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!

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.

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.

Superstore — Election Day

It’s election day and Cloud 9 has placed pamphlets in the break room encouraging employees to vote for anti-union candidates. Cloud 9 knows that unionization could result in much higher labor costs, so they spend that money to encourage workers to not form a union. This form of managerial opposition is part of the explanation for the decline in unionization rates in the United States.

Superstore — Employee Appreciation

After a recent uptick in the amount of union activity in the store, the corporate office has decided to institute Employee Appreciation Day. Jonah is quick to point out that this particular day always seems to occur whenever they are trying to get people to sign union card. He advocates for the union instead and mentions that joining a union may provide more long-term benefits, but Amy and Dina work to convince the employees that a union is unnecessary.

Superstore — Union Busting

One way firms respond to increased union efforts is through managerial opposition. Because it’s illegal to fire workers who try to unionize, firms may use alternative tactics to discourage the formation of a union. An employee has been talking about forming a union and the district manager lets Amy know that the corporate office is considering shutting down stores, and a unionized workforce would make it more likely their store could be shut down. Amy, Dina, and Jonah meet in a backroom to discuss ways to stop the unionization from proceeding.

Superstore — Going on Strike

A lot of the employees walked out while on their shift in the hopes of getting Glenn his job back. The regional manager has arrived and is working with Jonah and Amy to see how they can get the employees back to work. Initially, Amy and Jonah ask only for Glenn to have is job back, but they must sign a letter saying that they apologize for walking out. While it seems like a small request, they decide that the employees really deserve more. Part of the goal of unionization is to turn a competitive labor market into a monopoly provider of labor. Through collective bargaining, Amy and Jonah demand more for their group.

Superstore — Union Memos

The lights are off in the store, but Dina and Glenn are searching for the manual override code to get power back online. While searching, Glenn goes through a series of older memos from the corporate office about how to keep union activity minimized. While stores cannot legally stop employees from unionizing, they have an incentive to keep unionization efforts at a minimum to keep labor costs low. The managerial opposition hypothesis is one explanation for low unionization in the US and primarily focuses on firms taking a proactive role in discouraging unionization.

The Simpsons — Day Laborers

 

In this scene, Homer and Bart are loading construction materials into their car at Builder’s Barn (a Home Depot-type store). Bart isn’t sure his dad is capable of handling the word himself when a group of immigrant day laborers offer their services. The day laborers have come from nearby Barleyville due to a recent “Barley Bust.” Homer accepts their offer and welcomes them to his home. He now feels superior because he’s able to hire workers to do jobs “we don’t want to do,” but then a hoard of laborers rushes the town of Springfield.

For a deeper look at economics and The Simpsons, check out Josh Hall’s book Homer Economicus.

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