When Katie Neale, a sophomore majoring in business at Gonzaga University, signed up for a mandatory Economics 201 course last semester, the 19-year-old expected to learn about supply and demand, monopolies and opportunity costs.
She did—but with a Swiftie twist. The course repeatedly referenced Taylor Swift’s influence on the economy, which extends well beyond the United States.
“Obviously in most classes you talk about current events to some extent, but it’s usually news versus pop culture,” said Neale, who said she’s been a Swift fan as long as she can remember. “The way I learn is very much through examples, so making those something I have immense background knowledge on made it easier to learn the material and, at least for me, it was really impactful.”
Paul Krugman, a New York Times columnist, Nobel Prize winner and Distinguished Professor of economics at the CUNY Graduate Center, began working on the curriculum for the course last summer. Swift’s massive Eras Tour had just kicked off, creating such a frenzy among fans that it caused Ticketmaster’s website to crash.
Most of the course’s 12 economic principles feature a Swift example, from her impact on supply and demand with ticket prices to the discussion of monopolies, since Ticketmaster was the sole seller of her concert tickets. Krugman said he designed his course to make it relatable to college-age students—even if they are not exactly fans of the pop star.
“There’s always been a problem with principles books, where you have middle-aged authors trying to relate to college students, and it comes across as condescending or fake,” Krugman said. “In this case, it’s a natural connection that matters with a lot of students. It wasn’t ‘This is trendy; let’s put it in [our curriculum].’”
“When the concert [tour] first exploded, it was really evident it helped students engage in the curriculum,” he said. “Who gets excited about monopolies? Well, Swifties are, all of a sudden, and they got excited because of one person.”
The course covers a dozen economic principles, with Swift fitting “perfectly” into eight of them, according to Ryan, including monopolies, willingness to pay and economic impact. He joked that they needed to add a 13th principle in homage to Swift’s lucky number.
Krugman put the course materials on Macmillan Learning’s primary learning platform, Achieve, this summer, allowing professors to access a PowerPoint detailing “Swiftonomics” examples to use in their classroom. While he and Herzog were unable to estimate how many professors were using the materials, they seem to have struck a chord with many.
Krugman was inspired to create the course after participating in a panel discussion about the economics of the music industry. He wrote about Swift’s rising star in a 2015 paper, “Two Centuries of Taylor Swift,” and later created a set of assignments for studying Swiftonomics, or the A-list star’s impact on the upcoming Super Bowl, including ticket sales, hotel room stays and viewership.
Swift has long been studied in college classrooms: courses covering her songwriting, musical techniques and influence on pop culture are taught at Harvard University, Stanford University, Berklee College of Music and Arizona State University.
Part of what makes Krugman’s and Herzog’s curriculum work is Swift’s global ubiquity, with students knowing her “all too well.”
“Love her or hate her, you know her,” Herzog said, adding he used to use basketball analogies before realizing international students could not relate.
The course has been a hit at other institutions that have picked it up.
Solomon Namala, an economics professor at California-based Cerritos College, began teaching Krugman’s course last year. He taught students about the concept of supply and demand using the legions of Swift fans who bought beads to make friendship bracelets as examples—the bracelets became a hallmark of the Eras Tour—thus raising prices.
“Bringing in popular culture topics resonates with students’ lived experiences and makes them more comfortable,” Namala said. “If the learning environment is not comfortable, no matter how great a teacher you are, you can’t connect with the students.”
And references to Swift will “long live,” according to Krugman.
“A lot of students come into it thinking it’s just going to be business and profit and supply-and-demand diagrams,” he said. “And we have this great gift now.”