Luke is about to drop his history class because he has a major paper due that he hadn’t started yet. It turns out that the topic of this paper is the same topic his mother wrote when she was in college, but she was less than thrilled with her grade on the paper. She asks Luke to turn it in for her to see if she was cheated out of a grade.
In order to get the paper onto a flash drive, Claire had to go through some lengthy measures to convert the file from its original form decades earlier to a flash drive. We see the amount of technological change Claire has experienced in just her lifetime with the multiple computers linked together.
Haley is in a bind and can’t decide who she should spend her life with. Should she stick with Arvin, the successful scientist who has his life together, or should she go with Dylan, her high school boyfriend who is full of fun? Every decision we make, whether we realize it’s economics or not, has tradeoffs. There’s only so much time in our lives and we must make decisions. One of the difficult parts of “matching” is finding the right rate to minimize conflict and maximizing our happiness. Happiness, in this case, is known as interdependent. Her happiness will eventually be a function of her own utility, but also her spouse’s utility.
Jay and Claire partner up with a local design company to expand their operations. Pritchett’s closet has a lot of space to manufacture, but the design company has new ideas that are revolutionizing the closet industry. They believe this merger is mutually beneficial given each others’ strengths and weaknesses.
It turns out that the design company spends a lot of time on non-pecuniary benefits for its employees to make the company a “cool” place to work, but they lose a lot of money. Jay wants to go back to a more traditional workplace that focuses on production and not fun. The concept of efficiency wages means that firms pay above equilibrium wages in order to motivate and incentivize workers to perform better. Jay doesn’t agree with this management style, and we learn later that the design company wanted to merge because they needed more discipline in their finances.
It’s the 4th of July, and Joe isn’t as excited as his parents are about the holiday. Gloria mentions that Joe should be excited to live in America because she grew up in a banana republic. The zinger is that Banana Republic is the only store available that she could have shopped at, but a banana republic is a political economy term used to describe a country with an economy that is dependent on a single export. Gloria, originally from Columbia, could also have come from a banana republic.
Claire feels like she is not contributing to the family because she doesn’t have a job. She has applied to 5 jobs recently, but despite her college degree, she is rejected from all of them. Because she has been out of the labor force for so many years, her human capital has depreciated. The second important component of this scene is to consider the non-pecuniary benefits of work. Not all workers are income maximizers as some have other motivations for working in paid employment.
Video cassettes have been replaced by DVDs and streaming services and are slowly becoming an outdated technology. Before getting rid of their VCR, Claire and Phil are going through their VHS collection and watching the movies one last time. Joseph Schumpeter conceived the idea of creative destruction in which new technologies are created at the cost of destroying old industries. From a labor economics perspective, growth in some sectors come at the cost of losing jobs in the industry that is replaced.
It is the first day back to school for the kids, but it’s also Claire’s first day at her new job working for her father, Jay. Phil tries to be supportive, but refers to the last 20 years that Claire has spent as a stay at home mom as a vacation. The Income Leisure Tradeoff model assumes that participants can decide between working at paid employment or spending their time in leisure, but household production is often encapsulated in leisure. The household production model recognizes that time spent at home in productive activities is different than time spent in leisure.
It is career day at Luke’s school, and the teacher asks Claire to speak about her job as a stay at home mom. She points out that she actually has a lot of different jobs as a stay-at-home-mom. The household production model assumes that agents decide between working at paid work or working at home and producing things that they could have bought with income. Both yield some level of utility, but some partners will specialize in household production depending on the relative wages of the other partner.
One of the downsides of specializing in household labor is that people lose specific and general human capital associated with market work. While Claire would like to go back to work, it is hard to find a job after you have been out of the labor force for 15 years, mainly because everyone who didn’t drop out would have continued learning new skills. In labor economics, this is known as The Mommy Track.
Phil gets the house to himself for a few days and he’s opted to upgrade the technology in the home. He programs everything in the house to be controlled by his iPad, essentially freeing himself to do other tasks that require his attention. He can now turn on lights, the TV, and the fireplace from his device. Long term growth in economies is often fueled by capital investments, which allows populations to be more productive. The same is true at the household level, such that investments in capital improve the productivity of inhabitants.
Phil wants to ride his street strider, but his whole family thinks it is very uncool. Luke points out that he has friends on the street that might see, and Claire not so subtly threatens to leave him if he rides it suggesting she is not getting any joy from him enjoying his street strider and in fact it is harming their relationship. While Phil derives private benefits from the StreetStrider (like living healthier), he is also imposing social costs on his family. Given that his impact is relatively localized, the Coase Theorem would suggest that the Dunphy family can come to an agreement about whether Phil can keep his bike.
