Right next door to where Mitch was taking trumpet lessons was a massage parlor offering massages for the exact same price as trumpet lessons. Cam believes Mitch has been practicing the trumpet for two years now, but it turns out that Mitchell has just been getting regular massages. Utility maximization assumes that when two items are the same price, consumers will chose the item with the higher utility. While Mitch originally thought he wanted to learn how to play the trumpet, he realized each additional massage generated higher levels of utility than another trumpet lesson.
See more: equimarginal principle, marginal utility, substitutes, utility, utility maximization
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.
See more: command and control, decreasing returns, diminishing marginal returns, government regulation, marginal utility, negative externalities, negative returns, role of government, utility
Luke is finally tall enough to go on the rollercoasters and Disneyland, but Phil may be at the age where he can’t handle that pressure. The self-proclaimed “King of Rollercoasters” visibly diminishes as Luke seems to be unfazed by the G-force. While each ride adds a bit of additional joy to Phil’s overall utility, the marginal cost is clearly increasing as he continues to ride each ride. It’s not long before Phil’s marginal cost outweighs the marginal benefit of one more ride.
See more: decreasing returns, diminishing marginal returns, increasing marginal cost, marginal utility, marginal benefit, marginal cost, negative returns, utility, utility maximization
Phil went on a gameshow in his early 20s and won a lifetime supply of dual blade razors, which was cutting edge razor technology at the time. Now it is not uncommon to find razors with 3, 4, or 5 blades. It’s hard for people, even economists, to predict advancements in future technologies, which makes comparisons of goods across long time periods more challenging.
A second concept that can be taught through this clip is the concept of the endowment effect. Phil is very disappointed to see that his “lifetime supply” has run out because he infers that it shouldn’t ever end. Many “lifetime” products are actually a fixed number of items spread out over a fixed time period.
See more: behavioral, endowment effect, growth, technological change
Phil has to decide whether to leave his own firm and start his own with two old co-workers, but he only has a limited amount of time to decide. He remembers that he is not good under pressure by recalling a time that he bought an alpaca because it was the last one and he panicked. Sometimes people may not make rational decisions because of bounded rationality, whereby they have to make a judgement in a hurry and don’t have time to fully weight all of the costs and benefits. Phil appears to fall victim to this fairly regularly, as evidenced by his decision to buy an alpaca once.
See more: bounded rationality, choices, cost benefit analysis, irrationality, rationality, tradeoffs
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.
See more: altruism, irrationality, opportunity cost, rationality, sunk cost, tradeoffs
Cam convinced Mitchell that he needs to be kinder so Mitch invites a messy colleague who is going through a breakup to spend the night at their place. Unfortunately, she takes him up on it. Determined to keep their beautiful, brand new, designer white sofa (their one nice thing) in mint condition, they give up their bed for her and sleep on the floor. In this clip, they wake up and discover that she has moved onto the couch. This couch is more expensive than one from Rooms to Go and so it counts more towards GDP. Owning an expensive couch is an indication of Mitch and Cam’s high standard of living. Yet, does a high standard of living mean a higher quality of life? Robert Kennedy didn’t think so:
[GDP] counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
–RFK, Speech at University of Kansas, March 18, 1968.
Another perspective on this clip: resources are scarce. At its heart, economics is about how we choose to use those resources. Purchasing this couch moved Mitch and Cam on to a higher indifference curve than before they purchased it so their utility is higher than it used to be. But could they have been on an even higher one if they chose to buy a cheap couch and spend their money on something else? Traditional economics says that Mitch and Cam are rational and made the best decision. Is it possible that they could have made a mistake? What if they incorrectly estimated the cost of maintaining the couch. Could this also demonstrate time inconsistency?
See more: altruism, GDP, gross domestic product, luxury goods, opportunity cost, positional good, quality of life, risk, risk aversion, standard of living, tradeoffs
Phil decides to steal (what he believes to be) Luke’s bike to teach him a lesson about leaving his property lying around town unsupervised. In the process of helping a neighbor who locked herself out of her house, Phil loses the bike because he didn’t lock it before walking away. Phil returns to the bike shop in the hopes of explaining his situation and getting another bike for Luke, but the employee won’t give him a new bike because Phil didn’t buy the insurance before. Phil believed that insurance was for “suckers” but risk averse people may prefer the added cost in exchange for peace of mind.
See more: insurance, risk aversion, unintended consequences
Cam is talking to a lady at Lily’s play class about movies to make small talk, and they have very different opinions on how talented Meryl Streep is. Cam loved her performance in Sophie’s Choice and has a hard time thinking about having to choose between Lily and Mitchell. The first concept in the opening scene covers subjective preferences of individuals. Cam believes Meryl Streep is the best actress, implying he’s able to rank performers, a necessary condition of utility theory.
The ending scene ties back with the movie, Sophie’s Choice, where Streep must chose between her child or her spouse. Cam weighs the same issues and realizes he would struggle having to decide between saving family members. While most tradeoffs are not as serious, each decision we make includes opportunity costs, which must be considered in the decision making process.
See more: choices, preferences, ranking, opportunity cost, subjective value, tradeoffs, transitivity, utility
Mitch and Cam have a house guest who made breakfast using the expensive caviar that they had been saving for a special occasion. While enjoying their wonderful meal, they realize that there are all sorts of things that they have never used because they were waiting for the perfect time. This demonstrates choice paralysis. Cam and Mitch have seemingly endless choices for when to consume these special things but they never actually do. Choice paralysis says that we have a difficult time making a choice when there are too many options. As a result, we cannot chose and end up with a sub-par outcome.
See more: choice paralysis, choices, framing, positional goods, preferences, utility, utility maximization
There are two concepts shown in this clip that can be used based on the portion of the course. First, Haley weighs two different career options and must consider the costs of each. Haley meets a woman who is interested in searching for a new husband who will die soon so that she can take their inheritance. The woman essentially offers to hire Haley as her personal assistant, but she’ll get to do leisurely activities. Luke tries to convince Haley to stick with the golf course because it provides a better future for her. Selecting one jobs means she can’t enjoy the benefits of the other.
The second concept covers the notion of labor-leisure tradeoffs. In the standard Income Leisure Tradeoff model, consumers are given a choice of determining their distribution of time based on the available number of hours in a day. Haley considers similar options here in terms of one job, with Luke, that requires a more work, but higher income while the other job provides more leisure activities. In this section, it helps students to realize that leisure has value similar to income and decisions makers are willing to give up income in exchange for leisure.
See more: employment, income leisure tradeoff, indifference curves, labor, leisure, nonpecuniary benefits, preferences, tradeoffs, wages
Gloria is sick and Cam tries to help around the house. Gloria’s family remedy for colds is a bit smelly and Cam accidentally uses Joe’s cape in the process. Gloria immediately recognizes this will be and issue and points out that Joe has a strict ranking set when it comes to that cape. Joe loves the cape so much more that he even places the cape above his own father. Part of utility theory requires transitivity, which is the ranking requirement of consumption.
See more: preferences, ranking, subjective value, transitivity, utility
Phil and Jay are stuck in a dispute about which of the two job candidates to hire as their newest parking lot attendant. The two candidates have vastly different personalities, but Jay and Phil believe their preferred candidate’s personality is best for the job. Instead of considering the costs and benefits are hiring each worker, they opt to flip a coin with their two heads on it. While marginal analysis focuses on “one more” of an item, either-or-decision making typically involves weighing costs and benefits to determine which would have the highest economic profit.
See more: cost benefit analysis, decision making, either-or-decisions, labor
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.
See more: cost benefit analysis, decision making, either-or-decisions interdependent utility functions, tradeoffs