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Unexpected Economics

Utilize economic thinking to illuminate a wide range of topics not typically understood to be economic in nature-from how we choose a mate to why we vote the way we do.
Unexpected Economics is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 63.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Entertaining but disappointing I have been a patron of The Great Courses for fifteen years or so and have completed dozens of courses, nearly all of which provided both pleasure and learning. “Unexpected Economics” by Dr. Taylor is the first I have abandoned in mid-course (after Lecture 16, to be precise). Like some other reviewers, I found Dr. Taylor’s delivery at least acceptable, albeit not stellar. The issue is with the course content which can most charitably be described as entertaining. Unfortunately, I don’t repair to Great Courses lecture series for entertainment, but to learn in a disciplined but low pressure way. “Unexpected Economics” fell short of the thoughtful course design, intellectual rigour and academic discipline I have found in almost every other course I have completed over the years. Would I recommend this course to others? If they sought entertainment, perhaps. If serious learning, no. There are hundreds of more substantive lecture series available from The Great Courses. I will be beginning one of them tomorrow.
Date published: 2023-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A really interesting take. This course is loaded with insights on a very broad range of human activity. My favorite lectures: #6 Prediction Markets –Windows on the Future, #13 Fairness and the Ultimatum Game, and #14 Myopic Preferences and Behavioral Economics. This is definitely a thought-provoking course. HWF & ISF, Mesa AZ
Date published: 2023-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Plenty of Fresh Insights! What I especially like about Professor Timothy Taylor’s course is that he has opened my eyes to how many aspects of life and society are fit targets for economic research, beyond obvious dollars-and-cents matters of banking and industry that I’d thought of as comprising economists’ main bailiwick. This lecturer’s clever approach is to teach from the kaleidoscopic point of view of how people in general go about making choices, trading, cooperating, compromising, pursuing happiness in their individual ways, and dealing with constraints and tradeoffs. It now makes sense to me how useful it can be all round to apply economic theory to the study of diverse subjects such as traffic patterns, crime fighting, racial inequities, game playing, charity, natural disasters, voting, international peacekeeping, etc. Professor Taylor’s genial sense of humour and his sincerity are on display, too, in each lecture. His course is an impressive tour de force! As it was produced in 2011, I’d love to see a new Great Courses edition with updated statistics.
Date published: 2023-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Practical Economic Examples This 2011 course by Taylor, a consultant to both the Federal Reserve and Social Security Administration, is one of the few “practical” economics courses. In Lecture 1 (L1), he notes that economics is about making choices in a world of scarcity. Historically, the U.S. has been a rare haven of abundance where economics is driven by consumerism more than scarcity. Recently, however, the reality of both Federal and personal debt are awakening a new sensitivity to Taylor’s “choices in a world of scarcity.” Economic transformations are a historical norm: (L2) Usury laws (forbidding the payment of interest for loans) were the norm until the 13th century. Interest started as a late penalty on loans in the West. Parts of Islamic areas still forbid interest payments but have “contracts” that allow the same result via different labels. Until the 19th century “life insurance” was looked upon as “gambling with death” and no substitute for the good will of neighbors until heavy marketing of life insurance to ministers reversed this view to life insurance as being responsible. The ownership of children by someone other than the biological mother was challenged in the 1985 Baby M case against the biological mother. Its relevancy is now seen in recent cases where school boards have begun to both openly and secretly pre-empt the wishes of parents in what their children will be taught. L3: Though well-intentioned laws like the National Organ Transplant Act that forbid paying a live donor for a kidney, they created more demand for the less effective dialysis route. L4’s important “Tragedy of the Commons” concept: “when people use a common resource, there is an incentive for each to overuse…they personally receive all the benefits while the costs...are shared by all…then the common resource is depleted” explains why Federal largesse has led to both more Federal expansion and debt. Taylor's economic examples begin in L5. Social Science (one of the least scientific sciences), proposed a “SECULARIZATION HYPOTHESIS” link between fading religion and increasing economic wealth (based on European economics). While secularization has advanced rapidly since Taylor's course, the huge Federal and private US debt has not supported this “secularization to riches hypothesis” nor have Islamic countries suffered financially. Taylor reasons: 1.) “Religious commitment may have an effect on…trust"; 2.) Pascal’s wager: “the risk of not believing in God and being wrong has much worse consequences than the risk of believing in God and being wrong - rational people should choose to believe...leading to virtuous behavior and well-functioning