Claire believes Alex’s boyfriend is gay, but Alex doesn’t think that’s the case. She believes that since he invited her to prom and then they kissed, that it must mean he can’t be gay. Signaling is when one party has more information about a transaction than another, but displays some traits or “signals” to convince the other party of the true outcome.
Claire’s favorite holiday is Halloween, but last year she may have went a little overboard to the point that the homeowners association forbid the Dunphey’s from doing particular things this Halloween. Claire’s goal is each Halloween is to produce a scary experience for trick-or-treaters visiting, but even Phil thinks she may have gone too far investing in professional grade makeup. He suggests that she could be twice as scary without wearing any makeup at all.
Another way to view this clip is through the impact of private benefits and social costs. Claire spends a lot of money each year on Halloween decorations, but her private benefits may not exceed the social costs imposed on neighbors (at least according to the HOA). The social costs of her decisions include someone wetting themselves and someone having a heart attack. While Claire may factor these into her investment decision, the HOA determined that the social costs outweigh the social benefits and has opted for a command-and-control approach to Halloween decorations at the Dunphy house.
Kenneth, an old neighbor who idolized Phil, comes back to visit. He tells the Dunphy family that he dropped out of college and bounced around at small jobs until he started an investment company. Haley who is currently evaluating her college options realizes that if he had gone to college, he would have become successful 4 years later. Kenneth’s opportunity cost of college would have been very high making his decision to drop out a good one.
Phil finds gift certificates to a spa that he and Claire had won in a charity auction in a drawer, but they expire that day. He wants Claire to use them because otherwise their money just goes to charity, but Claire doesn’t know how she will find the time to be able to go. Phil is falling victim to the sunk cost fallacy, while Claire is thinking in terms of the additional costs and benefits of using the certificates before they expire.
Claire and Jay are visiting a competitor’s business. The competitor wants to buy Pritchett Closets, but Claire and Jay have a different idea. The new company is focused on creating smart closets that can pick outfits for the person based on the weather and their current size. They have great technology, but they don’t have the manufacturing capabilities to fulfill all their orders. Pritchett Closets, on the other hand, has the manufacturing space, but they haven’t invested much in technology. Claire proposes that they merge instead.
It is Phil’s birthday and also the day the iPad is being released. Phil is willing to spend his birthday waiting in line to be sure he gets the new iPad, but Claire offers to do it for him. Instead of getting there early, she ends up falling asleep on the couch. When she finally gets to the store, they are all out, and Phil ends up wishing he had handled it himself.
The Dunphy’s neighbor has a new boat that they leave in the driveway. Many of the family members are impacted by the visibility of the boat. This represents spillover effects and mean that an externality is present in the market for boats. Some family members see the boat as having a positive externality. Others see the boat as having a negative externality. As there is a relatively low number of people impacted by the boat (the Dunphy’s and other nearby neighbors), Coase theorem suggests that an efficient outcome can be negotiated. But will the Dunphy’s be able to get to it? Claire is immediately interested in finding regulations that restrict how residents can store large property like a boat. Many communities, especially home owner associations (HOAs), have rules pertaining to this situation. These rules are designed to lower the transaction costs associated with these externalities by providing a standardized process for dealing with conflicts between neighbors that settles disputes, thereby increasing the likelihood that an efficient outcome is attained. However, often these processes can end up creating problems themselves. What happens, for example, if the neighbors get together and decide that it’s OK to store the boat in a visible place? If they do and the enforcement agency requires a change, it can make things worse.
It’s Haley’s 21st birthday. She and Claire have decided to get coordinating tattoos. Claire got hers first and now Haley is having a change of heart. In this scene, we see time inconsistency and imperfect information. Haley is concerned that her preferences will change over time so she decides against getting the tattoo. Meanwhile, Claire already regrets her tattoo because Haley won’t be getting one – but it’s too late for Claire. Tattoos do not have a return policy! If Claire had known that Haley would change her mind, she would not have gotten a tattoo (imperfect information). This clip can also be used to compare and contrast two types of games in game theory – sequential games and simultaneous games. If you decide to get a tattoo with a friend but only because you’re doing it with a friend, make sure you get them simultaneously!
