In an earlier episode, we learn that President Obama enjoys doing his own taxes, but Adam points out he would be better off with an accountant. Specialization and trade allow people to see improved efficiency but doing everything yourself can result in a lot of wasted resources. At the end of the series, we see President Obama is still working on his taxes and has made a lot of mistakes already.
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.
Elf — Buddy’s Comparative Advantage
Buddy is a human living in an elf’s world. He finds there are a lot of things he’s not so good at compared to the other elves. Before getting too sad, the other elves point out a lot of things that Buddy is good at compared to them. Even if someone is good at everything, they can still benefit from trading their services with others. Trade is often based on each person’s comparative advantage. For Buddy, that’s changing the batteries in the smoke detector.
Thanks to Mandy Mandzik for the clip recommendation. Check out her working paper, All I Want for Christmas is an A on My Econ Final: A Holiday-Themed Review Class, for more Christmas-themed economics examples.
Castlevania — The Importance of a Ship Captain
Issac and his friends are in search of a ship and finds a captain who isn’t current sailing. Issac threatens to kill the Captain and take the boat, but the Captain reminds him of how important it is to have the captain on the boat since he knows how to actual sail the boat. Isaac thinks that sailing a boat can’t be that hard, but the Captain points out that sailors exist for a reason. He is willing to sail Isaac and his friends as long as he is paid and promised not the be murdered. This scene is a good example of the double coincidence of wants and the importance of specialization and trade. The Captain has years of experience sailing ships while Isaac does not. It’s worth it to Isaac to trade coins for the Captain’s skills.
Thanks to Bryan Sloss for the clip recommendation
Beauty and The Beast — Gaston
Gaston is the best man in town, for everything! If you don’t believe that, you can just ask him. In this scene from Beauty and the Beast, LeFou starts a song to help cheer up Gaston after Belle’s rejection. Gaston has an absolute advantage in a wide variety of things)—fighting, spitting, eating a large number of eggs, and even interior decorating. Gaston, however, is a relatively poor chess player. While Gaston is capable of doing everything for himself, it doesn’t mean he should. Gaston can still benefit from trade if he focuses on his comparative advantage.
Thanks to Matt Rousu for the clip!
Kim’s Convenience — Driving vs. Baking
Appa has made a collection of baked goods but his wife thinks she could do it better. In an earlier scene, Umma damages a friend’s car and made offered to pay for half the cost of repairing the damage. Her husband is disappointed because he feels he could have saved them a lot of money. Umma lets him know that’s why she isn’t a millionaire, but at least she’s a better baker.
Thanks to John Kruggel for the clip submission.
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.
Monty Python — Cheese Shop Sketch
One of the many benefits of international trade is increased product variety because countries can devote resources to the goods they have a comparative advantage in. Monty Python demonstrates what a world without trade would look like. After going through a list of a variety of different types of cheese (even cheddar!), but nothing is available. The finest cheese shop is at least clean!
Thanks to Rob Szarka for the clip suggestion on his Twitter account!
The Easter Bunny is Comin’ To Town — Specialization
The Easter Bunny Is Comin’ to Town (1977) is a classic kids’ claymation film. In this clip, Sunny talks about how trade is necessary for Kidtown!
Thanks to James Tierney for the clip and description!
Construction Site in Thailand
A few years back there was a popular video of a human powered ferris wheel in India. I use that clip to talk about labor abundance in the Heckscher–Ohlin model of trade since India is so labor-abundant. Earlier we came across this fantastic video of a construction site in Thailand (another labor rich country). For small construction jobs, the workers will use manpower (literally) instead of machines to drive piles into the ground. This clip could also be used in a labor economics setting if you’re talking about substitutes in production. Either way, this is a fun-video for class with a pretty nice beat from the tambourine-wielding foreman.