A Series of Unfortunate Events – Paid in Coupons

The Baudelaire orphans have been sent to the Lucky Smells Lumbermill and are being forced to work on the production floor. After a grueling morning of “log day,” the workers are given an entire five minutes for lunch, but the Baudelaire’s come to find that lunch consists of gum. Frustrated, they wonder if they can use their wages to buy something else, but it turns out that the Lucky Smells Lumbermill pays their workers in coupons rather than actual currency. The coupons don’t have any value since the workers don’t have any money to go out and buy things anyway. The workers also don’t have power to leave or demand better conditions because Lucky Smells is the only place to work in town.

When a single firm controls the labor market in a region, they are said to have monopsony power in the market. Monopsonies can pay workers below competitive wages because workers are unable to find alternative employment opportunities. In this case, the Lucky Smells Lumbermill pays them almost nothing since the coupons can’t really be redeemed anywhere.

A Series of Unfortunate Events – Aunt Josephine’s Risk Tolerance

The Baudelaire orphans have been sent away to live with their Aunt Josephine. They’ve been told how formidable and fierce she is, but it turns out that Aunt Josephine is incredibly risk averse. She has disconnect the doorbell and the telephone because someone may be electrocuted if they have a faulty pacemaker, even if no one in the house has a faulty pacemakers. Risk averse individuals are willing to give up some benefits (in this case, doorbells and phone calls) in exchange for avoiding possible negative consequences (electrocution).

Family Guy — Volcano Insurance

A traveling salesman sells Peter an insurance policy to protect his home against a volcano eruption. He convinces Peter “a volcano is coming this way” despite the fact that Peter lives in Rhode Island, far away from any active volcanoes. He convinces Peter to purchase the policy by using the gambler’s fallacy and convincing Peter that Rhode is “due for one.”

If this were actually true, the premiums associated with this policy would be extremely high and likely be the same as the cost that an actual volcano would inflict on the town. Insurance markets function on the interaction between uncertainty, risk aversion in consumers, and risk neutrality for firms. If some horrible event were guaranteed to occur imminently, there would be little incentive to sell insurance.

Thanks to Alex Marsella for the clip submission and most of the summary!

Bruno Mars — The Lazy Song

Bruno Mars lists out all the things he could be doing that day if he he hadn’t decided to just lay in bed and be lazy. Even though choosing to lay in bed doesn’t have any monetary costs associated with it, it doesn’t mean that there are no costs to his decision. Every decision people make (even Bruno Mars) has an opportunity cost. While he may have a millions of dollars in his bank account, he still only has 24 hours in a day like the rest of us.

Thanks to John Raby for the submission!

American Express — Tina Fey

In this American Express commercial, Tina Frey highlights the economic concept of gains from trade. A man in front of her gets the last goat cheese garden salad, but she really wants that salad. She has to figure out what he might possible want from her. She offers to buy his movie and include her snack box if he’s willing to exchange the salad that he had just received. Both parties benefit from their ability to trade with each other.

Thanks to John Raby for the submission!

Moana — How Far I’ll Go

Moana laments about how she wants to travel the sea, but her father wants her to stay behind and help her village. Moana wants to travel, but she can’t do it on her own. In order to travel the sea, she requires a variety of inputs like her boat and the wind in her sail. In order to build the boat, she needs wood from the trees on the island, but also some human capital associated with how to build a boat that won’t sink. All of our decisions, and any production that occurs on the island, requires resources. The main resource on this particular island is people’s labor, as they produce a variety of items to ensure society remains intact. As Moana says, “everyone knows their role on this island.”

Beauty and The Beast — Gaston

Gaston is the best man in town, for everything! If you don’t believe that, you can just ask him. In this scene from Beauty and the Beast, LeFou starts a song to help cheer up Gaston after Belle’s rejection. Gaston has an absolute advantage in a wide variety of things)—fighting, spitting, eating a large number of eggs, and even interior decorating. Gaston, however, is a relatively poor chess player. While Gaston is capable of doing everything for himself, it doesn’t mean he should. Gaston can still benefit from trade if he focuses on his comparative advantage.

Thanks to Matt Rousu for the clip!

Frozen: Let It Go

Frozen is the story of two princesses, Anna and Elsa. Elsa has magical powers that she is forced to hide her entire life until her coronation ceremony. Elsa flees to the cold, remote mountains and sings “Let it Go” after finally accepting her magical powers and letting go of the pressure to hold back her true self. When she sings “the past is in the past”, it’s a reminder of the role of sunk costs in the decision-making process. Sunk costs should be ignored because that time/energy/money cannot be recovered in the present.

Thanks to Matt Rousu for the clip.

Kitchen Nightmares – Marginal Touches

Chef Ramsey stops at a Scottish restaurant to help a struggling chef. What he finds is a restaurant where each employee makes a marginal change to the dish before it is sent on its way. A single dish may be modified by 7 different people, but it isn’t clear exactly how much of a contribution each is making. While each may add some benefit with their labor, the additional cost of waiting to send the dish out (and the cost of such a large staff) is part of the reason Chef Ramsey is there to help. The labor costs of the restaurant are $4,500 each week, but they aren’t even breaking even.

Thanks to Alex Marsella for the clip suggestion!

The Simpsons — Grease Business

When Homer finds out from Apu that there is a local business buying old grease, Homer sets out to be rich. He buys $30 worth of bacon, feeding it to the dog, in order to harvest the extra grease and sell it. He spends hours frying up bacon only to earn 68 cents. He doesn’t seem bothered by his losses since his wife (Marge) paid for it. There’s one problem Homer hasn’t realized yet; Marge gets her money from Homer.

Thanks to Alex Marsella for the clip suggestion and summary!

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