communities.” L6 suggests that group consensus is often smarter that the individual distinguishing between consensus and “herd behavior” as “somewhat informed people" vs an expert rather than media saturated choice. L7 discusses criminality as a career choice with its own risk/rewards. He presents some figures relevant to today’s West Coast situation: Increasing the # of cops 10% decreases crime 4% vs. increasing the # of prisoners 10% (each at $50K/yr in 2012) decreases crime only 2%. L8 on “Terrorism as an occupational choice" discusses domestic terrorists as not usually poor, but the “more educated”. Once terrorism has taken root it continues. As Finn discusses in the Great Course The First Amendment, “free speech" has very definite limits and violence is not protected at all. L9 discusses a penalty of female attractiveness: highly ranked women tend to postpone marriage with the result that in a later age they “have a difficult time finding enough men at their socioeconomic and educational level.” L10: Thomas Robert Malthus' (1766-1834) “Essay on the Principle of Population as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society” predicted the world would soon end. His idea was " Subsistence increases arithmetically, but population increases geometrically.” Unfortunately for Malthus substance DID increase geometrically and Malthusianism is derided in hindsight. Yet Bill Gates, arriving via private jet, recently pitched the same end of the world thing because we need “zero population growth" to contain CO2. L11 showed how "statistical discrimination" has prevented employers from hiring those from "unsuccessful groups”, resulting in a decreased incentive for members of that group to “try". L12 is what we see in today’s papers: cartels are companies that cooperate so that they can raise the price for consumers via either government support or predatory pricing. This is sorely seen in the stock market this month when PE ratios suddenly dropped in half - with much of that decline due to unusually large corporate profits. L14: Myopic preference is people who have a difficult time doing what they say they want to do. Example: a heavy smoker worrying about retirement. L15 Deadweight loss: “gifts are on average worth 15% less to the recipient". L16: "Status quo bias" is an extremely intense issue today. Taylor asks the important question: "Who sets the frame?" L18: In the 19th century, Arthur Schopenhauer wrote about herd mentality: "Universal opinion…was often originally the result of 2 or 3 people who analyzed the subject and then (it) was just accepted by many others." CLOSING QUOTES: L 24: 1.) The Easterlin paradox of 1974: “The average level of happiness was not...increasing over time with economic growth. 2.) "Women (2011) report less happiness now than they did in the 1960s and early 1970s. Happiness data suggests that the greater possibilities for women in the workforce have also brought higher levels of stress, which cause happiness to decrease.” L13: "You need to recognize that the people you are dealing with have fairness in mind. If you act in a way that seems unfair, they will punish you in some way.”
Date published: 2022-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Goodbye Dry Economic Theory I have a pretty good understanding of Economics. Took it as a minor in University and worked my entire career in finance. Bu this was an entirely new way to look at Economics. Eye opening and thoroughly enjoyable. Although the lectures were given many years ago, they did not feel dated, unlike most Economics courses.
Date published: 2022-03-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting but not great Economics, sociology, psychology; an interesting mix. The course lived up to its description and outline on the web site. It covers a lot of subjects; but, necessarily can not cover all those subjects in detail. The professor does make the point that we live in a world where we are constantly making choices with costs and consequences. Therefore; all of those choices are 'economics' of some kind. When I finished the course I did not come away with the feeling it was up to a 5-star rating of so many other Great Courses. I did not come away with the feeling I had learned something new. I was just reminded of the world I've been living in for a long time. I do recommend the course to others because it may make you think about some of your choices in a different way; if the price is right for you.
Date published: 2021-06-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not real economics This a waste of time if you want to learn real economics.
Date published: 2021-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Lecturer A great lecturer. Clear, funny, balanced. I am arm-chair familiar with about 1/2 of the material, but Professor Taylor makes new elements interesting, refreshes the review parts, and the whole thing fun. I listen while walking, so I walked an extra 30 minutes each day to listen to 3 lectures instead of only 2.
Date published: 2020-08-08
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Grasp as never before the ways in which economics operates in areas you may never have considered. Delivered by acclaimed economist and Professor Timothy Taylor, the 24 lectures of Unexpected Economics offer a wide-ranging investigation of how economic thinking&;amp;-whether applied personally, nationally, or globally&;amp;-relates to, and sheds fresh light on, just about everything. Using findings from recent Nobel Prize winners and leading-edge fields like behavioral economics, Professor Taylor explores the economics behind subjects such as discrimination, natural disasters, charity, and even terrorism.


