oliver makes the point that all other resource-rich affluent nations are proceeding without
caution, so why not Canada. This ignores the fact, however, that such nations will be held
financially and socially accountable for their actions all the same. Canada is simply one step
ahead on the global stage; by phasing out resource extraction, we are doing now what other
countries will be forced to do in years ahead. Though choosing this path presents drastic
challenges at the present, the end result will most certainly be worthwhile. Taking the high road is
never easy after all.

(Word count: 416)
Source: http://business.financialpost.com/fp-comment/joe-oliver-as-u-s-energy-prepares-to-roar-
canadas-liberals-cling-to-their-morally-superior-denial

ECO105Y Micro Op-Ed Exemplars 2016-2017

3

3

Lower income tax, higher paycheques – Is it as good as it sounds?

Michigan state representative Lee Chatfield has announced a new bill to reduce personal income
tax starting from 2018 and bring it down to zero over next 40 years. However, does making
individual residents wealthier by the cost of cutting state income benefit everyone? Lost state
revenue must be made up in other ways, which may not be pleasing to all.

The biggest portion of Michigan’s revenue is the income tax, generating more than $9 billion
annually. This is the money used by the government to build roads and schools, improve
transportation systems, fund college students and other projects that are aimed to better the life
for the residents of the state. If such a large chunk of money stops flowing into the state budget,
government initiatives will be put under risk of not being approved for the lack of financial support.
This may slow down infrastructure development and improvement, making the state a less
desirable place to live.

The officials are claiming that the Michigan state economy is on the rise and there is a budget
surplus, which allows them to make this decision. The expectation is that lower income taxes will
attract more residents and businesses that will create more jobs. State Senator J. Brandenburg
has said that influx of people will result in higher tax revenues for the state. However, this is only
an expectation and the state hasn’t announced a clear plan on how to make up for the lost
revenue, so the whole idea sounds less convincing.

This bill is not a new practice – 7 states currently have no income tax. Methods to make up for the
revenue loss are simple – raise other taxes. Tennessee has the highest sales tax in US and New
Hampshire has one of the highest property taxes. Other states have high gasoline and natural
resources taxes. This all results in a higher than average cost of living in these states, which
includes prices on housing, food, health care, etc. Residents are earning more, but they also end
up spending more money on everyday needs. Current tax burden (amount of money deducted for
taxes from one’s paycheque) for the lowest 20% of the income class is around 11% and top 1%
of the population is at 5%. Higher taxes on food, gas, and property will hit the poor, who earn just
the minimum wage, harder than the others.

As seen from the practice of the aforementioned states, this method of raising wages does not
necessarily make residents wealthier in the long run. Kansas is an example of things going wrong
– tax cuts from businesses and individuals have resulted in budget shortfalls and slow job growth.
A comprehensive study must be conducted and presented to answer questions like: how likely
are businesses to move to the state? or what is the current wealth distribution among residents?
Cutting income tax simply shifts the tax from paycheques to bills and it is not necessarily a good
thing.

(495 words)
Original article: “Michigan Republicans Roll Out Plan To Eliminate Income Taxes” from
01/11/2017 at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/michigan-income-
tax_us_5876e4d0e4b092a6cae54bcd

ECO105Y Micro Op-Ed Exemplars 2016-2017

4

4

What Goes Around, Comes Around on the Autobahn

For decades, the slogan “Freie Fahrt für freie Bürger” (Free driving for free citizens) lingered
throughout German society. There was always an implicit agreement between citizens and their
leaders in regards to free-of-charge public highways. In 2013, however, a new law was passed by
German transport minister, Alexander Dobrindt, enforcing payment for the use of the Autobahn
motorway. As millions of travelers entered the Autobahn from Austria and Switzerland annually,
they were now required to pay 8.90€ for 10 days of usage or a yearly price of 86.40€.
Subsequently to the charges, immediate disputes broke out throughout Europe. Recently, the
Austrians made a claim that they regard this law as a friendship betrayal from their neighboring
country. They teamed up with the Netherlands, intending to sue Germany in the European Court
of Justice for “discriminating against the citizens of other [European Union] member states”.
Nevertheless, Germany’s actions were based on economical-thinking and well developed smart-
choices.

Generally, free motorways produce positive externalities, or benefits that are enjoyed by parties
other than the providers of the roads. In this case, the externalities were simple: foreigners used
the public Autobahn without paying for any land taxes, construction costs, or maintenance fees.
A free-rider problem arose when non-paying drivers benefited from the actions and investment of
the government. Although the public enjoys receiving free benefits, the parties involved in
providing them often lose motivation to continue their work without appropriate compensation.
When this occurs, all parties, including drivers on the Autobahn, must consider the smart social
choice as a priority over the smart private choice of the free-riders.

Consequently, the German government used smart economic thinking to fix the issue. They
established property rights for the motorway. By charging tolls for entrance, they were able to
remind the free-riders that there is ownership to the road and that its benefits need to be paid for.
Through this lens, Germany aims for an outcome that is both efficient, in regards to getting paid
for externalities, and equitable. Prior to the road-tolls, Germans were required to pay similar
prices for entering the Austrian and Swiss Alpine motorways. Now, Germany is also charging a
toll, and is able to achieve an equitable solution by treating the Austrian citizens the same way
that they treated German travelers.

Recently, Austrians protested new German tolls that only apply to foreign “free-riders” of the
Autobahn. Still, to pay for the externality domestically and reach the socially responsible
equilibrium, Germans increased their carbon tax for German citizens.

Regardless, the Austrians are appealing to the European Union because they fear that the tolls
will decrease their citizens’ demand to travel. This fear translates into a lack of confidence and
balance between the needs of citizens and their influence on the Austrian government. In fact,
Austria initiated the controversy by charging their own motorway fees. Therefore, it should be no
surprise for the Austrian government, as well as the European Union, when Germany introduces
and enforces tolls on the Autobahn.

(Word Count: 496)
Another european crisis; motorway charges. (2017, Jan 07). The Economist, 422, 24-43.
Retrieved from
http://myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1856037446?ac
countid=14771

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