When companies engage in rent-seeking behavior, they are engaging in behavior that is intended to increase their wealth without a subsequent increase in productivity. Private weather companies use government-funded data and resell that data as if it were proprietary. The same companies have also engaged in lobbying efforts to reduce competition from the National Weather Service and prevent the agency from acting as a substitute.
The G Word with Adam Conover – Rent-Seeking in Agriculture
When companies engage in rent seeking behavior, they are engaging in behavior that is intended to increase their wealth without a subsequent increase in productivity. The USDA has given the agriculture industry power in shaping US food policy, but it has resulted in policies that have increased the industry’s profit without necessarily improving public health.
Superstore — Election Day
It’s election day and Cloud 9 has placed pamphlets in the break room encouraging employees to vote for anti-union candidates. Cloud 9 knows that unionization could result in much higher labor costs, so they spend that money to encourage workers to not form a union. This form of managerial opposition is part of the explanation for the decline in unionization rates in the United States.
J. Cole — Brackets
J Cole discusses the impact of tax brackets on his earnings. As J Cole continues to increase his earnings, he moves into new tax brackets, which requires an increasing amount of tax liability to the government. This song could be used as a good pre-class video before discussing tax policy. The Tax Policy Foundation provides the country’s tax brackets since the inception income taxes as part of the 16th Amendment.
J Cole notes in the song that the money is supposed to support schools and roads, but he doesn’t believe the money is being used efficiently by politicians. He argues that because he pays so much, he should be able to have some say in how the money is used, but that’s part of the explanation for pork spending already in that companies rent seek and convince politicians to vote in favor of their interests:
I pay taxes, so much taxes, shit don’t make sense
Where do my dollars go? You see lately, I ain’t been convinced
I guess they say my dollars supposed to build roads and schools
But my niggas barely graduate, they ain’t got the tools
Maybe ’cause the tax dollars that I make sure I send
Get spent hirin’ some teachers that don’t look like them
And the curriculum be tricking them, them dollars I spend
Thanks to Kim Holder for the song suggestion!
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.
Milton Friedman — Free Trade and the Steel Industry
Dr. Friedman discusses the benefits of free trade and the inconsistencies of placing tariffs and quotas on the steel industry in order to increase domestic production. He notes (around the 2:00 minute mark) that allowing for free trade would reduce employment in one sector of the economy, but it would increase employment in other sectors.
Thanks to Jacob Clifford for the suggestion!
The Simpsons — Sirloin-A-Lot Challenge
This clips includes a few different economics concepts rolled in to one. The overarching theme is that of consumer choice where Homer appears to experience diminishing returns while trying to eat a 16 pound steak. He’s competing against a previous eating contest winner, who dies at the end from eating too much steak.
In the middle of the clip, Marge asks Dr. Hibbert if that much steak is healthy and Dr. Hibbert exhibits a bit of the principle-agent problem where his interests now align with eating competitions because he owns a portion of the restaurant. The good doctor tells her not to worry because they have a new heimlich machine, which decreases their need to focus on choking hazards.
John Stossel — The Fight Against Food Trucks
John Stossel, through ReasonTV, looks at the regulations behind the food truck industry. From a competitive market standpoint, food trucks have the ability to respond to high demand areas by relocating at any given moment. For brick-and-mortar businesses, however, food trucks enter the market as a low-cost competitor and steal customers from permanent restaurants. Many cities in the United States have setup regulation limiting the location of food trucks or the hours they may operate. This rent seeking behavior, however, limits the amount of options available to consumers in the name of “fairness.”
John Stossel — The Economics of Sports Stadium
John Stossel is back to discuss sports stadiums (mega events) and why their subsidies aren’t worth the investments from an economic standpoint. Along with economist, JC Bradbury, Stossel investigates the counterfactual to the claim that stadiums and mega events will become an economic boom to cities and states.
Reason TV — Why Stadium Subsidies Always Win: Q&A with J.C. Bradbury
Local municipalities often dump significant resources into funding sports stadiums in the hopes of attracting economic benefits from additional tourism. Despite criticism from nearly every economist, economic impact reports are designed and pitched to citizens as the justification for subsidizing sports teams. In this interview, JC Bradbury discusses the counterfactual of tourists’ true impact and how these stadiums continue to be funded.
If you’d like more to read more about sports stadiums and funding, check out Field of Schemes.