Life in Pieces — Discounts & Sunk Costs

 

Tim tries to host a guys night and things don’t seem to be going his way. Beyond the awkwardness of just the two of them, the big pay per view fight lasts only a couple of seconds. While the two did get to watch the fight, which had a knockout, it wasn’t quite worth the hundred dollars they paid. Tim notes that he may be able to turn it off and get his money back. With a lot of experience goods, it’s not necessarily the actual outcome of the action that people care about. Tim and Matt did see a fight, so why is he so focused on getting his money back?

A second quick econ line occurs later when they sit down for dinner. Even though Tim isn’t eating any tacos, he notes that the cook is cheaper since he expects Matt to eat 25 or 26 tacos. This form of bulk discounting represents second degree price discrimination. With this pricing mechanism, the hope is to induce customers to purchase more than they would have (law of demand) even though making an additional taco doesn’t have the added cost of another cook.

Argo — The Best Bad Idea

A CIA agent creates a fake Hollywood production in order to fool Iranian terrorists into releasing a group of U.S. diplomats based on the 1979 Tehran hostage crisis. In this scene, Tony (Ben Affleck) presents the concept of Argo. The CIA will eventually grant the proposal, but they want to know if there are any other bad ideas that could be better.

The concept of “the best bad idea” helps explain why some firms may operate in the short-run despite suffering a loss. While firms would love to earn a positive profit, there are a few loss situations available as well:

  1. (WORST) Firms can produce below AVC and lose both their fixed costs and some of their variable costs
  2. (BAD) Firms can shut down when prices are below AVC and lose their fixed costs
  3. (BEST OF THE BAD) Firms can produce as long as prices are above AVC and lose a little bit of money

Some students always want to divert to shutting down if firms face losses, but there’s a “better bad idea” as long as prices are above average variable costs.

Thanks to Darren Grant for the clip suggestion!

Darren also has a new book out entitled Methods of Economic Research!

Wendy’s — Choice is Good

This Wendy’s commercial picks fun at Soviet economics that were notorious for limiting options available to consumers in the name of efficiency, but monopolistic competition in a capital market thrives on product differentiation and the ability to cater to people’s preferences.

Thanks to Rob Szarka for the find!

Seinfeld — Soup Nazi

 

Superior products can provide companies with a short term barrier to entry in a market, but they aren’t usually long lasting. Beyond technological superiority, some companies may have service or quality superiority, as is the case with the Soup Nazi in Seinfeld. Offering a superior product allows the owner to treat customers rudely, offer high prices, and restrict output as he desires.

This clip is available thanks to Economics of Seinfeld.

Stossel — Diamond Engagement Rings

 

In this Stossel segment, we learn about the history of the De Beers diamond corporation and their control of the diamond market. Stossel interviews guests and asks them to identify diamonds from knock-off rings, but most can’t tell the difference despite claiming to be capable.

Adam Ruins Everything — Diamond Rings

One of the textbook examples of monopoly power comes from De Beers Diamond Corporation and their control over the diamond markets since the end of the Great Depression. In this short scene, Adam Conover covers the history on engagement rings and discusses the monopoly power that the De Beers company had in the market.

Adam Ruins Everything is a half-hour informational comedy were host, Adam Conover, debunks popular myths. Each episode is divided into 3 segments with some common theme. 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. If you’re curious about the paper, you can read about it here.

Hawaii 5-0 — Product Differentiation

 

In monopolistically competitive markets, sellers offer differentiated products, and this Hawaiian food truck is no different. While some people believe that food trucks should only offer a small range of menus, the chef argues that in order to stand out in such a competitive market that he has to offer variety. Introducing new substitutes will decrease the demand for others and eventually lead to zero economic profit.

Thanks to Hannah Canil for the clip suggestion!

Das Racist — Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell

If you haven’t driven by YUM!’s combination stores, they are a site to see. A family of picky eaters can stop by a location and grab a combination (depending on the pairings) of pizza, tacos, fried chicken, fish, or burgers. The combination of stores varies depending on the area, and some even have three-in-one:

pizza hut taco bell kfc

This song (and accompanying picture) can serves a great introduction to the concepts of product differentiation and economies of scope. The YUM! brands have a large presence in major categories in the fast food market:

4. KFC —  20,404 locations
7. Pizza Hutt — 13,728
11. Taco Bell — 6,500

Thanks to Rob Szarka for the recommendation.

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