Using The Simpsons to teach economics—how's that for a pedagogical tool?
Economics is not an easy subject to learn. Students find it difficult for a variety of reasons. Some have an outright aversion to the numbers and graphs that are typically at the core of an economics curriculum; others—used to relying on introspection—find applying economics properly to be difficult when they would not make the same decision given the same incentives.
So how can economics professors make this area of study more intuitive for students? Here’s my pedagogical standby: I started using popular culture like The Simpsons to teach economics. I’ve found that students find it easier to apply economics to fictional characters they know well, especially when it involves preferences different than their own. For example, I doubt any of my students would try to gain excessive weight in order to qualify for disability and work from home as Homer does in “King-Size Homer.” Yet they almost all could understand that it made sense to Homer, given his own lethargic preferences and the incentives he faced.
In editing Homer Economicus: The Simpsons and Economics, my goal was to take this insight from my classes and reach a larger audience interested in learning economics. I contacted dozens of other economic instructors who I knew also used The Simpsons in the classroom and asked them to write up short essays on ideas and concepts that would be found in any basic economics course. In addition, there are chapters applying economics to health care, casinos, prohibition, and immigration.
Basically, the book is filled with examples from the show that illustrate economic concepts and the economic way of thinking. What follows are four examples of how The Simpsons might have been teaching you economics while making you laugh.