008: Robbie Butler on Using Sports to Teach Entry-Level Economics
Robbie Butler is a lecturer of economics at University College Cork in Ireland. He combines his love of sports with economics to explain many economic concepts. He lectures on a multitude of modules, such as Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Growth Economics and Corporate Strategy. Robbie received his PhD from University of Hertfordshire in England, is published in a number of internationally renowned academic journals and is a regular economics contributor on media. Robbie’s primary passion is in sports, namely football (soccer) and he has a Junior International cap for Ireland. Robbie managed to bridge his passion for sports with his career in economics and, along with his brother David and other colleagues, created and runs the popular website www.sportseconomics.org.
In this interview, Robbie mentions and discusses: economic growth, institutional economics, the logic of collective action in society, the rise and decline of nations, sports economics, theory of Multiple Intelligence, incentives, game theory, the volunteers dilemma, decision-making, competition, government funding, laissez-faire and sabermetrics.
Economists and Economic Schools:
In this interview, Robbie mentions: Professor Geoffrey Hodgeson, Mancur Olson, David Kahneman, Stefan Szymanski, Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, Jadrian Wooten, Rodney Fort, Brad Humphreys, Seamus Coffey, John Considine, David, Butler, Declan Jordan and John Eakins.
His PhD supervisor/mentor Professor Geoffrey Hodgeson who recently established the World Institutional Network for Interdisciplinary Research (WINIR), the works of Mancur Olson, Stefan Szymanski, Rodney Fort and Brad Humphreys.
- who lectured Robbie as an undergrad. Hint: He’s the host of this show!
- how Robbie’s use of sports in explaining economics grew from fun and a personal interest into something that has grown and evolved into something quite serious.
- how playing football at a highly competitive level has allowed Robbie view economics in quite a unique way.
- how this unique view has given Robbie an ability to delve into economics with many sports analogies and examples in which students can relate.
- how having played sports competitively has given Robbie a level of respect and credibility when using sports-related themes in economics.
- the importance of working with like-minded people and how it makes life so much easier.
- why a coffee break with colleagues can have the most intellectually-stimulating conversations bursting with ideas.
- a great tip before publishing a blog post when working with others who share the same website – it cuts out the use of Google Docs, Dropbox, etc.
- how working with a sibling makes the feedback on your work more critical and raw – something that could help with perfecting the right article.
- about the Theory of Multiple Intelligence by Harvard educationalist Howard Gardner – we have 8 ways of learning.
- how sports can be used as “a lens to the economic world” that empowers the student when learning and understanding economic theory.
- how a change to the rules of a football/soccer game in the Caribbean between Barbados and Granada created incentives that reflects the behaviour of rational economic agent.
- how a penalty shoot-out between Manchester United and Chelsea in the Champions League Final showcases the Volunteers Dilemma in economic game theory (Chelsea are instructed to take all penalties to Manchester United keeper’s left but he finds out Chelsea’s strategy when faced with the last penalty-taker by pointing to his own left – game theory demonstrated in football).
- how watching the Simpsons can expose us to economic theory with its many parodies.
- why Robbie believes that the English Premier League is in trouble and has all the hallmarks of a bubble.
- how the different economic structures of the US (free market) and Europe (socialist) are reversed when it comes to the economic model of sports.
- how the debt/GDP ratio imposed on EU countries is similar to the debt/income rules imposed on football clubs.
- why big clubs may be willing to break the spending rules of the game despite the imposition of monetary fines.
- about the use of metrics by Billy Bean’s Oakland A’s and how a ‘mediocre’ team could beat the cash-rich New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
On Learning and Teaching Economics:
“We all have to develop ourselves and our understanding”.
“Try and keep the material as current as you possibly can”.
- Robbie, like all great educators, is always learning about the most optimal ways to teaching economics.
- When working with a group who share the same website, it is best to leave each post unpublished as a draft so that your colleagues can give some critical advice or recommendations before being published.
- Constantly updating the teaching material.
On Hard Work:
“Hard work is everything. Nobody is born with an innate ability to do something. The harder you work, the easier things become. Thant applies to college, studying, sports and life in general” – Robbie Butler, UCC.
On the Value of Informal Meet-ups:
On Ways of Learning:
“People develop their understanding of different concepts in different ways. Some people have very good spatial recognition and may not be good at logical reasoning. Other people are fantastic musicians or artists. some people are very good numerically. So, because we all learn in very different ways, we need to teach in such a way that tries to capture as many forms of multiple intelligence theory as we can. We use sports as a lens to the economic world”.
On Sports in Economics:
On the Use of Data:
“When you’re teaching economics or doing research, data is key and lots of data in sport is collected for us. There are so many things we can analyse from an economic perspective using the lens of sport”.
- Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski
- Homer Economicus: The Simpsons and Economics by Joshua Hall
- The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Nations Are So Rich and Some So Poor by David Landes
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
Favorite Internet Resources:
Where To Find Robbie Butler:
- Website: www.sportseconomics.org