Futurama — A Can of Old Fish

The gang heads to get some pizza and Fry wants his friends to experience anchovies, a type of small, salted fish. It turns out that these small fish were overfished and the population collapsed. Zoidberg even mentions how sorry he was that his people kept consuming them because they didn’t realize they were a common resource, subject to the tragedy of the commons.

Fry is incredibly rich, and wishes he could bring them back. He at first notes that even incredibly wealthy people aren’t able to purchase everything. At an auction, he finds that there is exactly one can left in the known universe and decides to bid all of his money for the “can of old fish”

While we normally wouldn’t pass judgement on someone’s preferences, it’s hard not to believe that this could a good example of a winner’s curse. Fry’s willingness to pay for the can of fish may not be $50 million, but the utility from winning the auction could be worth that.

Thanks to Brian Lynch for the clip suggestion!

The Simpsons — PBS Free Riders

Homer has found a new British show on PBS and he’s really loving it, but then they interrupt his show to ask for money. Betty White is a guest during the telethon and mentions that anyone who watches even a second of PBS and doesn’t donate is equivalent to a thief.

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is a nonprofit American public television show. While the channel focuses primarily on educational programming, it relies on donations from viewers to help support its budget. PBS would be considered an example of a public good since it is nonrival and nonexcludable. One of the problems with public goods is that it is subject to underprovision because of free riders, like Homer, who consume the service but don’t contribute to its production.

Thanks to Tom Flesher for the recommendation on Twitter:

Adam Ruins Manufacturing

A lot of the recent discussion on the manufacturing industry has framed the loss of employment as a reduction in manufacturing capacity. The US manufactures more physical goods than ever, but it’s using labor as the primary input. In this segment of Adam Ruins Everything, we meet Hank who has recently been laid off from his job at the factory. In an earlier segment, Hank and Adam discuss major economic measures like GDP and Unemployment. In this segment, they discuss some of the misperceptions about manufacturing.

Adam Ruins Everything is a half-hour informational comedy where host, Adam Conover, debunks popular myths. Each episode is divided into 3 segments with some common themes. In the Spring of 2018, James Tierney and I sat down to go through all three seasons of Adam Ruins Everything to pick out examples in each episode that could be used in an economics course.

In the Summer of 2020, the paper was officially published in The Journal of Economics and Finance Education, which you can read online.

Superstore — Election Day

It’s election day and Cloud 9 has placed pamphlets in the break room encouraging employees to vote for anti-union candidates. Cloud 9 knows that unionization could result in much higher labor costs, so they spend that money to encourage workers to not form a union. This form of managerial opposition is part of the explanation for the decline in unionization rates in the United States.

Superstore — Employee Appreciation

After a recent uptick in the amount of union activity in the store, the corporate office has decided to institute Employee Appreciation Day. Jonah is quick to point out that this particular day always seems to occur whenever they are trying to get people to sign union card. He advocates for the union instead and mentions that joining a union may provide more long-term benefits, but Amy and Dina work to convince the employees that a union is unnecessary.

Superstore — Union Busting

One way firms respond to increased union efforts is through managerial opposition. Because it’s illegal to fire workers who try to unionize, firms may use alternative tactics to discourage the formation of a union. An employee has been talking about forming a union and the district manager lets Amy know that the corporate office is considering shutting down stores, and a unionized workforce would make it more likely their store could be shut down. Amy, Dina, and Jonah meet in a backroom to discuss ways to stop the unionization from proceeding.

Superstore — Going on Strike

A lot of the employees walked out while on their shift in the hopes of getting Glenn his job back. The regional manager has arrived and is working with Jonah and Amy to see how they can get the employees back to work. Initially, Amy and Jonah ask only for Glenn to have is job back, but they must sign a letter saying that they apologize for walking out. While it seems like a small request, they decide that the employees really deserve more. Part of the goal of unionization is to turn a competitive labor market into a monopoly provider of labor. Through collective bargaining, Amy and Jonah demand more for their group.

Superstore — Union Memos

The lights are off in the store, but Dina and Glenn are searching for the manual override code to get power back online. While searching, Glenn goes through a series of older memos from the corporate office about how to keep union activity minimized. While stores cannot legally stop employees from unionizing, they have an incentive to keep unionization efforts at a minimum to keep labor costs low. The managerial opposition hypothesis is one explanation for low unionization in the US and primarily focuses on firms taking a proactive role in discouraging unionization.

After Life — Chip Externalities (explicit language)

Tony joins his colleagues for lunch at a local pub to discuss potential leads for their newspaper, but he’s disturbed by a gentleman loudly munching on chips behind him. The man appears to be ignorant of the external costs he’s imposing on those around him and is focused on only his own satisfaction.

When people are unaware of the external costs they are imposing on others, they tend to overconsume, literally. Since there aren’t clear property rights, it’s not clear who should make the determination of appropriate volume. Tony could pay the man to stop eating his chips, but Tony may argue that the man should have to pay for the right to eat his chips so loudly. It’s harder to reach a solution without clearly defined property rights.

Thanks to Sheena Murray for introducing me to this show. She submitted a different clip from the show, but I looked up the wrong episode and happened to find this clip instead.

After Life — Ordering a Kid’s Meal

In this clip, the main character, played by Ricky Garvais, is taking his nephew out to lunch. They decide to both order the fish sticks meal from the kids’ menu. When Ricky attempts to order this meal, the waitress informs him it is only for children. Although the café is practicing a common form of price discrimination, Ricky’s character is confused and argues he should be able to order the meal and pay a smaller price for a smaller portion. The server argues this is not true, and that the meal is made cheaper for children. The character claims his nephew is hungry and wants to eat two meals… much to the waitress’s chagrin.

This clip is an excellent display of price discrimination, the necessary condition of being able to segment the consumer base (by age- with visual confirmation), and a conversation/confusion around if different prices truly reflect different marginal costs of production.

Thanks to Sheena Murray for the clip submission and summary!

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