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:

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!

Schitt’s Creek — Christmas Demand & Price Discrimination

The Roses are trying to buy a last-minute Christmas tree, but they’ve come to realize their options are limited. The shop owner knows demand has recently been higher because there aren’t a lot of trees available in the store. Raymond finds that the prices are higher than he was expecting and decides to leave.

The shop owner takes a few creative approaches to selling trees, including bundling air fresheners with purchase and offering a discount if people buy two trees. Price discrimination is a popular tool to increase output for a firm and sell products to people across the demand curve.

Thanks to James Tierney for the submission:

Burn! The Cost of a Wife

Sir William Walker (Marlon Brando) is sent to break up Portugal’s sugar monopoly on the fictional Caribbean island of Queimada. Walker goes on to incite a revolt among the slaves with the leadership of a dock worker, José Dolores. Walker simultaneously attempts to convince plantation owners to turn against the government.

This is an inspired movie moment layered with cultural conflict addressing the transition in economic theory during colonialisms transition to capitalism and the economic forces at play in the transition from slave labor to wage labor, or as is implied wage slavery.

Walker outlines the cost of taking a wife and compares that with the cost of slave labor. He outlines tradeoffs of the two in an attempt to convince the men around the table that slaves are the better option.

Thanks to Chris Brennan for the clip recommendation!

Friends — The One With All the Candy

 

Monica decides she wants to makes candy for the neighbors even in an attempt to get to know them better (or to liked?) She decides to place the candy in a basket on her door so that anyone can take a piece, but a tragedy of the commons ensues. Her neighbors are taking more than their “share” of the candy and are bothering her throughout the day to get more candy from her. When the commons has been exhausted, the neighbors form a mob.

Thanks to Dawn Renninger for the clip recommendation!

Erin Brockovich — Negotiating Damages

There appears to be a coverup of contamination of the local water supply by PG&E, but the impacts are becoming more visible. In this scene, Ed Masry meets with a PG&E lawyer to “negotiate” a settlement for damages causes by the contamination. While PG&E may not have believe their dumping was causing externalities, it appears that they may have imposed serious external costs on the region. One of the concerns of litigation of this sort involves determining the appropriate value of the reduced quality of life resulting from these external costs.

Thanks to Dawn Renninger for the clip suggestion!

Family Ties — Turtle Business

Alex Keaton talks to pre-schoolers about starting a business and taxes. It is a fun clip to show when introducing a discussion about taxes. To avoid any issues with political differences, I usually note beforehand that Michael J. Fox, who plays Alex, was a Democrat in real life but played a Republican on the show.

Thanks to Matt Rousu for the clip and description!

Mumbai Police — A Solution for Noise Pollution

Mumbai drivers are apparently notorious for honking, even when the light is red and people can’t move. The Mumbai police decided to incentivize drivers in order to reduce some of the noise pollution in the city. The police installed noise meters and if the decibel level reaches a certain threshold, the timer on the lights resets. A message flashes to let drivers know that the more they honk, the longer they wait!

Another fun policy intervention occurred in Europe to help drivers slow down.

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