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.

Freakonomics — What’s in a name?

 

A summary of the labor market impacts for naming children with “distinctively black names.” Researchers conduct resume studies in Chicago and Boston to determine the frequency of callbacks for two identical employees with different-sounding names. This subtle form of discrimination lengthens the spells of unemployment and creates a gap between white and black workers. Not hiring a worker because an employed believes the applicant is African American is a form of employment discrimination.

West Side Story — America

“America” compares life in America versus life in Puerto Rico. While the men favor the lifestyle of their homeland, the women prefer the mainland. This is a fun introduction to a discussion on mobility and migration in a labor economics or even to discuss standards of living and preferences in a macroeconomics course.

Assessment idea: Have students list things things they would miss if they were asked to move to another country.

Looking for more: Do you want to see more economics in Broadway shows? Check out BroadwayEconomics.com

Thanks to Mark Sammons from the University of Arizona for sending this clip in!

The Pajama Game — 7 1/2 Cents

Asking for a raise is tough, but even a modest raise in wages can have a huge impact on worker salaries. In this scene from The Pajama Game, we see how a 7.5 cent raise can impact a worker’s wage. The cast goes through the calculations of what they could earn with additional income, including an automatic washing machine, a year supply of gasoline, and a vacuum cleaner.

Assessment idea: This is a neat opportunity to calculate real wages and see what 7.5 cents would be worth today versus 1953. The BLS has a calculator so you don’t have to wait!

Looking for more: Do you want to see more economics in Broadway shows? Check out BroadwayEconomics.com

Thanks to Mark Sammons from the University of Arizona for sending this clip in!

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