The global positioning system (GPS) was originally developed for military purposes but has been made available to private companies since 2000. Allowing private companies to build new products and services using this technology has resulted in a massive increase in technological advancement in the US that provides significantly more economic benefit than the cost of operating the GPS system. Estimates place the value of GPS at $1.4 trillion from 1980 to 2019, but the federal government spends relatively little to operate the system.
The G Word with Adam Conover – Externalities & Regulation
Whenever an action creates a negative externality, the private individual allocates too many resources toward the production of that item. This happens because the producer is focused on their own profit maximization problem and is not accounting for any external costs associated with production. When it comes to meat packing or factory farming, producers don’t take into account the external costs of pollution or the potential risk of bacterial infection. Regulating such industries can mandate that firms take into account the social costs of production rather than the private cost of production.
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!
Old Spice — Smellcome to Magic
Individuals often make decisions that are in their own best interest, and often disregard the impact they may have on other people. Whenever this happens, individuals are creating an externality. Someone else either benefits or is harmed by that outcome. In the case of someone putting on deodorant, that could have spillover benefits from people getting to smell a “fresh scent.” If too much is applied, it could annoy others are turn to a negative externality.
After Life — Chip Externalities (explicit language)
Tony joins his colleagues for lunch at a local pub to discuss potential leads for their newspaper, but he’s disturbed by a gentleman loudly munching on chips behind him. The man appears to be ignorant of the external costs he’s imposing on those around him and is focused on only his own satisfaction.
When people are unaware of the external costs they are imposing on others, they tend to overconsume, literally. Since there aren’t clear property rights, it’s not clear who should make the determination of appropriate volume. Tony could pay the man to stop eating his chips, but Tony may argue that the man should have to pay for the right to eat his chips so loudly. It’s harder to reach a solution without clearly defined property rights.
Thanks to Sheena Murray for introducing me to this show. She submitted a different clip from the show, but I looked up the wrong episode and happened to find this clip instead.
Friends — The One With All the Candy
Monica decides she wants to makes candy for the neighbors even in an attempt to get to know them better (or to liked?) She decides to place the candy in a basket on her door so that anyone can take a piece, but a tragedy of the commons ensues. Her neighbors are taking more than their “share” of the candy and are bothering her throughout the day to get more candy from her. When the commons has been exhausted, the neighbors form a mob.
Thanks to Dawn Renninger for the clip recommendation!
Blackish — Castle Neighbors
This opening cartoon depicts Dre dutifully maintaining his castle and describing the lengths men go to in order to protect their castle. Unfortunately, we can’t always control what neighbor’s do with their castle and their decision to throw parties and disturb us is (seemingly) out of our control. The Coase Theorem would argue that so long as transaction costs are low, people should be able to bargain and sort out external costs imposed by private actions. The insinuation by Dre in this scene is that the transaction costs may be just a bit too high.
Clip recommended by James Tierney:
Big Bang Theory — An (Un)Permitted Deck
Howard and Bernadette are bothered by their neighbor’s (Andy) new flood lights, which appears to look out over their backyard and right into the hot tub they have built. Andy doesn’t see the problem because his flood lights are in his backyard and provide him some sense of security, but they are a nuisance to Howard and Bernadette.
Instead of talking to their neighbors directly, like the Coase Theory would suggest, they head to the city zoning office to try and report the issue in the hopes that he has violated some city zoning ordinance. When they realize that will take too much time, they try to get Sheldon’s help, but Sheldon is cautious because Bernadette and Howard didn’t get permission to build their backyard deck, nor renovate their shower.
In Howard and Bernadette’s mind, government regulation should only be used for externalities. Their deck and bathroom aren’t affecting third parties so they don’t see the need to have them approved.
The Good Place — Externalities & Unintended Consequences
Things seem off in The Good Place, but it turns out that the as the world becomes more complicated, seemingly identical actions (like giving flowers) can have unintended consequences that most people don’t realize. Our private actions can have social costs that we’re unaware of and would probably try to avoid if we were fully informed of their costs.
Thanks to Kalina Staub (Twitter) for the clip!
Curb Your Enthusiasm — Unwritten Rules
Larry David teaches Christian Slater the social etiquette surrounding overconsumption of hors d’oeuvres a party. To start, Slater’s over consumption represents the individual incentives surrounding common resources. Ostrom’s Noble Prize in Economics explored the way social conventions, which David explains, can solve overconsumption issues even when laws aren’t in place.
Thanks to Greg Caskey for recommending it to the #TeachEcon stream on Twitter.