Timothy Taylor

My wife says that I am an evangelist, with economics as my religion. I'm not sure this is altogether a good thing! But maybe it explains my enthusiasm for prepping and giving these lectures.


Macalester College

Professor Timothy Taylor is Managing Editor of the prominent Journal of Economic Perspectives, published by the American Economic Association. He earned his Master's degree in Economics from Stanford University.

Professor Taylor has won student-voted teaching awards for his Introductory Economics classes at Stanford University. At the University of Minnesota, he was named a Distinguished Lecturer by the Department of Economics and voted Teacher of the Year by the Master's degree students at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

In 2007, Professor Taylor published the first Principles of Economics textbook, available as a free download from Freeload Press. He has also edited a wide range of books and reports and published articles on globalization, the new economy, and outsourcing. From 1989 to 1997, Professor Taylor wrote an economics opinion column for the San Jose Mercury-News.

By This Professor

Unexpected Economics
Unexpected Economics


The World of Choices

01: The World of Choices

In this introductory lecture, encounter a definition of economics far broader than the one understood by most people. Also, learn that economics is about the choices you make in every aspect of life, their consequences, and the degree to which the realm of choice itself is larger than you would think.

32 min
A Market for Pregnancy

02: A Market for Pregnancy

History demonstrates that most people are creatures of their own time in terms of what they will accept as appropriate economic transactions. Focus on three once-banned examples now seen as partly or completely ordinary: interest payments, life insurance, and the so-called "baby market."

28 min
Selling a Kidney

03: Selling a Kidney

The discussion of forbidden transactions continues with a provocative look at the controversy over the buying and selling of human organs like kidneys or livers. No matter where you stand on the issue, this consideration of benefits and costs offers a fresh perspective from which to consider your views of medicine and longevity.

32 min
Traffic Congestion-Costs, Pricing, and You

04: Traffic Congestion-Costs, Pricing, and You

Can economic analysis do anything about traffic? This free-wheeling examination of the choices that produce both the problem and solution reveals an example of the "tragedy of the commons" and looks at how the city of London addressed the issue with a strategy of "congestion pricing."

28 min
Two-Way Ties between Religion and Economics

05: Two-Way Ties between Religion and Economics

Although links between religion and economics may seem counterintuitive to many, the possibility has interested economists ever since the work of Adam Smith. This lecture explores how several different aspects of religion may in fact contribute to the underpinnings of the real-world economy.

31 min
Prediction Markets-Windows on the Future

06: Prediction Markets-Windows on the Future

Can the likelihood of a future event be predicted? If so, how? Plunge into the world of prediction markets, where people place bets on what will happen, and get some surprising answers-in areas that include elections, Oscar winners, and the performance of new products.

29 min
Pathways for Crime and Crime Fighting

07: Pathways for Crime and Crime Fighting

Step beyond the traditional nature-versus-nurture argument about the causes of crime to examine the problem from an economic perspective. Grasp how incentives and tradeoffs affect the decisions of both criminals and law enforcement and how policymakers might better take them into account.

30 min
Terrorism as an Occupational Choice

08: Terrorism as an Occupational Choice

Is there a causal relationship between poverty and terrorism, or a pathway to terrorism originating in a lack of education? Discover some surprising answers as you turn your attention to the choices and incentives economists find when examining how terrorism and its practitioners find each other.

32 min
Marriage as a Search Market

09: Marriage as a Search Market

By looking at the many factors that go into marriage-from the "market" where people find their spouses to the forces that influence their choices about remaining together or splitting apart-you'll gain fresh insight into why marriage patterns have shifted so dramatically.

31 min
Procreation and Parenthood

10: Procreation and Parenthood

Beginning with the work of Thomas Malthus, explore the many ways in which our child-bearing patterns have changed, including a current theory that actually sees children as a kind of luxury good, where an increase in income translates into an even higher investment in one's children.

