Despite the notion that marijuana is a gateway drug, the world has a history of consuming marijuana until the mid-1930s. People believed that marijuana usage caused a bunch of socially-unacceptable side effects, but scientists disproved those beliefs in the 1940s. Instead, the US government focused on the prohibition of the drug, which resulted in a host of unintended consequences. The Nixon administration used the War on Drugs to target their political enemies.
In Becker’s rational model of crime, theorists predict that criminals way the benefit gained from committing crimes with the expected costs of committing the crime. Those costs generally include jail time or fines, but some criminals may not be deterred by those penalties. Shame may be an additional punishment that people are more likely to want to avoid if the punishment is public in nature. In this scene from The Practice, the judge assigns a shaming punishment in an effort to deter future criminals who may commit similar crimes.
Blue Laws in the United States date back to Puritanical times when local governments wanted to ensure that people were in church on Sunday and observing the sabbath. Today, Blue Laws are a form of prohibition that limits the amount of time that businesses can sell profits. While most states have removed their blue laws, some still remain, like the inability to sell cars on Sundays or more extreme limitations like those in Bergen, NJ. This Stossel clips argues that the prohibition is a restriction of freedom for businesses that want to sell products.
Dina special-ordered a truck with no radio (even though it costs more) because she believes it will be less attractive to potential thieves. Assuming criminals are rational, a truck without a radio wouldn’t be worth the potential punishment of auto theft or larceny.
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.
This scene from Narcos shows Pablo Escobar, infamous Columbian drug cartel leader, at the beginning of his career. Before he gets into drug running he smuggled stolen goods and jewels. He is attempting to cross a bridge with loads of merchandise when he stopped by the Columbian National Police (i.e. FBI).
It illustrates negative v. positive incentives. As the title of the clip implies, Pablo provides both incentives and lets the police chose. They let can let him through and he will reward them with stolen goods (plato aka silver) or they can try to stop him and he will kill them and their families (plomo aka lead).
You could also talk about the economic way of thinking from the point of view of the police. They had to weigh the benefits of a possible arrest and confiscation of the stolen goods against the cost of their lives and families lives. Ultimately, they decide the costs outweigh the benefits and let him through.
And then it could be used to talk about tradeoffs – when you choose one thing you are giving up another — so they chose to let him go, but that means they are letting him get away with criminal activity, forgoing the glory of arresting a high profile smuggling, doing something immoral, etc.
Nick, Kurt, and Dale head to Rex Hansen’s house with a plan to kidnap him and hold him for ransom to pay for a past business deal gone awry. When they get to the door, Kurt and Dale try to open it, but are surprised to find it locked because they believed the probability of it being locked was only 50/50. While there are only two possible outcomes, it doesn’t mean the probability of each outcome is the same.
I’m teaching an Economics of Crime course soon so I’ve been on the look out for great clips related to cheating. I think my current plan is to have a series of goofy examples of cheating. In this Ted Talk, Dan Ariely discusses some of the research from his books on honesty by describing the idea of irrationality related to honesty. The rational model of crime first flushed out by Gary Becker assumed that criminals performed a cost-benefit analysis for cheating and would only cheat if the expected benefits outweighed the costs of being caught. Ariely brings the behavioral aspect of economics into play with his discussion on the nuances around decision making, even in criminal enterprises.
A small-town cop gets a taser gun in case of a riot. His waitress asks about the odds of a riot breaking out and the cop’s partner responds with an innumerate answer. The answer of 50/50 implies it’s just as likely as not to have a riot in the town of Dog River. In this rural setting, it’s way more likely NOT to have a riot. It’s almost like asking what’s the probability of rolling a 3 on a 6-sided die and someone answering 50/50: either you roll a 3 or you don’t. We know that answer should be 1/6 because either you roll a 3 or you don’t and the don’t includes rolling a 1,2,4,5, or 6. It’s much more likely not to roll a 3 so the size of the set (a 3 or a riot) is much smaller than its complement.
Ron White describes how his state is different than California and one of those ways is through the use of the death penalty. In other states, they may be trying to cut back on the use of the death penalty for heinous crimes, but Texas appears to be trying to put in an express lane. The death penalty, while controversial, is often used by states as a credible threat and a deterrence mechanism in order to reduce future crime.