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.


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
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


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