The G Word with Adam Conover – Unintended Consequences of Farming Subsidies

The US has subsidized farm production of grains and corn since the Great Depression, which has resulted in a surplus of production. As a result, the US is able to produce a lot of processed snacks that use grains and corn, but it has the unintended consequence of creating negative health impacts. While the goal of the policy has been on increasing the incomes of farmers, it has resulted in more obesity in America

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

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. The USDA has given the agriculture industry power in shaping US food policy, but it has resulted in policies that have increased the industry’s profit without necessarily improving public health.

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.

The G Word with Adam Conover – The Value of A Label

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was no real oversight on meat packing and procession. When Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, it brought national attention to the unsanitary conditions at meat packing facilities. Today, the labels are intended to serve as a signal that meat has been processed correctly. It’s an attempt to correct for information asymmetry in which the food processor knows how the food was handled, but the final consumer is unaware.

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The G Word with Adam Conover — Obama Does His Own Taxes

Adam is contemplating whether it makes sense for him to star in a new series about the role of the government while it’s produced by former US President, Barack Obama. When Adam gets up, he notices the President doing his own taxes and is surprised he doesn’t just hire an accountant to do it. While Obama claims he enjoys it, he doesn’t appear to be very good at it. Typically, people can benefit from trading services and specializing in things they are good at relative to other people. The opportunity cost of the President doing his own taxes is likely really high compared to an accountant.

Spider-man (2002) — Making a Choice

In this clip, Green Goblin has given Spider-man a choice between saving his girlfriend or a car full of children. Even superheroes face opportunity costs! While it looks like there is a tradeoff between saving one versus the other, there are also larger opportunity costs associated with choosing to be a superhero. By becoming Spider-man, Peter Parker places his loved ones in danger when he could be living a “normal life,” but that also means the larger population loses their “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”

This clip was submitted by Lianne Kulik, who learned about it from Megan Kirts and Brian O’Roark.

Curb Your Enthusiasm — Appetizer allotment

Larry David is adamant about the unwritten rule of appetizer allotment. In this scene, Richard Lewis is also eating “too much” of the hummus that they have ordered to share. The “unwritten rule” is that the dish should be split evenly among the diners, but there is a strong personal incentive to eat more than your share. In a sense, this is similar to the tragedy of the commons. While it’s in the best interest of the group to split the resource fairly, some people may try to take advantage of the situation.

Thanks to Alex Marsella for the clip recommendation!

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!

TurboTax — Too Busy to do Taxes

The guitar player is too busy to do his taxes, but TurboTax is happy to step in. The opportunity cost of stopping to complete the task is high for the guitar player but low for the accountant. The two can benefit from trade by having the musician continue to produce music and the accountant complete the taxes.

Thanks to Luke Starkey for the clip and summary!

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