Teaching Economics with Excel

The point of this single web page is to be a one-stop shop. The links below point to the various ways that I use or have used Excel to teach Economics, including my summer Excel teaching workshop.

My curriculum vitae, with complete contact information, is available here: BarretoCV.pdf.

Last Updated: 6 May 2017


Background and Philosophy

I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a PhD in Economics in 1985 with a specialization in the history of economic thought. I think I am one of the last HET PhDs produced in the US. I really care about my students and I want to help them understand economics, by which I mean how economists think, manipulate models, and use data.

Over the years, I fell into a pattern. When I first taught a course, I would choose a textbook and do the usual assigned readings, lecture, and homework. I found myself frustrated with how little my students seemed to be learning. Instead of thinking it was my fault or blaming my students, I focused on the materials we were using. To supplement the textbook, I created Excel files and they gradually became more complicated, with macros attached to scroll bars and buttons, until I could teach the course without the book. This happened in Econometrics (which I team-taught and developed materials with Frank Howland), Micro and now Macro (which is my most recent project). I have also written Intro-level materials (team-taught and co-authored with Kay Widdows). As web sites for books and papers proliferated, I was finding it difficult to point people to a single place and someone in my Teaching Economics with Excel workshop suggested that I should have a single page as an entry point, so I created this page.

Almost all of my students have loved the Excel-based approach (although I can be too blunt and critical -- I'm working on being warmer and fuzzier). The combination of clear, concrete examples with easy to read formulas and live graphs is unbeatable for teaching and learning. They are happy to learn economics and math, but the practical Excel skills they acquire is a huge side benefit. So, all I am really doing with these Excel materials is sharing what has worked so well for me.

In every file, I have tried hard to get it exactly right. I am not original or particularly smart (I'm not being overly modest, I'm just comparing myself to people that I have known, like my cousin, Chato,who languished in a Cuban jail for 16 years and passed the time by playing chess--without a board!). I have, however, developed a knack for taking a mathematically formal model and implementing it in a clear way in Excel. That's what I think is my contribution. I don't do really simple stuff—I like taking something complicated and making it accessible, but that means that sometimes the material is just too hard for some students. I would say, however, that underestimating students is really wasteful and odds are that you will be pleasantly surprised by what your students can accomplish so it is better to shoot too high than too low.

I hope these materials help. Economics remains mired in deep ignorance. (I'm a historian of economics, remember?) There are open problems everywhere and we need people to study economics and figure out how markets work (they really are amazing) and how they can be be improved.

Humberto Barreto


Excel Teaching Workshop

Teaching Economics with Excel A hands-on workshop with emphasis on improving teaching and learning in Economics using Excel. You can get the books or papers below and work through them yourself, but if you are serious about using Excel in the classroom, this workshop is an effective way to accumulate a great deal of human capital in a short period of time. For some people, it's a question of confidence—I think you will be comfortable using Excel in the classroom at the end of this workshop.


Excel Content for Entire Courses

MACRO: Teaching Macroeconomics with Microsoft Excel My most recent project, a book for instructors with Excel versions of popular macro models and data. My innovation here is that the Excel workbooks have screencasts so they can be assigned as needed. The book will be for professors and offer teaching tips and strategies for using the files.

MICRO: Intermediate Microeconomics with Microsoft Excel The web site has Excel workbooks and the Comparative Statics add-in for my book (published by Cambridge University Press in 2009). It includes videos of lectures for this course.

METRICS: Introductory Econometrics: Using Monte Carlo Simulation with Microsoft Excel (with Frank M. Howland) Excel workbooks and a variety of add-ins (including robust SEs, probit/logit models, bootstrapping, and more) for our book ((published by Cambridge University Press in 2005, with a second printing in 2010). At the very least, use Frank's histogram add-in and dump the clunky "Analysis ToolPak" (sic) version that comes with Excel!

INTRO: Introductory Economics Labs (with Kay Widdows) A set of standalone exercises using Excel and Word at the intro level (published in the Journal of Economic Education in 2012).

Single Class Applications

Of course, you can pick and choose from the materials above and use a lab or particular Excel workbook or add-in on any given day, but here are a few examples and applications that can be done in one day and in several different courses:

MaddisonData.xls A macro-enhanced Excel workbook of Maddison’s World Economy data that enables easy comparison of countries over time; video link in workbook has instructions. Although part of my Macro book, this file can be used across the curriculum, from Intro level to Intermediate and Advanced Macro and a wide range of electives such as Development, Economic History, Growth Theory and more.

PikettyCapitalModel.xlsx A workbook that implements the Solow Model without any math and explains Piketty's argument about high K/Y and inequality in Capital.

PopulationPyramid.xlsm A workbook that simulates population pyramids to show their dynamic properties and uses Excel as a browser to explore population pyramids with real-world data. It has a link to a paper that explains how to use it.

"Understanding and Teaching Unequal Probability of Selection(with Manu Raghav) A way to teach non-simple random sampling with Excel and Stata (Journal of Econometric Methods March 2013). We are working on the sequel, incorporating complex survey design (strata and clusters).

Excel Applications with Students

These are students that I have worked with at DePauw that have used Excel for senior projects and Honor Scholar theses.

2017: Lois Miller, Reaching Further: The Role of Distance in College Undermatching (Excel workbook with data: Import 2.xlsm; contact me if you want the original raw data set). Uses MTurk and Qualtrics to survey about college application process and outcomes. Excel used to clean and process data; Stata for analysis.

2012: Aishwarya Subbaraman,Extraction Politics: An Economic Analysis of Rare Earth Elements(zip file with Excel workbooks and paper) Excel implementation of optimal extraction model with functions that solve for optimal extraction.

2012: Paul Hoffman, OrganGame.xls (Excel workbook) Thesis not completed, but this Excel file has implementation (with terse documentation) of Kessler and Roth's "Organ Allocation Policy and the Decision to Donate." It is fully functional and you can run some pretty cool simulations with it.

2011: Ryne Weppler,Testing Optimization: Solving the Lifeguard Problem with Discrete and Continuous Methodologies (Word doc with link to Excel workbook) A behavioral economics application that tests whether people can intuitively solve the Lifeguard Problem. The Excel workbook is amazing -- you play a game and it records how well you did.

2010: Elizabeth Cozzi,An Economic Analysis of Title I of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008(zip file with Excel workbooks and paper) Monte Carlo simulation analysis of insurance risk pooling.




Humberto Barreto

DePauw University