Students Selling Notes
By Michael Munger
A student of mine recently sent me a screen shot of a Facebook post that had been removed by its author. The post said:
Notes for the final exam for “Intro to Political Economy” with Munger. If you study and memorize them then I guarantee an A on the final exam which is all essays. (I got 98%). It covers all the possible topics. Willing to sell to best offer (thinking $20-$50). Many pages of thorough notes. Thanks.
I was delighted, but also a little mystified, by this announcement. A little background: I give out the 12 possible major topics the final exam just after Halloween, so that students have plenty of time to study them. And when I say “major topics” I mean the actual questions. For example:
- What are the best arguments for, and the best arguments against, a system of private property? What is the alternative(s)? Under what circumstances would a system without private property be preferable? Make sure you discuss the differences in assumptions, and conclusions, for John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Might the innovations in the “sharing economy” blur some of the lines between private ownership and collective ownership?
- Thomas Hobbes claims that “covenants, without the sword, are but words.” It is possible to represent this claim as a “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” where everyone would prefer that everyone would “keep their covenants,” but given the chance everyone will cheat. The problem is that no one, acting alone, can change the outcome. Explain why “break covenants” is the Nash Equilibrium for the “state of nature” game, and describe how Hobbes’ analysis gives a justification for the creation of a legitimate state.
Twelve questions like that. Then I ask three students to hold an enormous fuzzy die over their heads, ask the heavens for the favor of the wry goddess Fortuna, and use the dice to decide which three questions the class will answer. (Students have preferences over which question is chosen, which is why I use ritual instead of strategy to choose the actual questions).
I also tell them they are welcome to use division of labor, forming groups and dividing up the questions and then sharing the answers.
Given that, how should I have reacted to the Facebook post where the student tries to sell his/her notes? Remember, I myself give out the questions, so no harm there. And I suggest that students share the burden of preparing the answers. The only wrinkle would be whether there is something wrong with selling the notes…
Read more of Michael Munger’s writing at Archive.