In this commercial for Ally Bank, Nobel Laureate Thomas Sargent is asked to predict what CD rates will be in two years—and is unable to do so. If he can’t do it, no one can. It’s a great opportunity to teach about risk sharing and diversification.
Pam and Jim are getting married, but some of their coworkers aren’t ready to give them money directly. Ryan approaches Pam and offers her the choice of $100 now or the opportunity to get $5,000 a year from now. Pam is skeptical and initially states she wants the $100. Ryan is able to eventually talk her into investing in his friend’s company.
This is a great opportunity to talk about the tradeoffs of risk and reward as well as introduce the concept of present value. If Pam accepted the $100, she may be able to turn that into $110 next year if she found an opportunity to invest at 10% interest. Ryan is offering an incredibly risky alternative that would pay off much higher. In order for people to accept that much risk, the payoff must be really large. Safer investments tend to have lower interest rates.
Thanks to Allison Anthony for the clip recommendation. You can find more economics-inspired clips from The Office on The Economics of The Office website.
The Baudelaire orphans have been sent away to live with their Aunt Josephine. They’ve been told how formidable and fierce she is, but it turns out that Aunt Josephine is incredibly risk averse. She has disconnect the doorbell and the telephone because someone may be electrocuted if they have a faulty pacemaker, even if no one in the house has a faulty pacemakers. Risk averse individuals are willing to give up some benefits (in this case, doorbells and phone calls) in exchange for avoiding possible negative consequences (electrocution).
A traveling salesman sells Peter an insurance policy to protect his home against a volcano eruption. He convinces Peter “a volcano is coming this way” despite the fact that Peter lives in Rhode Island, far away from any active volcanoes. He convinces Peter to purchase the policy by using the gambler’s fallacy and convincing Peter that Rhode is “due for one.”
If this were actually true, the premiums associated with this policy would be extremely high and likely be the same as the cost that an actual volcano would inflict on the town. Insurance markets function on the interaction between uncertainty, risk aversion in consumers, and risk neutrality for firms. If some horrible event were guaranteed to occur imminently, there would be little incentive to sell insurance.
Thanks to Alex Marsella for the clip submission and most of the summary!
Kevin and Ray haven’t seen each other in a while because of their scheduled change and come to a disagreement on the famous Monty Hall problem. Captain Holt believes the probabilities should only be 50/50 since there are two doors remaining, but Kevin, correctly, informs him the odds are 1/3 that you selected the correct initially and 2/3rds that it’s in the other door. The Monty Hall problem has also been covered in the movie 21 and the TV show Numb3rs.
Thanks to James Tierney for the recommendation:
Charles and Gina have been secretly hooking up for a while, but now their parents have decided to start dating and it’s freaking the two of them out. Charles rushes to the office to show Gina a gift that his dad is planning to give Gina’s mom. At first the two are scared of the repercussions to their lives if their parents start dating, but quickly realize that the planned gift is much worse for their parents than for them. Gina also goes through her process of unwrapping gifts before the actual reveal because she doesn’t want to get surprised in photos. Her risk aversion results in lots of time spent to avoid embarrassment.
Boyle is going on a singles cruise and isn’t sure when to arrive at the airport. He approaches Gina with the idea of getting to the airport 5 hours early for a domestic flight (which is already too much!), but she tries to convince him he actually needs to be there 8 hours. Some people prefer to arrive at the airport extra early because they are scared they will miss their flight, but most people don’t need to arrive more than 2 hours. Later in the episode, we learn that Boyle missed his flight because of an assignment, but that he actually bought a backup flight just in case he missed it. This is perhaps an extreme version of risk aversion.
Penelope wakes up from a bad, but her mother is there to comfort her. After a second, Penelope notices that her mom has makeup on despite being asleep. Her mother tells her that she goes through the process of putting makeup on each night just in case she wakes up and meets someone or if she dies in her sleep. In this context, Penelope’s mom is risk averse and undergoes a lot of costs each night “just in case.”
Thanks to Khalaf Alshammari for the clip!
MIT Professor, Micky Rosa (played by Kevin Spacey) challenges Ben with the Monty Hall problem of selecting a door with a prize hidden behind it. The Monty Hall Problem is based on a statistics brain teaser that insists the optimal choice is to switch your decision after the host reveals what’s behind one of the doors.