Professor Finds Theatrical Way to Teach Economics

Professor Finds Theatrical Way to Teach Economics
Professor Finds Theatrical Way to Teach Economics

August 03, 2015

Whether you've seen the Broadway classic Les Miserables or not, you are likely familiar with one of its most well-known songs, "Stars," which is performed by Javert and reflects his quest to find the main character, Jean Valjean.

But did you also know that "Stars" has an economic principle embedded in the lyrics? Susquehanna economics professor Matt Rousu posits just that idea and analyzes many more compositions on his new website Broadway Economics.

"I've liked Broadway for a long time," Rousu said, "and these songs, whether it was the writer's intention or not, illustrate economic concepts."

Rousu's website lists more than 30 videos so far, accompanied by an explanation of the economics principle they illustrate.  

For example, in "Stars," Rousu suggests, Javert toys with the economic concept of elasticity.

"Javert provides a great example of inelastic demand, as he swears upon the stars that he will never yield, under any circumstances, in his quest to find Valjean," Rousu said. "In fact, economists would say he has perfectly inelastic demand-as the price won't influence Javert in his quest."

Also featured on the website are:

  • "Simple Joys," Pippin: Trade-offs, utility/marginal utility
  • "Let It Go," Frozen: Sunk costs
  • "Story of My Life," Shrek the Musical: Discrimination
  • "The Speed Test," Thoroughly Modern Millie: Screening and signaling
  • "If I Were a Rich Man," Fiddler on the Roof: Poverty, income equality

"Hopefully this is just another way to engage students and help them understand a concept they may not have previously understood," Rousu said. "And it's fun. After all, there are worse ways to learn."

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