The Colbert Report — Picketty

 

Colbert interviews Thomas Piketty regarding his book, Capital. Colbert challenges the notion that income inequality is a concern, but Picketty argues that growth is important. Picketty emphasizes the importance of economic mobility from a growth standpoint. This interview would serve as a good introduction to the topic in a principles course or a quick review of topics for an intermediate course.

Last Week Tonight — Wealth Gap

 

John Oliver looks at the wealth gap in the United States following the announcement by President Obama that income inequality was “the defining challenge of our time.” Critics immediately accused the President of class warfare. Oliver discusses popular reasons for growing inequality but also highlights some of the current policies that contribute to its growth. An interesting extension of his coverage on the estate tax is a framing argument that by simply telling people the threshold required to pay those taxes can cause people to switch their support for the tax.

CBS News — American Wealth Pie

Tony Dokoupil takes an interesting approach to ask Americans if they understand what their “share of the pie” looks like. While trying to ask directly, many mall goers avoid the topic, but when asked to distribute pie to plates representing various bins, Americans learn how wealth is distributed currently. This is similar to work done by Michael Norton and Dan Ariely who fond that Americans have a hard to defining the distribution of wealth in the United States.

The Simpsons — Day Laborers

 

In this scene, Homer and Bart are loading construction materials into their car at Builder’s Barn (a Home Depot-type store). Bart isn’t sure his dad is capable of handling the word himself when a group of immigrant day laborers offer their services. The day laborers have come from nearby Barleyville due to a recent “Barley Bust.” Homer accepts their offer and welcomes them to his home. He now feels superior because he’s able to hire workers to do jobs “we don’t want to do,” but then a hoard of laborers rushes the town of Springfield.

For a deeper look at economics and The Simpsons, check out Josh Hall’s book Homer Economicus.

West Side Story — America

“America” compares life in America versus life in Puerto Rico. While the men favor the lifestyle of their homeland, the women prefer the mainland. This is a fun introduction to a discussion on mobility and migration in a labor economics or even to discuss standards of living and preferences in a macroeconomics course.

Assessment idea: Have students list things things they would miss if they were asked to move to another country.

Looking for more: Do you want to see more economics in Broadway shows? Check out BroadwayEconomics.com

Thanks to Mark Sammons from the University of Arizona for sending this clip in!

The Pajama Game — 7 1/2 Cents

Asking for a raise is tough, but even a modest raise in wages can have a huge impact on worker salaries. In this scene from The Pajama Game, we see how a 7.5 cent raise can impact a worker’s wage. The cast goes through the calculations of what they could earn with additional income, including an automatic washing machine, a year supply of gasoline, and a vacuum cleaner.

Assessment idea: This is a neat opportunity to calculate real wages and see what 7.5 cents would be worth today versus 1953. The BLS has a calculator so you don’t have to wait!

Looking for more: Do you want to see more economics in Broadway shows? Check out BroadwayEconomics.com

Thanks to Mark Sammons from the University of Arizona for sending this clip in!

J. Cole — Brackets

J Cole discusses the impact of tax brackets on his earnings. As J Cole continues to increase his earnings, he moves into new tax brackets, which requires an increasing amount of tax liability to the government. This song could be used as a good pre-class video before discussing tax policy. The Tax Policy Foundation provides the country’s tax brackets since the inception income taxes as part of the 16th Amendment.

J Cole notes in the song that the money is supposed to support schools and roads, but he doesn’t believe the money is being used efficiently by politicians. He argues that because he pays so much, he should be able to have some say in how the money is used, but that’s part of the explanation for pork spending already in that companies rent seek and convince politicians to vote in favor of their interests:

I pay taxes, so much taxes, shit don’t make sense
Where do my dollars go? You see lately, I ain’t been convinced
I guess they say my dollars supposed to build roads and schools
But my niggas barely graduate, they ain’t got the tools
Maybe ’cause the tax dollars that I make sure I send
Get spent hirin’ some teachers that don’t look like them
And the curriculum be tricking them, them dollars I spend

Thanks to Kim Holder for the song suggestion!

Trading a Paperclip for a House

 

Kyle MacDonald started with a red paperclip and ended up with a house. Trade and barter requires a double coincidence of wants, but Kyle was able to find people willing to give up something he valued more than his holdings. Mutually beneficial exchange makes both parties better off. This is a great clip to start the process of discussing why trading can grow an economy and why centrally planned economies are harder to coordinate.

Thanks to @AlcovyEconomics on Twitter for the clip!

Agents of SHIELD — She Wanted Gold!

 

Loralei is seeking to take over the world and she wants money, but Rooster shows up with a bag full of paper money instead of gold. Rooster explains to her that on Earth, paper money is just like gold although he mistakenly says that Ben Franklin was a US president. While dollars used to be based on gold, they have since been converted to fiat money is backed on faith of the US government.

 

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