Alex Tabarrok

Teaching Growth with Two TED Talks

Blog Post created by Alex Tabarrok on Dec 11, 2015

Originally posted on November 27, 2009.


The Wealth of Nations and the Economic Growth begins with a number of key facts and figures.  Another good introduction to some of these facts and figures can be found in Hans Rosling’s 2006 TED talk:



Following the talk you can direct students to Gapminder where you or the students can create dynamic data visualizations on the fly.  Here, for example, you can see life expectancy and and income per capita evolve from 1800 to 2007.


As you watch the evolution you will notice a very quick but dramatic drop in life expectancy in 1918.  The drop was worldwide but if you want to focus on the United States select the United States on the right and click on trails near the bottom–the drop in 1918, by far the largest drop in the U.S. data, will then be prominent.  Ask students what happened?  (It was the 1918 flu epidemic which is why we continue to worry about the flu today.)

Also watch what happens to life expectancy beginning around 1956 in China–the great leap forward is a great leap downward.


The second half of our second chapter on economic growth, Growth, Capital Accumulation and the Economics of Ideas, deals with the economics of ideas.  In my TED talk I give a popular introduction, explaining how the fact that ideas are non-rival means that people around the world can benefit when other countries become rich and how, as a result, economic growth rates could accelerate in the future.


The talk is optimistic but this is a good opportunity to also discuss some of the negatives of economic growth and some of the forces such as war or catastrophic global climate change (or an asteroid strike – see Public Goods and the Tragedy of the Commons) that could negative these optimistic predictions.


A nice feature of these TED talks is that they have been subtitled in many different languages (click on the “view subtitles” to see the list) which makes them ideal for instructors in many different nations.