Kitchen Nightmares – Marginal Touches

Chef Ramsey stops at a Scottish restaurant to help a struggling chef. What he finds is a restaurant where each employee makes a marginal change to the dish before it is sent on its way. A single dish may be modified by 7 different people, but it isn’t clear exactly how much of a contribution each is making. While each may add some benefit with their labor, the additional cost of waiting to send the dish out (and the cost of such a large staff) is part of the reason Chef Ramsey is there to help. The labor costs of the restaurant are $4,500 each week, but they aren’t even breaking even.

Thanks to Alex Marsella for the clip suggestion!

The Simpsons — Grease Business

When Homer finds out from Apu that there is a local business buying old grease, Homer sets out to be rich. He buys $30 worth of bacon, feeding it to the dog, in order to harvest the extra grease and sell it. He spends hours frying up bacon only to earn 68 cents. He doesn’t seem bothered by his losses since his wife (Marge) paid for it. There’s one problem Homer hasn’t realized yet; Marge gets her money from Homer.

Thanks to Alex Marsella for the clip suggestion and summary!

The Office — Automated Assitant

A new phone system can replace many of Pam’s tasks. She normally spends her day connecting incoming calls to different sales people and departments, but this new phone system will make it so that anyone calling Dunder Mifflin can dial directly to the department they want. She thinks she still has value at putting our candy, but then realizes a vending machine can do that as well.

Jim swoops in to save Pam and play the role of Michael Scott, the branch manager. Jim is in love with Pam and doesn’t want to see her fired, so he acts like Michael and tells the salesman that they aren’t interested. He’s almost busted, but luckily gets away with it.

Thanks to Richard McGrath for the clip submission!

Community — Market Price

Troy and Abed are sitting at dinner in a fancy restaurant when the bill arrives at the end. Troy initially offers to pay for dinner because it was Abed’s birthday, but is shocked by the final total since so many things on the menu must have been listed as “market price.”

Restaurants often list menu items as “market price” because they may include item (like lobster or fish) that have a constantly fluctuating price. Instead of printing new menus to account for changing prices, restaurants will just list it at “market price.”

Thanks to Luke Starkey for the clip submission.

Friends — Joey Loses His Insurance

Joey finds out that he hasn’t been working enough lately, so the Screen Actors Guild is canceling his insurance. He’s quick to point out the moral hazard involved in insurance because now he has to be more careful!

Later in the episode, he comes down with a hernia after working out. Since his insurance has lapsed, he doesn’t have enough money to go to the doctor to get it looked out. Luckily, Joey is able to find a part as “dying man” and he ends up getting his health insurance back.

Thanks to Isabel Ruiz for the clip suggestion!

The Simpsons — MoneyBART

The local little league team has a new coach, and she plans on using statistical analysis to improve their chances of winning. She tracks player tendencies and digs into the work of Bill James to bring a Moneyball approach to the Isotots. Bart laments that she has taken the fun out of the game, which begs the question of the team’s objective function. Are sports teams win-maximizers or should some teams focus on having fun?

At the end of the segment, Bart has a choice to make. Should he take the statistical approach to win the game or should he swing and try to preserve his hot streak. The hot hand fallacy is the belief that previous observations are correlated with upcoming observations. This fallacy leads us to believe batters “get hot” even though the probability of the next hit is independent of the previous ones.

Brooklyn 99 — Moneyball

Captain Holt and Lieutenant Jeffords want to streamline the department and improve efficiency across the precinct. Jeffords is concerned that Capt. Holt is getting to greedy and can’t make many more improvements, but Capt. Holt believes he’s taking a Moneyball approach to the department. The film is his favorite and he finds the statistical analysis beautiful.

While he may be improving efficiency through his new statistical approach, the two should be concerned about diminishing returns. Productivity can increase with revised strategies, but additional productivity may require a significant increase in cost. In order to determine the optimal outcome, the two should focus on marginal analysis.

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:

Adam Ruins Manufacturing

A lot of the recent discussion on the manufacturing industry has framed the loss of employment as a reduction in manufacturing capacity. The US manufactures more physical goods than ever, but it’s using labor as the primary input. In this segment of Adam Ruins Everything, we meet Hank who has recently been laid off from his job at the factory. In an earlier segment, Hank and Adam discuss major economic measures like GDP and Unemployment. In this segment, they discuss some of the misperceptions about manufacturing.

Adam Ruins Everything is a half-hour informational comedy where host, Adam Conover, debunks popular myths. Each episode is divided into 3 segments with some common themes. 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.

In the Summer of 2020, the paper was officially published in The Journal of Economics and Finance Education, which you can read online.

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