The Office – $100 now or $5,000 a year from now?

Pam and Jim are getting married, but some of their coworkers aren’t ready to give them money directly. Ryan approaches Pam and offers her the choice of $100 now or the opportunity to get $5,000 a year from now. Pam is skeptical and initially states she wants the $100. Ryan is able to eventually talk her into investing in his friend’s company.

This is a great opportunity to talk about the tradeoffs of risk and reward as well as introduce the concept of present value. If Pam accepted the $100, she may be able to turn that into $110 next year if she found an opportunity to invest at 10% interest. Ryan is offering an incredibly risky alternative that would pay off much higher. In order for people to accept that much risk, the payoff must be really large. Safer investments tend to have lower interest rates.

Thanks to Allison Anthony for the clip recommendation. You can find more economics-inspired clips from The Office on The Economics of The Office website.

The Office — Frictional Unemployment

Frictional unemployment comes from voluntary transitions within an economy and is naturally occurring, even in stable/growing economies. It’s healthy for workers to choose when to leave their jobs in search of new (and often better) ones or when people enter the labor market in search of work. In this scene from The Office, Michael Scott quits after being annoyed by how his company has treated him over the past 15 years. Michael is comfortable quitting, even after it seems that he will get what he wants because he believes there is more out there for him.

Thanks to Allison Anthony for the scene suggestion!

What We Do in the Shadows — Night Market

What We Do In the Shadows is a mockumentary that follows Nadja, three other vampires, and their family who live in present-day Staten Island. In this episode, the wraiths employed at Nadja’s vampire nightclub begin to agitate for better working conditions. In pursuit of a rare substance that will squash the wraith labor movement, Nadja goes to the night market—an open-air market organized and frequented by witches, demons, and other mythical creatures. Because the market runs on the barter system, Nadja has to make many trades and spend a lot of time haggling with others to get what she seeks.

Thank you to Megan Kirts for the scene suggestion and clip summary!

Adam Ruins Everything — The Reason Weed is Illegal

Despite the notion that marijuana is a gateway drug, the world has a history of consuming marijuana until the mid-1930s. People believed that marijuana usage caused a bunch of socially-unacceptable side effects, but scientists disproved those beliefs in the 1940s. Instead, the US government focused on the prohibition of the drug, which resulted in a host of unintended consequences. The Nixon administration used the War on Drugs to target their political enemies.

The Practice — Shame as Punishment

In Becker’s rational model of crime, theorists predict that criminals way the benefit gained from committing crimes with the expected costs of committing the crime. Those costs generally include jail time or fines, but some criminals may not be deterred by those penalties. Shame may be an additional punishment that people are more likely to want to avoid if the punishment is public in nature. In this scene from The Practice, the judge assigns a shaming punishment in an effort to deter future criminals who may commit similar crimes.

The G Word with Adam Conover – Obama is Still Doing His Taxes

In an earlier episode, we learn that President Obama enjoys doing his own taxes, but Adam points out he would be better off with an accountant. Specialization and trade allow people to see improved efficiency but doing everything yourself can result in a lot of wasted resources. At the end of the series, we see President Obama is still working on his taxes and has made a lot of mistakes already.

The G Word with Adam Conover – Investing in Healthcare

Investments in human capital require an upfront cost but provide long-term benefits. Human capital is much broader than just education and includes any investment that improves the quality of production. These decisions include things like moving across the country or improving one’s health. The US government uses some of its tax receipts to invest in healthcare for its citizens. This investment has resulted in increases in life expectancy, especially for those that have been treated at the National Institute of Health.

The G Word with Adam Conover – Investing in Public Health

Economic growth is driven by investments in both physical capital and human capital. To increase the health and wealth of a society, the US must ensure that businesses have access to resources (both physical and financial) but that everyone has access to resources that improve their human capital. Under this framework, government investment in irradicating diseases like malaria, polio, and measles allows individuals to live longer, healthier lives which increases their productivity.

The G Word with Adam Conover – Misaligned Medical Incentives

While doctors are likely to be focused only on saving lives, medical insurance companies may be focused on increasing the quantity of healthcare a person receives. In this brief scene, we consider whether it’s appropriate for insurance companies to charge without consent and whether doctors may be incentivized to do more than necessary to increase earnings.

The G Word with Adam Conover – Cost Benefit Analysis of Government Investment

The US economy has benefited tremendously from government investment in technological advancements designed to improve the US military’s firepower, but is it worth it? There are a number of equity considerations around the investments, but the efficiency gains are a bit more obvious. The research is funded by taxpayers, so it begs the question of what is the best use of funds. Adam questions how funds should be used, but essentially proposes viewers consider the tradeoffs that are present in each new advancement

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