It’s Thanksgiving. For the first time, Claire is leaving the cooking to Phil…. or is she? She’s not. She made a fallback turkey, just in case Phil’s doesn’t work out. This demonstrates fallback position. Economists who study the family suggest that a person will stay in a relationship as long as the in-relationship utility is higher than the fallback position. While Claire isn’t considering leaving Phil for her fallback turkey, this clip can be used to discuss fallback positions. Claire has entered into a contract with Phil in allowing him to cook the family turkey. She will remain in that contract only as long as the benefit of eating Phil’s turkey is greater than the utility of eating her own turkey.
There’s a lot going on in this clip. The main focus is on Claire and Jay. Pritchett Closets (which Jay founded and Claire runs) has been selected to participate in the Expo Internationale du Closet! Both Claire and Jay are over the moon excited. But why? Participating in this event exposes them to an international market. They can expect a big increase in demand for their product. The second focus is on Manny. Manny has moved out but found that there are certain things about living at home that he really misses. This is something that a lot of people discover when they move out. These early lessons in personal finance can be tough!
After a fight about decision making between Phil and Claire regarding Phil’s opportunity to manager a magic shop early in their marriage, Claire surprises Phil by buying the magic shop he originally wanted. One of the things that jumps out to Claire initially is that the previous owner sold her the shop for a very low price, which she now wonders why he was willing to do that. The economic concept of asymmetric information relates to knowledge that one party has in a transaction that the other does not possess. The concept of information asymmetry was the basis for the 2001 Nobel Prize to George Akerlof, Michael Spence, and Joseph Stiglitz.
Second to the information asymmetry, this clip serves as a basis for the discussion on entrepreneurship and competition in markets. While some businesses are started to serve the needs of an area, others are started as passion projects. The ability to owners of businesses to buy and sell their property is a critical requirement of competitive markets.
Claire and Phil go to a magic shop and talk business with the legendary Mister Ekshun. The magician laments that he can’t be at the shop everyday because he’s booking “road jobs” which we should infer have a higher payoff than the shop’s profits. Phil is curious about how a magic trick works, but they need to make sure Claire (a non-magic person) isn’t able to hear the trick. Phil learns that he had an opportunity to become a magician on a cruise ship earlier in life, but Claire had never told him about the call because of how busy their lives had been. One of the issues in determining the impact of an event is the lack of a good counterfactual to compare decisions to.
Phil is trying to sell the house next door to a couple. In order to make the house as desirable as possible, he wants to put his family’s best foot forward. He wants the buyers to want to live beside his family. So, he has the kids outside gardening. This demonstrates adverse selection, signaling and the importance of spillover effects/positive externalities. Good, helpful neighbors are desirable and can increase a property’s value, especially if they take good care of their yard. Thus, there are positive externalities associated with landscaping. To discuss signaling and adverse selection, consider that someone is less likely to move if the neighbors are good than if they are bad. So, it’s entirely reasonable to consider the housing market as being characterized by adverse selection. Phil is doing all he can to signal that he and his family are good neighbors in order to get the couple to buy the house and to pay a high price for it. But are they good neighbors?
At the end of the scene, you’ll see the other possible new neighbors. It’s clear which family each of the Dunphys would prefer to live nextdoor.
Alex is graduating from high school soon so Phil, Claire and the kids are visiting Cal Tech. Claire thinks Cal Tech is the perfect place for Alex but she’ll find out soon that she and Alex have different preferences. College is one of the ways that we build human capital. As we learn more things, we become more productive and our labor is more valuable. Alex is already really bright and loves academics so college is a good fit to set her up for doing impressive things in the future.
Claire wants a great school that’s close. Alex wants a great school that’s far away. We also learn that Cal Tech has 5 Nobel Laureates on staff, suggesting that Cal Tech itself has a lot of human capital, making it a highly productive college.
Alex learns why Cal Tech might be a better choice for her than an East Coast school. What is more important: the quality of the program or proximity to home? Choices are tough and everything has a cost. Here’s Alex’s current dilemma: stay close to home and attend the best program in the country OR go to a college on the east coast with a weaker program.
Claire is feeling under the weather but has too much to do. Phil offers to help her out with her errands and pick up some slack until she feels better. One of the gains of partnerships is that if one person goes down, the other can pick up the slack.
Cam and Mitch are trying to get Lily into the best preschool they can, and preschool admissions are normally very competitive, but they think that being gay and having a minority child will give them a leg up in the admissions process. The market for daycare appears to be a monopolistically competitive environment in which firms differentiate their offerings to appeal to different parents.
