Chidi and Eleanor tackle a famous ethical dilemma, the trolley problem. The thought experiment is popular in philosophy and ethics courses, but the same experiment can be used in an economics context when discussing opportunity costs and costs. In a literal sense, whichever way the trolley goes will have a cost associated with it based on the people who will die. Depending on the structure of your course, you may also be able to look at the trolley problem from a game theory perspective.
In this scene, the Scottish army is waiting to fight the English army. William Wallace (Mel Gibson) is going to “pick a fight” and make sure that the nobles from each army don’t negotiate a peace. His fellow leaders are in charge of passing out weapons. When asked what to do they remark, “we didn’t get dressed up for nothing.”
They are falling prey to the sunk cost fallacy. Just because they’re all dressed and ready to fight doesn’t mean that is the logical thing to do. The soldiers are not using effective marginal analysis to determine whether fighting is the next best course of action.
Some young drug enthusiasts are driving while under the influence and consider a fairly interesting application of public goods and private ownership. Eventually, they hear the familiar sound of a police car behind them and scramble to hide the evidence of their crimes. The guy in the backseat eats a lot of drugs in an effort to hide their illegal goods. The guy in the front seat points out that he ate $130 worth of drugs and then lets him know that he can pay him whenever. This same attitude isn’t taken when the drugs are thrown out of the window, which would have been the alternative. Just because the guy in the front seat had paid $130 for the drugs doesn’t mean that’s justification for getting reimbursed. A sunk cost is a cost that is unrecoverable and shouldn’t be considered when making decisions.
Bruno Mars lists out all the things he could be doing that day if he he hadn’t decided to just lay in bed and be lazy. Even though choosing to lay in bed doesn’t have any monetary costs associated with it, it doesn’t mean that there are no costs to his decision. Every decision people make (even Bruno Mars) has an opportunity cost. While he may have a millions of dollars in his bank account, he still only has 24 hours in a day like the rest of us.
Frozen is the story of two princesses, Anna and Elsa. Elsa has magical powers that she is forced to hide her entire life until her coronation ceremony. Elsa flees to the cold, remote mountains and sings “Let it Go” after finally accepting her magical powers and letting go of the pressure to hold back her true self. When she sings “the past is in the past”, it’s a reminder of the role of sunk costs in the decision-making process. Sunk costs should be ignored because that time/energy/money cannot be recovered in the present.
A CIA agent creates a fake Hollywood production in order to fool Iranian terrorists into releasing a group of U.S. diplomats based on the 1979 Tehran hostage crisis. In this scene, Tony (Ben Affleck) presents the concept of Argo. The CIA will eventually grant the proposal, but they want to know if there are any other bad ideas that could be better.
The concept of “the best bad idea” helps explain why some firms may operate in the short-run despite suffering a loss. While firms would love to earn a positive profit, there are a few loss situations available as well:
(WORST) Firms can produce below AVC and lose both their fixed costs and some of their variable costs
(BAD) Firms can shut down when prices are below AVC and lose their fixed costs
(BEST OF THE BAD) Firms can produce as long as prices are above AVC and lose a little bit of money
Some students always want to divert to shutting down if firms face losses, but there’s a “better bad idea” as long as prices are above average variable costs.
There is a feud waging between C and D blocks. It is C Blocks time for some revenge, so the leader “Badison” devises a plan to defecate on C Blocks clean uniforms. Meanwhile, the guards of the prison are involved in a fantasy prisoner league (think fantasy football, but with points for things prisoners might do or get in trouble for). The guards see what is happening and have to decide to whether or not to intervene.
Asymmetric Information – the two guards outside of the laundry room have access to information the other guards in the league do not. Further, their decision to intervene or not will directly impact points in the game. Could use this to talk about how asymmetric information can affect the outcome of negotiations, trade, games, etc.
Cost-Benefit analysis – the guard explicitly uses this term, which I love, when deciding if they are going to intervene. C Block will undoubtedly retaliate so is the possible ensuing violence worth the potential benefit of points in the game. The guards have the compare the options before making a decision.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is an interesting psychological theory that looks at why novices tend to overrate their abilities and even rate themselves on par with experts. This mindset has real implications for decision making because overconfidence made lead us to make suboptimal choices.
Stephen Colbert interviews economist Tim Harford about his then-recent book, Logic of Life. Harford and Colbert discuss a number of items that people may consider irrational, but actually turn out to be rational like voting, unprotected sex, and smoking. The entire discussion focuses on the central idea of the definition of rationality.
Jeremy and John are seasoned wedding crashers and they are out looking for weddings to get easy dates, open bars, and nice meals. This example of free-riding works well because none of them pay the cost of attendance and they even come up with creative tricks to not have to pay for the cash bars.