Vox takes a deeper look into the use of ramen as currency inside America’s prison system. Ramen serves a unique function as money since actual cash isn’t allowed in prisons. In order to serve as currency, an item needs to be durable, portable, and standardized, which ramen is. Ramen is the largest item purchased in prison commissaries and once inmates stockpile ramen, they can inflate/distort prices for other goods and services in the prison. The use of Ramen in prison economies is also mentioned in Brooklyn 99.
South Park — Medicinal Fried Chicken (NFSW)
Cartman and the gang head to KFC after soccer practice only to find out it’s been converted into a new medicinal marijuana shop. Cartman convinces his mom to drive him to a nearby town for KFC, but that show has closed as well. Cartman learns that Colorado has recently passed a bill that bans fast food in low-income areas, but it turns out KFCs were only built in low-income cities, so there are effectively no more KFCs in the state. The state government has essentially set a price ceiling for KFC in low-income areas at zero dollars. One of the predictable side effects of these price controls is a black market for the item. Items with price ceilings also tend to have inefficiently low quality. The banning of fast food causes Cartman to enter the black market to feed his KFC addiction. In later scenes, Cartman is upset because he catches a dealer cutting the KFC gravy with Boston Market gravy. When the dealer suggests he can take the gravy back, Cartman notes that no one wants fried chicken without gravy, implying the two items are complements.
Thanks to Thomas Jandora for the clip reference
Shawshank Redemption — Cigarettes as Money
In this short scene, Red pays an inmate to smuggle contraband with cigarettes. Cigarettes are used as money a lot in prison and it is shown throughout this film. This scene can be shown to talk about medium of exchange, commodity money, bartering, etc.
Thanks to James Tierney for the clip and description.
Always Sunny: One Rock
Dennis and Dee are trying to buy a crack rock in order to manipulate the welfare system, but they aren’t really sure of the cost of a crack rock. When they approach a street dealer, he quickly realizes that the two clients aren’t well informed and he can earn a bit of extra profit by charging them a higher price. Luckily for him, they agree.
The Simpsons — Prohibition
Springfield residents are clamoring to re-enact prohibition in town, but the City Council feels like the positive externalities outweigh the costs associated with alcohol. The County Clerk finds an old law for Springfield ordinance that actually outlaws alcohol. The new Duff Zero (alcohol-free beer) isn’t as popular as the original and the Duff factory has to shut down.
Law and Order — Selling a Kidney?
This is a series of clips from the show Law and Order where the detectives uncover a doctor operating a black market kidney ring. The detectives debate throughout the episode of whether kidneys sales should be prohibited and if there is an efficient way to allocate kidneys in the market.
Real Husbands of Hollywood — Kevin Needs His Sneakers
Kevin needs to get a pair of sneakers for his son, but only Nick has any around. Even though he hates Nick, he feels like he needs to pay big money in order to secure a pair for his son. By choosing to limit the number of shoes available, a shortage exists for the sneakers. Only toward the end do we learn that a black market dealer may have access to another pair of shoes.
Thanks to Ryan Welch for the clip!
Narcos — We Have Miami
The group originally agreed to have sole control over Miami and New York and share Los Angeles among the two separate gangs, but it appears that independent members have been poaching areas from one another. The strength of a cartel is in their ability to self-regulate and to not over produce. Cartels have the ability to operate like a monopoly, but only if they’re stable.
Brooklyn 99 — Ramen as Currency
With Jake stuck in prison, he needs to find a way to get a cell phone. His prison pal, Caleb, tells him about an opportunity to get a cell phone from another inmate in gen pop (general population), but it’s going to cost Jake. It turns out that since cigarettes have been banned in the prison, various flavors of ramen noodles are now the preferred currency. This new medium of exchange makes it where Jake can finally get a cell phone