Claire is going to meet an old friend from work, but her kids are surprised to find out that she once had a job. She describes why she chose to leave the workforce. The household production model allows for workers to determine if they would prefer to produce items for household consumption or work in the paid labor force to purchase those same item. Claire must have steep indifference curves given she quit the labor force to produce household items.
When Phil had a health scare, Claire gets dressed up for the hot firemen who are coming for him. She admits this to Phil before his procedure and he reminds her of it upon waking. After Claire apologizes, Phil says he will be fine with time even though he is fine with it now. Phil believes Claires guilt will grow over time giving him more bargaining power in the future.
The Dunphy’s call Phil’s parents in the sweaters they were given as gifts. The call goes awry when Claire sees what looks like a cigarette burn in the sofa. In her anger she calls the sweaters ugly while still on the phone with Phil’s dad. One of the issues with gift giving is that the receivers wouldn’t purchase the items they receive for the same price that the buyers paid for the item. On top of the inefficiency from an exchange point of view, there are psychic costs associated with acting like you enjoy the gift as well.
Phil surprises Claire with a new bracelet for their anniversary and Claire reciprocates with coupons for 5 free hugs, which Phil points out are usually free already. Claire is proud of her gift because Phil never wants anything, but Phil can list off many things he would like. Gift giving can be inefficient if it’s the two givers aren’t fully aware of the others’ preferences.
When the kids are back in school, it means that Phil and Claire go into production mode to make sure everyone is out of the house on time. In this one-on-one aside, Phil is under the impression that both he and Claire get up at 7 in the morning to start taking care of the kids. Claire informs him that she actually starts her day as a stay at home mom at 6 in the morning. Because Claire has a comparative advantage in getting the kids ready for school in the morning, Phil gets an extra hour of sleep. In the household model of labor supply, partners often divide the tasks based on specialization, not necessarily on equitable terms.
Alex is hyper-aware of her future path into college and she knows playing an instrument will help her land in a prestigious college. Her parents had recommended she play the violin since it wasn’t as heavy, but Alex believes cellos are in demand in university orchestras, which should help her admission application. Part of the role of playing an instrument or sport (notice Alex’s lacrosse stick) is not necessarily that they are correlated with better students, but rather they serve as signal that students can maintain a rigorous academic load while also balancing extracurriculars.
Mitchel bumps his daughter’s head on the doorframe, and he and Cam worry that something may be wrong with their daughter. They consider causal outcomes, like if he had hit her head she would cry (which she does), but then they worry about long term impacts of hitting her head. The two decide to call Claire for guidance.
Claire reassures them that everything is fine because her youngest son (Luke) was hit on the head a lot and he’s fine. Unfortunately, this correlation ends up worrying Mitchell more. While it may not necessarily be causal, the two worry that is and decide to take Lily to the hospital.
Claire is trying to get the kids downstairs for breakfast and is shouting across the house. Hailey doesn’t understand why Claire won’t just text them, but Claire refuses. Improvements in technology should make everyday life more efficient, but Claire wants to stick with tradition.
Phil has a pair of slippers that Claire isn’t too fond of. While they bring private benefits to Phil in the form of comfort and easy jokes, it imposes a cost on Claire. Under the Coase Theorem, we’d suspect that Claire could pay Phil to stop wearing them or Phil could pay Claire to let him keep wearing them, but Claire has instead opted for a creative (and often illegal…) way to dispose of Phil’s possessions that she does not like.
Claire tried to make friends with the owner of Closets, Closets, Closets, Closets (CCCC) but Jay convinced her that the friendship was just a ruse to steal information about the business. In retaliation, Claire and Jay decide to “poach” CCCC’s most valuable employee, Lazlo. While trying to recruit him to their closet business, they learn that the friendship was genuine. But now, they really can’t trust each other and both businesses will be hurt.
