George Carlin — Stupider than Average

George Carlin makes a simple statistical error (unless he’s talking about a symmetric distribution) in describing the intelligence of the average person. Typically, the measure he is describing refers to the median, which would place half of the sample above the value and half the value below. Many students assume that the median and the mean are the same thing and will often describe them similarly, but averages can be prone to outliers. In this case, a really dumb person in a room full of genius can pull the average way down, but won’t change the median.

Thanks to Jeff Wooldridge on Twitter for the recommendation:

Boston — Rock & Roll Band (1976)

This song is older but is still useful as a discussion about investing in human capital. Human capital is much more than just getting a degree. Human capital also involves general knowledge (what do you know?), skills (what can you do?), experience (where have you been?), and personal characteristics (are you reliable? do you work well with others?). If you have a small enough class, ask students to identify investment in these characteristics based on the story in the song. Not only does the song tell a good story, but it also shows that there’s more than one way to get an education.

Thanks to Bryan Sloss for the submission and summary!

TurboTax — Too Busy to do Taxes

The guitar player is too busy to do his taxes, but TurboTax is happy to step in. The opportunity cost of stopping to complete the task is high for the guitar player but low for the accountant. The two can benefit from trade by having the musician continue to produce music and the accountant complete the taxes.

Thanks to Luke Starkey for the clip and summary!

Braveheart — We Didn’t Get Dressed Up for Nothing

In this scene, the Scottish army is waiting to fight the English army. William Wallace (Mel Gibson) is going to “pick a fight” and make sure that the nobles from each army don’t negotiate a peace. His fellow leaders are in charge of passing out weapons. When asked what to do they remark, “we didn’t get dressed up for nothing.” 

They are falling prey to the sunk cost fallacy. Just because they’re all dressed and ready to fight doesn’t mean that is the logical thing to do. The soldiers are not using effective marginal analysis to determine whether fighting is the next best course of action.

Thanks to Luke Starkey for the clip and summary!

The Arizona Republic

Chris Frisby lost his job due to the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the economy. Soon after, he was evicted from his home and was sleeping on the street. One way to teach the importance of fiscal policy and minimizing implementation tags is to identify real people who can be helped through these policies. Targeted policies that can reach people quickly will help stave off the impact of recessions (or pandemics!) and allowed the economy to continue producing at a reasonable level.

Thanks to Bill Goffe for the clip recommendation.

SiriusXM — Gizmos

In this clip, we see that a succession of technological advancements has changed the way Kevin Hart listens to his satellite radio provider (SiriusXM.) When satellite radio was first introduced, it was considered revolutionary. Listeners could tune into their favorite radio stations anywhere their car could go. People were no longer limited to radio stations from their geographic location. One drawback of the service was that the technology was tied to a specific physical location – the car.

Kevin Hart clearly thinks this is still the case as he is seen sitting in his car listening to SiriusXM. LL Cool J shows him he can now stream on his laptop and thus he is able to leave his car and continue listening to his favorite station! Eventually, he’s told that he can listen on his cell phone and even stream his station through his Alexa speaker. His mind is blown! Technological advancement has made all of this development possible. We now have greater flexibility about where we can listen to satellite radio.

Thanks to Erin Yetter for the clip submission and commentary.

The Grinch — Christmas Will Be 3 Times Bigger

The increasing commercialism of Christmas can be used to illustrate the concept of inflation. In The Grinch, one of the Whos shows the Grinch a new flyer that the mayor is anticipating that Christmas in Whoville will be three times bigger than last year! In a similar manner, inflation can devalue money and cause people to spend an increasing amount of money each year to keep up with the past. A specific set of Christmas decorations won’t be valuable as the previous year since everyone is expected to do things three times bigger this year.

Thanks to Mandy Mandzik for the clip recommendation. Check out her working paper, All I Want for Christmas is an A on My Econ Final: A Holiday-Themed Review Class, for more Christmas-themed economics examples.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas — Extreme Decorating

The increasing commercialism of Christmas can be used to illustrate the concept of inflation. In The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the Whos engage in a yearly competition to have the best Christmas light display. Each year the neighbors attempt to outdo each other with bigger and more extravagant displays. In a similar manner, inflation can devalue money and cause people to spend an increasing amount of money each year to keep up with the past. A specific length of Christmas lights isn’t as valuable the next year as it was the year before and neighbors will have to spend more and more to remain competitive.

Thanks to Mandy Mandzik for the clip recommendation. Check out her working paper, All I Want for Christmas is an A on My Econ Final: A Holiday-Themed Review Class, for more Christmas-themed economics examples.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — Not Enough Presents

Harry Potter’s spoiled cousin Dudley Dursley is upset that he received fewer presents for his birthday than last year. Instead of holding firm, Dudley’s parents decide to increase the number of presents to make up for Dudley’s disappointment. Similar to inflationary pressure seen across a broader economy, Dudley’s gifts seem to lose value over time and only an increasing number of gifts will satisfy him. There’s an expectation that each year Dudley will receive more gifts than the year before.

Thanks to Amanda Mandzik for this clip suggestion and summary!

Walt Disney — Santa’s Workshop

It’s the night before Christmas and the elves are hard at work producing toys for Santa to deliver on Christmas. The North Pole is an engaging illustration of an economy and a good foundation for reviewing nominal and real GDP. The elves in Santa’s workshop illustrated assembly-line efficiency and tangible outputs based on the number of toys produced. Elves produce a wide range of toys including rocking horses, building blocks, and dolls. The assembly line scene can be used as a reminder about the difference between intermediate goods (such as the doll’s clothing) and the final good (the entire doll) and which items are counted toward GDP.

Thanks to Mandy Mandzik for the clip recommendation. Check out her working paper, All I Want for Christmas is an A on My Econ Final: A Holiday-Themed Review Class, for more Christmas-themed economics examples. The appendix includes hypothetical values for these products so that students can practice calculating real and nominal GDP.

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