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 – 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 – Unintended Consequences of Drones

While drones provide a level of safety for US military members, they also create an incentive problem for the military. Now that it is easier (and safer) to strike foreign targets, the US uses drones to attach more targets than they would if they hadn’t been invented. This unintended consequence has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths and an increased reliance on deadly technology. This is also another example of a moral hazard in which economic agents take increasingly risky actions because they have been safeguarded against the risk.

The G Word with Adam Conover – Rent-Seeking in Weather

When companies engage in rent-seeking behavior, they are engaging in behavior that is intended to increase their wealth without a subsequent increase in productivity. Private weather companies use government-funded data and resell that data as if it were proprietary. The same companies have also engaged in lobbying efforts to reduce competition from the National Weather Service and prevent the agency from acting as a substitute.

The G Word with Adam Conover – Local Pork

When it comes to disaster relief efforts, states are not treated equally but rather based on their representation on FEMA’s oversight committee. Pork barrel, or simply pork, is a metaphor for the appropriation of government spending for localized projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative’s district. The results are often worse when a natural disaster happens during an election year. Read more in this NYT article by the late Alan Kreuger.

The G Word with Adam Conover – A Job For Everyone

People have a wide array of preferences for working conditions, which creates a heterogeneous workforce. Some workers may need to be paid extra to compensate for unpleasant conditions (known as a compensating differential) while others may be willing to be paid less to work a job that they enjoy. Workers are often assumed to be utility maximizers, not income maximizers, in the decision of which jobs to work and how many hours to work. Adam highlights that notion at the end of this brief scene with a USDA veterinarian who specializes in the disease.

The G Word with Adam Conover – Overwhelmed by Choices

Have you ever stepped foot in a grocery store and been immediately overwhelmed by all the choices you have about everything from chips to sodas? The paradox of choice is that we often believe having multiple options makes it easier to find the product we really want, but it turns out that having a lot of options makes it harder to figure out exactly which one we want and often leaves us unhappy with our choice.

George Carlin — Stupider than Average

George Carlin makes a simple statistical error (unless he’s talking about a symmetric distribution) in describing the intelligence of the average person. Typically, the measure he is describing refers to the median, which would place half of the sample above the value and half the value below. Many students assume that the median and the mean are the same thing and will often describe them similarly, but averages can be prone to outliers. In this case, a really dumb person in a room full of genius can pull the average way down, but won’t change the median.

Thanks to Jeff Wooldridge on Twitter for the recommendation:

Boston — Rock & Roll Band (1976)

This song is older but is still useful as a discussion about investing in human capital. Human capital is much more than just getting a degree. Human capital also involves general knowledge (what do you know?), skills (what can you do?), experience (where have you been?), and personal characteristics (are you reliable? do you work well with others?). If you have a small enough class, ask students to identify investment in these characteristics based on the story in the song. Not only does the song tell a good story, but it also shows that there’s more than one way to get an education.

Thanks to Bryan Sloss for the submission and summary!

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