Homes and yards that are improperly maintained decrease the property value of neighbors. This is a negative externality. To prevent this from happening, many modern neighborhoods have an HOA. The HOA decides what changes homeowners are allowed to make to their property and act as a non-market solution to externalities. They only allow changes that either do not impact the property value of other homes (no externalities) or that increase the property value of other homes (a positive externality). In this clip, Claire attends her HOA’s meeting. She submitted a proposal to build a “she shed” in her backyard that was denied. She believes this was not appropriate because the shed won’t be visible from the street and will not impact neighbor property values. What she doesn’t know is that her son, Luke, intercepted the request and responded with a fake denial so the HOA doesn’t understand why she is so belligerent. Phil shows up to warn her but is a little late…
Jay and Claire discover that Alex and Luke have started a business selling used shoes online. Jay praises Luke for taking the initiative to build a business from nothing. Claire praises Alex for making the business successful. An argument ensues that makes it clear that this is personal for Jay and Claire. Jay built a closet business but retired a few years ago and let Claire take over. Under Claire’s leadership, the company becomes even more successful and receives international acclaim. They fight over who deserves credit for the success and honors that the business currently has. The reality is that both are responsible. They both demonstrate entrepreneurialism and each played a different and equally important role in building the business. Entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. But can they admit this to each other?
Economists often suggests that competition improves efficiency in markets and Jay seems to agree. He fosters competition within his family to help them achieve their goals. At this moment in the episode, he appears that his motivation worked out and everyone has been successful, but later in the episode, we find out that there were some unintended consequences of his actions.
Phil goes into the wild to live like the famous Robinson Crusoe. In doing so, he provides a fantastic example of the factors of productivity. Productivity (Phil’s ability to survive in the wild) is determined by his human capital, technological knowledge, physical capital and natural resources. He has natural resources in abundance – fish, sticks, blueberries, honey and fresh water. He has some good technological knowledge because he knows how to build a fire. It’s not clear that he has the experience (human capital) to successfully build the fire. But, having lost his physical capital (fancy camping gear), it’s not clear whether or not he will be able to survive.
Economists often suggests that competition improves efficiency in markets and Jay seems to agree. He fosters competition within his family to help them achieve their goals. In an earlier scene, we learn that Jay withholds praise to encourage his family, but this year they have all seemingly surpassed his expectations. But are they really achieving those goals? The truth comes out in this clip. It turns out that they’re a family of cheaters and not a family of winners. Jay’s decision to incentivize them with praise has some stark unintended consequences.
Phil has decided that decisions that can’t come to a resolution should be solved by flipping a coin. Phil has gotten one of those special coins for disputes between him and Claire. The two have been arguing for an hour about whether to be cremated and after being unable to land on a decision, Phil opts to flip the coin. As a final dispute, the two flip the coin to determine how they should spend their retirement account. Unfortunately for the kids, the coin decides that they spend it on a beach condo. Typical either-or-decision making involves a careful consideration of costs and benefits, but interdependent decision making may not be so easy.
On their way to Phil’s father’s wedding, Phil asks his family to dress like 1920 gangsters, but it seems like they are the only guests there in costume. Phil is notorious for embarrassing his family and each member relates a time Phil did something that made him happy, but imposed social costs on others. It’s clear that Phil’s decision to focus on his private costs and benefits are not taking into the account the social cost he is imposing on his family members.
The Dunphys are having their house fumigated so they have to squeeze into a small hotel room. At first it seems like a fun opportunity to bond, but it turns out that there are a lot of comforts of home (like space) that the Dunphys really miss. Alex tries to practice her cello, Claire and Haley can’t get the wifi to work, the neighboring dogs bark all night, and a train runs through town around night time. Luke tries to set off a cologne bomb and ends up stinking up the whole room. Each member is doing some activity for their own personal gain, but end of imposing external costs on all of those around them.
Cam and Mitch went on vacation to celebrate their Honeymoon and brought back “gifts” to the family. Mitchell claims to have gotten sick because he wore socks on the beach, but his virus spread to the entire family. Each member goes through the pain they endured because Mitch didn’t quarantine himself. Only later in the episode do they find out that Mitch wasn’t even patient zero.
The Dunphys normally have a lot of in-fighting, but this summer things have been going smoothly for 4/5ths of the family. Alex is away building houses for the less fortunate, but as soon as she returns everything takes a turn for the worse. Phil and Claire wonder is Alex is actually the root cause of all the tension. While she was away building houses, and even momentarily when she steps out, things start to look better. While these events may be correlated with Alex’s presence in the house, she certainly can’t be the cause of the tension, or could she?
Phil also makes a comment toward the end of the scene that they had so many great days in a row, that it was bound to end eventually. This mindset is popularly known as the gambler’s fallacy, which states that frequent events in one time period will happen less often in the next period. The alternative viewpoint is the hot hand fallacy, which assumes a pattern of events will continue at a higher rate given the occurrence of previous patterns.