Using YouTube to Inspire the Next Generation of Economists

Interview with Emergent Ventures Grant Recipient Craig Palsson

Craig Palsson, assistant professor at the Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University, just joined the third cohort of Emergent Ventures (EV) recipients. Below, he shares some of what inspired his proposal, how it fits in with his broader work, and what he hopes to accomplish.

Tyler Cowen described your EV grant as support for an economics YouTube channel, Market Power. What is the basic idea behind Market Power, and how is it different from other economics resources online that already exist?

Market Power's goal is to get viewers excited about economics. There are several channels, like Marginal Revolution University, that teach viewers economics, but they are structured like high-quality textbooks. While they are useful for learning economics, not many people fall in love with a topic because of a textbook. The Market Power approach is to find exciting ways to highlight market and economic forces in ways the average viewer can relate to.

Can you walk us through what a typical video might look like or cover? What kind of topics will you cover, and who is the main audience?

The typical video highlights economic principles found in pop culture and other trending topics. One video could focus on the economics in Marvel Movies, while another might explain public goods using a viral challenge on Reddit. Eventually, videos will cover new research in economics and interesting topics in economic history. The audience is economists and non-economists alike—mainly anyone interested in coming to YouTube to learn something rather than watch a cat video.

What about your field made you think, “this is what I have to do”? Was there a “Eureka!” moment where you realized there was a gap you could fill, or is this an idea you’ve been kicking around for a while?

I have four kids and we enjoy watching educational YouTube channels like Smarter Every Day and Mark Rober, which typically focus on topics in physics and engineering. One day after watching their videos I thought, "If I were in high school today watching these videos, I would want to become an engineer." I realized we didn't have anyone convincing the next generation to become economists. I felt I could fill that gap with Market Power.

You are someone whose research looks into some of the risks of the adoption of new technology while simultaneously using new technology to help educate people. How do you think about the balance between the value of innovation and concerns about introducing new risks?

Everything in life has a good side and a bad side, and the danger is focusing exclusively on one of them. For instance, economists love trumpeting the virtues of open economies, while others talk only about trade creating unemployment or power imbalances. Both sides need to understand that in the long run we are creating a better world, but in the short run we will see real human costs. The same thing applies to innovations such as smartphones and YouTube. Such innovations have incredible power to improve lives, but if we blindly ignore their bad sides we will fail to realize that they can also hurt people. I try to be aware of the bad and seek after the good.

Can you paint a picture of what success in this project looks like to you? If your videos accomplish all you hope they will, how will the world be different by the time you’re done?

I want this channel to become the Bill Nye of economics (or in YouTube parlance, the Smarter Every Day of economics). In five years, students will tell their professor that they decided to major in economics because of Market Power.