Sophomore Seminars

Government by the Numbers


Spending by federal, state, and local governments accounts for about one-third of U.S. GDP and governments employ more than one-in-seven workers in the U.S. For most U.S. residents, the government is represented by a complicated web of federal, state, and local policies. There is an increasingly contentious debate about the proper role of government and regarding the impact of specific government policies. This debate is rarely grounded in a common set of facts. In this IntroSem, we will explore how each level of government interacts with U.S. residents through government services, public programs, taxes, and regulations. We will examine financial inflow and outflow for different levels of government while considering the net effects of government intervention on the health and economic well-being of individuals and families. Particular attention will be paid to certain sectors (e.g., education, health care, criminal justice, etc.) and to how the effects differ by race and ethnicity. Along the way, we will accumulate a set of metrics to assess the performance of each level of government while highlighting the formidable challenges of such an exercise.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Steve Ballmer

Steve Ballmer

Steve Ballmer is co-founder of Ballmer Group and owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA basketball team. Steve retired as Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft in 2014 after leading the company for nearly 14 years. He remains a significant investor.

Through philanthropy and civic activism, Ballmer Group strengthens promising and proven approaches that increase economic mobility for children and families in the United States. Steve also leads USAFacts, a project seeking to improve transparency in government, including disclosing taxes and borrowings raised, money allocated and spent, and outcomes achieved, much as corporations do through their 10-K reports. He has taught or lectured on technology, leadership, and innovation at Stanford, Harvard, and the University of Southern California. He has previously taught this Stanford IntroSem with Mark Duggan in Autumn 2016, 2017, and 2020.

Steve became Microsoft’s CEO in 2000, having served for 20 years in roles as president, senior vice president of sales and support, senior vice president of systems software, and vice president of marketing. He was the company’s first business manager. During his tenure at Microsoft, the company pioneered personal computing and democratized enterprise computing, growing from a small start-up to a company that today employs more than 110,000 people. During his tenure Microsoft grew to almost $80 billion in revenue and was the third most profitable company in the United States.

He grew up near Detroit, where his father worked as a manager at Ford Motor Company. Steve earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and economics from Harvard University. He worked for two years at Procter & Gamble Company as an assistant product manager and attended Stanford University Graduate School of Business before joining Microsoft. He lives with his wife, Connie, in Washington.

Mark Duggan

"I have been at Stanford since 2014 and have taught Econ 1 in all seven years that I’ve been here. This will be my fourth time teaching this IntroSem with Steve Ballmer and we’re both really looking forward to it!! I’m a Professor in the Economics Department and the Director of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR). I received my B.S. and M.S. degrees in Electrical Engineering from M.I.T. in 1992 and 1994, respectively. I then decided to switch directions and went to graduate school in Economics, receiving my Ph.D. from Harvard in 1999. I taught at University of Chicago, University of Maryland, and University of Pennsylvania before arriving at Stanford. My research focuses on the health care sector and on the effects of government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. I was the 2010 recipient of the ASHEcon Medal, which is awarded every two years to the economist aged 40 and under who has made the most significant contributions to the field of health economics. My research has been funded by numerous government agencies and private foundations. I served from 2009-10 as the Senior Economist for Health Care Policy in the White House Council of Economic Advisers and I have testified before the House Ways and Means and Senate Budget Committees. I live on the Stanford campus with my wife, son, daughter, and two cats. I am a big fan of the Boston Red Sox and have signed up to run the Honolulu Marathon this December (right after this class ends)."