28 min
Small Choices and Racial Discrimination

11: Small Choices and Racial Discrimination

Take a close look at how discrimination against African Americans manifests itself in various markets. Learn about the different analytical perspectives set forth by economists like Becker, Schelling, and Arrow; the impact of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and three different approaches to achieving equality.

32 min
Cooperation and the Prisoner's Dilemma

12: Cooperation and the Prisoner's Dilemma

A discussion of the classic Prisoner's Dilemma and its application to the market economy leads to a surprising conclusion: Competition and cooperation are not opposites. Instead, they are interlocking, with market competition the ultimate example of socially cooperative behavior.

27 min
Fairness and the Ultimatum Game

13: Fairness and the Ultimatum Game

Turn your focus to the world of "laboratory economics," where game exercises like the "ultimatum game," "dictator," "punishment," "trust," "gift exchange," and others help cast fresh light on key aspects of economic behavior. Learn how perceived fairness and other motivating factors can affect real-life markets.

30 min
Myopic Preferences and Behavioral Economics

14: Myopic Preferences and Behavioral Economics

Myopia can refer to more than eyesight. Grasp the impact of setting aside the long-term view in favor of the shorter one, a pattern whose consequences can be seen not only in personal finance, but in health care, time management, and many other aspects of behavior.

30 min
Altruism, Charity, and Gifts

15: Altruism, Charity, and Gifts

Is charity always altruistic, or is giving really motivated by disguised self-interest? Examine the many possible motivations for charity, societal steps to support it, and the imbalances that occur when a recipient's valuation of a gift is markedly different from that of the giver.

32 min
Loss Aversion and Reference Point Bias

16: Loss Aversion and Reference Point Bias

How a choice is framed significantly affects which alternative is chosen, even when either will produce identical results. Grasp why this is so through concepts like loss aversion and reference dependence, and see how public "nudge" policies might be used to influence those choices.

29 min
Risk and Uncertainty

17: Risk and Uncertainty

An eye-opening exploration of how economists see risk introduces behavioral descriptions like risk-neutral, risk-seeking, and risk-averse, along with the most useful way to realistically evaluate probabilities and make decisions. Learn how this knowledge factors into public policy subjects like energy and finance.

32 min
Human Herds and Information Cascades

18: Human Herds and Information Cascades

Most of us understandably "run with the herd" when making decisions outside our personal expertise. Although this often leads to correct choices, it can also draw us astray. Learn the dangers of "information cascades" and how to avoid joining herds headed in disastrous directions.

30 min
Addiction and Choice

19: Addiction and Choice

In a provocative examination of a controversial subject, learn how some economists have analyzed drug addiction as a chosen behavior-and therefore subject to analysis of costs, benefits, and incentives, much like any other personal choice.

30 min
Obesity-Who Bears the Costs?

20: Obesity-Who Bears the Costs?

American men and women have both gained an average of more than 20 pounds since the early 1960s. Address the reasons for this increase, the role played by economic factors, and the implications for public policy, including who really pays the costs obesity imposes.

32 min
The Economics of Natural Disasters

21: The Economics of Natural Disasters

The damage natural disasters do to people and property is not just a matter of fate. Explore how the answers to economic questions about socially appropriate investments in advance planning and preparation for rapid response can influence the impact of a natural disaster.

30 min
Sports Lessons-Pay, Performance, Tournaments

22: Sports Lessons-Pay, Performance, Tournaments

Although sports account for a far less significant piece of the economy than most people assume, it does provide economists with especially clear examples with much broader applicability. Grasp what sports can teach us about issues like pay and promotion, valuing talent, and providing incentives for top performance.

30 min
Voting, Money, and Politics

23: Voting, Money, and Politics

What happens when voting-its costs, incentives, even its very rationality-is subjected to the scrutiny of economists? Understand the real impacts on this defining principle of democracy from factors like voter ignorance, money, special interests, and turnout.

31 min
The Pursuit of Happiness

24: The Pursuit of Happiness

If happiness is indeed the ultimate incentive for the choices we make, is there any way to measure it? This concluding lecture examines several ways in which economists have sought to define and measure this elusive goal and the ways in which the results might influence our choices.

34 min