Bullet Train –- Prisoner’s Dilemma

Bullet Train is an American action comedy that pits various killers against each other while riding a bullet train. In this scene, Lemon has tracked down two people (Prince and Kimura) and needs information. Instead of torturing the two of them, he opts instead to place them in a classic prisoner’s dilemma. He hopes that the two will be self-interested and reveal the outcome he desires.

Prince and Kimura are asked to close their eyes and either confess or rat the other person out. Lemon reminds them that cooperation (both raising hands or both pointing at each other) is likely a lie and he will kill them both. It’s a slight twist on the traditional prisoner’s dilemma played in classrooms, but it’s nice to see an application of interdependence and game theory in movies.

Thanks to Liam McDermott for the clip recommendation!

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.

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 – 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.

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