Adam Ruins — Rent Seeking & Taxes

 

Adam Ruins Everything is a half-hour informational comedy were host, Adam Conover, debunks popular myths. Each episode is divided into 3 segments with some common theme. 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. If you’re curious about the paper, you can read about it here.

In this segment, Adam reports on the frustrations of taxes and why we don’t see return-free filing in the United States. Because of lobbying efforts by major tax software companies, the tax system is kept just complicated enough that consumers will purchase their products.

Horrible Bosses 2 — Wealth Creates Wealth (NSFC)

 

Nick, Kurt, and Dale finish production on their new product, the Shower Buddy. After being asked to produce 100,000 units to be sold to Bert Hanson and his son Rex. The three take our a half million dollar loan and start production, but since they have never done this before, they don’t have the Hansons commit to paying for a portion of their order. Hanson cancels his order with a week before the loan is due in an attempt to buy their company in foreclosure. One line is especially poignant as Hanson notes that hard work doesn’t create wealth, wealth creates wealth. One of the issues with wealth inequality is that it’s not a reward for hard work, but rather a reward for previous work. Vox covered the difference between wealth and income inequality in a nicely illustrated video.

The Chi — Price > Marginal Cost

 

 

Coogie Johnson rides up to the corner store to get a grape pop and beef jerky. Habib, the store owner, tells him it’s $1.00 for the soda and $1.75 for the jerky. Coogie then tries to talk Habib down to letting him pay $0.25 for soda and pay full price for the jerky to which his son nodded in approval. Even though the retail price for the soda and the jerky are $1.00 and $1.75, respectively. Coogie knows that the soda is priced well above the marginal cost and attempts to negotiate the price down closer to the marginal cost. Habib argues that it’s not fair to charge him a different price than other customers, but the son recognizes that some profit is better than no profit and agrees to sell it to Coogie at a lower price.

Thanks to Kyle Davis for the reference.

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.

You’ve Got Mail — Monopolistic Competition

 

Struggling children’s bookstore owner Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) tries to remain positive as a big retail chain bookstore, Fox Books, opens around the corner. She outlines the differences between their products and services and notes how this could be a good thing for her business. When business try to differentiate their products, they are often operating in a monopolistically competitive environment. The one issue with the entrance of a new competitor in these markets is that it decreases demand for the other firms even if they are a little different. The accountant notes that their revenues are down compared to the same week last year.

Newsies — Unionism & Profit-Maximization

When Mr. Pulitzer decides to raise prices in the distribution channel by forcing the newsies (the newspaper boys) to pay higher prices for a pack of 100 papers, the newsies decide to go on strike. Without raising the price to the final consumer, the price increase essentially just lowers the profits the newsies can collect. They decide to go on strike and create a newsies union to have more monopoly power in the process.

Pixar — One Man Band

 

I use this clip to introduce the concept of monopolistic competition in a market place and how demand shifts when close substitutes enter a market.

Going Places (1948)

 

From YouTube:

Cold War cartoon defending the profit motive against anti-capitalist critics. The second of seven smart-looking animated shorts in the “fun and facts about American business” series. Its subject is “the profit motive,” and it stars “Freddie Fudsie,” a lazy soap maker who just wants to go fishing. He invents bar soap, makes some money, and is about to retire in peace and quiet when a sexy lady (the Profit Motive) walks by and Freddie — who suddenly needs more money to win her affection — never sees a fishing hole again. But that’s okay, because “the profit motive has been the driving force behind the growth of American industry” and “will make a better life for the children of tomorrow.”

The Simpsons — Profit Motives of Publishers

What if it does so, in order to make a profit, by producing things you think are of poor quality. When is profit seeking good? Does Apple prey on us by creating the iPads we love? Or is Lisa on to something here, suggesting that we should not buy things from publishers that don’t contribute to “culture”? This clip should provoke some good discussion, and is ideal for an economics class.

Thanks to F. Bailey Norwood.

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