The G Word with Adam Conover – Cost Benefit Analysis of Government Investment

The US economy has benefited tremendously from government investment in technological advancements designed to improve the US military’s firepower, but is it worth it? There are a number of equity considerations around the investments, but the efficiency gains are a bit more obvious. The research is funded by taxpayers, so it begs the question of what is the best use of funds. Adam questions how funds should be used, but essentially proposes viewers consider the tradeoffs that are present in each new advancement

Spider-man (2002) — Making a Choice

In this clip, Green Goblin has given Spider-man a choice between saving his girlfriend or a car full of children. Even superheroes face opportunity costs! While it looks like there is a tradeoff between saving one versus the other, there are also larger opportunity costs associated with choosing to be a superhero. By becoming Spider-man, Peter Parker places his loved ones in danger when he could be living a “normal life,” but that also means the larger population loses their “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”

This clip was submitted by Lianne Kulik, who learned about it from Megan Kirts and Brian O’Roark.

Christmas with the Kranks — Skipping Christmas

With their daughter heading out of town, the Krank family decides to skip Christmas and head on vacation. An opportunity cost is the value of the next best alternative. While their daughter was still at home, the Krank family preferred spending it with their family and celebrating Christmas. After their daughter announces she’ll leave, the Krank family decides to head to the Caribbean.

Thanks to Mandy Mandzik for the clip recommendation. Check out her working paper, All I Want for Christmas is an A on My Econ Final: A Holiday-Themed Review Class, for more Christmas-themed economics examples.

Superstore — Employee Appreciation

After a recent uptick in the amount of union activity in the store, the corporate office has decided to institute Employee Appreciation Day. Jonah is quick to point out that this particular day always seems to occur whenever they are trying to get people to sign union card. He advocates for the union instead and mentions that joining a union may provide more long-term benefits, but Amy and Dina work to convince the employees that a union is unnecessary.

Burn! The Cost of a Wife

Sir William Walker (Marlon Brando) is sent to break up Portugal’s sugar monopoly on the fictional Caribbean island of Queimada. Walker goes on to incite a revolt among the slaves with the leadership of a dock worker, José Dolores. Walker simultaneously attempts to convince plantation owners to turn against the government.

This is an inspired movie moment layered with cultural conflict addressing the transition in economic theory during colonialisms transition to capitalism and the economic forces at play in the transition from slave labor to wage labor, or as is implied wage slavery.

Walker outlines the cost of taking a wife and compares that with the cost of slave labor. He outlines tradeoffs of the two in an attempt to convince the men around the table that slaves are the better option.

Thanks to Chris Brennan for the clip recommendation!

T-Mobile — Ariana or Maps?

The driver of the car faces scarcity (limited data). The driver is forced into a decision between streaming music and using maps with her data. At the end of the commercial she chooses maps, leaving Arianna as her opportunity cost.

Thanks to Brian Devitt for the clip and description!

Could Have Had a V8

One of the classic commercials of the 1970s came from V8 (they have updated ones as well!). Unknowing consumers of snacks and sodas realize mid bite/drink that they could have had a V8 instead of their other choice. The concept of opportunity costs is that by consuming an item, you give up the opportunity to consumer something else. A rational individual will pick the item with the highest level of utility, but sometimes we aren’t fully aware of all the alternatives. The individuals in this commercial only realize when it’s too late.

The clip was described in Joel Waldfogel’s book, Scroogenomics: Why you shouldn’t buy presents for the holidays. Dr. Waldfogel also appears in an Adam Ruin’s Everything episode on the inefficiencies of gift giving.

Goldfish Pinball Commercial

The dark orange goldfish excitedly explains to his light orange friend that he has invented a new board game. He goes over the extremely complex rules to the game and this conversation ensues:

Dark orange fish: Let’s play!
Light orange fish: What do I have to lose?
Dark orange fish: Just the next three days!

This would be a great intro clip to show for opportunity cost / implicit costs. Learning all of the very intricate rules and playing this game will be extremely costly for the light orange fish in terms of the time he has to give up to participate. What else could he do with his time instead?

Thanks to Erin Yetter (Twitter) for the clip and description!

Stella Artois — Change Up The Usual

This Stella Artois commercial features Sarah Jessica Parker reprising her “Sex and the City” role and Jeff Bridges in his from “The Big Lebowski.” Both of their characters had their respective go-to drinks. The cosmopolitan for Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw and a white Russian for Bridges The Dude. We first see Parker choosing to order a Stella Artois, which means she gives up her next best alternative the cosmo. This is a surprising choice, so much so that the entire restaurant comes to a halt. We then see Bridges enter, and the bartender assumes he is going to have his usual white Russian, but instead he also orders a Stella Artois (comically mispronouncing it as well!). Show this clip and have the students identify what the opportunity costs of choosing the Stella Artois is for each character.

Thanks to Erin Yetter (Twitter) for the clip and description!

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