Old Spice — Smellcome to Magic

Individuals often make decisions that are in their own best interest, and often disregard the impact they may have on other people. Whenever this happens, individuals are creating an externality. Someone else either benefits or is harmed by that outcome. In the case of someone putting on deodorant, that could have spillover benefits from people getting to smell a “fresh scent.” If too much is applied, it could annoy others are turn to a negative externality.

Turkish Airways — Flying Everywhere

This Turkish Airways ad shows the value of network externalities to a market. A network effect occurs when the value of a product or service depends on the number of users. Network effects are typically positive, such that the more people using the product, the more valuable the product becomes. Airlines are an example of network effects, as the ad points out, because the more places they fly, the more valuable the flights are to the people purchasing the tickets.

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 Jessica Pritchard 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.

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!

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.

Have Gun – Will Travel — Bitter Wine

 

Paladin is hired to settle an issue between a vineyard owner and a neighboring oilman. The smoke and runoff from the oil well are damaging the grapes of the award-winning vintner. This is a classic case of externalities and the Coase Theorem would suggest the two could meet and solve the problem on their own (if there were low transaction costs), but the Coase Theorem wasn’t written about until two years AFTER this episode aired.

Check out this Econlib post for more discussion. This clip, and a forthcoming working paper, was presented at the 2019 Southern Economics Association Annual Meetings by Jon Murphy and John Schuler.

Blackish — Castle Neighbors

 

This opening cartoon depicts Dre dutifully maintaining his castle and describing the lengths men go to in order to protect their castle. Unfortunately, we can’t always control what neighbor’s do with their castle and their decision to throw parties and disturb us is (seemingly) out of our control. The Coase Theorem would argue that so long as transaction costs are low, people should be able to bargain and sort out external costs imposed by private actions. The insinuation by Dre in this scene is that the transaction costs may be just a bit too high.

Clip recommended by James Tierney:

 

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