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Thinking Like an Economist

In Greg Mankiw’s favorite textbook (and one of the best-selling principles textbooks worldwide), he introduces students to the notion of “thinking like an economist.” Across the start of most economics textbooks exists a section about thinking strategically by using the notions of opportunity costs, scarcity, and rationality. Moneyball can be used as a starting point for discussing the assumptions of economic thinking.


Play the following scene from the movie, where Billy Beane is seen in a boardroom full of scouts discussing replacing former players and evaluating potential draft picks. This scene does contain some adult language. 

This scene serves as a great opening dialogue to economic issues of scarcity and rationality. While the A’s would like to keep Jeremy Giambi, they do not have enough space in their budget to keep him and must let him sign with other teams who are willing and able to pay more for his services. The resounding question that Beane poses to his scouts is a question that can be integrated throughout almost any economics course, “what’s the problem?”

Worksheet Activity
(Download the handout)

Pass out the "Thinking like an Economist" worksheet. The table includes four questions for students to consider. The middle column allows students to provide an answer to the question and a 1-2 sentence justification. Have students work on the sheet by themselves first. After students complete the sheet, have them work with a nearby student to share their answers, and allow for revision. 

After the discussion is over, select a pair of students to share their responses with the class for the first question. The final column will come from a class discussion where the instructor will explain how an economist would answer each of the questions, discuss why, and answer lingering questions. The final portion is a reflection for students to consider how an economist thinks differently than others.

Teaching Economics with 

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