By Matthew Rousuand Jadrian Wooten
For The Daily Item
A knowledge of economic concepts is incredibly valuable.
Understanding how markets work and the impact of economic principles and economic policies is important to becoming an informed citizen. Economics also examines with how individuals react to incentives and various situations. Understanding these issues will benefit a person throughout their life.
But for many, economics is a daunting subject. We have each met many adults who find out we teach economics and instinctively say how it was one of their toughest subjects in school, or that they “hated” it. While economics can be tough, it can also be really fun to learn.
In this article, we provide a roadmap for you to be able to teach yourself some of the principles of economics.
For parents, this could be a guide to teaching your children.
We provide information on ten websites that use media clips to help illustrate economic concepts in a fun and engaging way. All of the websites listed below are completely free and easy to use, provide video clips with descriptions, and are searchable by subject. The two of us have had a part in creating some of these websites, but some were done by others and we teamed up with other great economists for some of our work. We have thanked them at the end of this article.
For Broadway aficionados, it may be much easier to learn economic concepts when they are embedded in musicals like Hamilton, Grease, Les Miserable, and The Music Man.
Broadway Economics contains over 60 songs from musicals to help you learn about various economic concepts.
If you’re looking for a specific song to start with, try “Cabinet Battle #1” from the Tony Award winning Hamilton. It provides a great introduction to several macroeconomic issues.
This website is devoted to economic concepts found in the hit NBC television show Parks and Recreation. Leslie and Ron challenge each other through the series over the role of government, but the show contains dozens of other scenes that can help you better understand economics.
One of our favorite clips is an example of product differentiation in the post titled “Beef Milk”.
Do you still find yourself watching reruns of Seinfeld?
Just because a show has been off the air for while doesn’t mean you can’t still learn from it today.
Yada Yada Yada Econ contains over 100 clips from the TV show Seinfeld. Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer get into a number of crazy situations where economic ideas are clearly illustrated.
As the website states “[i]t is the simplicity of Seinfeld that makes it so appropriate.” One of our favorite scenes comes from the episode, The Soup Nazi. His business model provides an excellent example of a monopolistically competitive firm.
Need a break from television and want to instead create an economics-themed playlist for your next road trip?
Check out Econ Gone Country. This website contains 37 country music songs that illustrate a variety of economic concepts.
For each song, there is a clear description of the economic concept that the song teaches, along with the details of why the lyrics of the song can be used to help better understand economics.
Our favorite has to be Chris Jansen’s Buy Me a Boat. If you had a rich uncle that left you a boatload (we’re sorry, we had to) of money, would you buy a boat?
Breaking Bad, centered around Walter White who enters the drug trade, provides many lessons on various topics in economics.
The site has more than 100 clips on various economic topics, and can be easily searched by topic.
A great scene to think about the role of markets is “Crawling Markets” which highlights a small Mexican village where locals crawl to the shrine of Santa Muerte. Sellers pop up along the route to provide products that the visitors may want.
Michael Scott, the boss in The Office, is well known for making bad decisions.
Thankfully many of his decisions can be used to learn economic concepts and you’ll find dozens of other clips to help. One of our favorite clips from this site is titled “Broke”, where Michael Scott gets a lesson in the difference between fixed and variable costs.
Shark Tank, the popular pitch competition TV show, can help explain economic concepts facing business owners.
The descriptions of each clip really help you understand the economic fundamentals behind the concepts discussed.
Check out the pogo-stick company example on pricing and inelastic demand!
The Big Bang Theory is one of the most popular TV shows in history and Bazinganomics.com contains over 100 clips from the show that can be used to teach economics. When teaching game theory, the clip “rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock” is a great introduction to zero-sum games. For as smart as Leonard and Sheldon are, they really should know not to pick Spock so many times in a row!
Like The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family was an incredibly popular show, and the family members tend to find themselves in situations where pricing, trade-offs, economic growth, or other principles of economics fundamentals are explained.
You can find over 100 clips on this site, all with detailed explanations.
We suggest you start with “Greeting Card Jackpot.” You may have found yourself in a similar situation as Mitchell and Cam where you’ve bought a lot more stuff than you normally would since it’s “on sale.”
The Economics Media Library is a more general site that has a variety of clips from television shows, music videos, news broadcasts, movies, and more.
It is also searchable by topic and categorized by various “big level” topics.
With over 500 different clips, many of which are not duplicates of the ones above, you’re sure to learn about a variety of topics. The most viewed clip on the site is a segment of John Mulaney’s standup routine where he discusses his regrets of majoring in English.
The clips featured on these sites can help you learn economics on your own, but you can always supplement this with an economics textbook.
You can find a high quality used book for under $20 online or you could use one of the growing openly licensed textbooks online, like OpenStax.
OpenStax texts are written by a team of researchers and follow a similar sequence to traditional textbooks. Best of all, OpenStax texts are free.
A great learning strategy is to start by first finding a song or TV clip that you like.
Watch the clip and read the summary, then look to the text to read the background on that particular topic. Follow up by watching the clip again, and hopefully the topic becomes easier to understand.
Thanking the authors
Each website has a page dedicated the authors of the particular site, but their contribution to teaching economics – allowing you to access these sites and learn this content for free – is pretty incredible.
Some people think economics can’t be fun – but that isn’t the case. A knowledge of economics is vitally important and learning it can be entertaining with the right resources.
The website authors, in alphabetical order, are: Charity-Joy Acchiardo, Abdullah Al-Bahrani, Wayne Geerling, Linda Ghent, Alan Grant, Dan Kuester, George Lesica, Dirk Mateer, Mark Melichar, Steve Muchiri, Mihai Paraschiv, Darshak Patel, Susan Reilly, Brandon J. Sheridan, Ben Smith, Kalina Staub, James Tierney, Chris Youderian
Matthew Rousu is Dean and a Professor of Economics in the Sigmund Weis School of Business at Susquehanna University.
Jadrian Wooten is an Associate Teaching Professor of Economics in the College of the Liberal Arts at The Pennsylvania State University.