It’s Phil’s 50th birthday and Jay decides to try and sneak a gift to Phill that Cam had given him before. What Jay doesn’t realize is that Cam had inscribed the front cover and as Phil begins to red the inscription, Cam recognizes it is the same book that he gave Jay before. Giving gifts can be seen as wasteful if the giver doesn’t fully know the recipients preferences and willingness to pay. The entire family tends to give each other gifts that the others don’t always want, but this time Jay didn’t even take the time to open the book in the first place.
Claire and Cam want to flip a house, but Phil and Mitch are against it. Phil pretends he is for it leaving Mitch to put his foot down, but eventually Mitch decides to play the good cop as well and leave Phil to put the brakes on the house. If Phil and Mitch had agreed before hand to both be against the plan (cooperate), they could have come to the best outcome, but it was in Phil’s best interest to deviate and act like he supports Claire and Cam, leave Mitchel to take the full cost of the outcome. Mitchel then decides to defect as well and they are now both supporting a project they don’t believe in. This scene represents a more common version of prisoner’s dilemma in which both Phil and Mitchell would be better off cooperating, but they each have an incentive to defect.
Jay is shocked that Manny won’t eat pickles, so he won’t let him leave the table until he tried one. Gloria thinks Jay is being a hypocrite and forces him to try blood sausage. Then Jay decides Gloria need to try something new too: scratching the dog, Stella’s, belly. While they all seem to hate what they try at the time, we see Gloria petting Stella’s belly voluntarily and Manny surreptitiously eating a pickle at the end of the episode. This highlights the need for full information in order to know your true preferences.
Manny puts up a fiberoptic Christmas tree because it is better for the environment, but Jay thinks it is ugly and does not want it in his house. This clip highlights both positive externalities of fiberoptic trees (environmental benefits) and negative externalities of the tree (Jay’s psychic costs). Jay decides instead that he and Manny should go out and cut down a tree for reasons of tradition.
Jay and Manny tried cutting down their own Christmas tree for hours, but it is not budging and keeps ruining their tools. Jay has finally had enough and says Pritchetts know when to give up. All their previous effort represent a sunk cost, and it would take too much effort relative to the reward of a half burned tree to keep going.
Lily lost her first tooth and got $100 from the Tooth Fairy. Cam and Mitch are trying to convince her that the Tooth Fairy made a mistake and she should give the money back, but Lily wants to keep the money until Haley tells her this would almost certainly put her on Santa’s naughty list. Now Lily has to decide what she values more: $100 or Christmas presents.
Cam and Mitch have decided to get Jay and Gloria a special gift for Gloria’s impending birth. Jay and Gloria have both created a registry of gifts they would like, but Cam has decided to go “off registry” because he believes Jay and Gloria don’t really know what they want. Mitch seems concerned that they will not appreciate it.
One of the issues with gift giving is that the parties have imperfect information about what the other will value the gift at. Economists love to focus on the inefficiency of gift giving and often suggest just exchanging money.
Luke and Manny’s class is having a yard sale to benefit UNICEF, but Jay hates when people haggle. In this scene, some guy had gone into Jay’s house, and then tries to buy his toaster. He’s not sure of the quality of the toaster and isn’t willing to commit to purchasing the toaster unless Jay can prove that it works. In markets with asymmetric information, one party of the transaction has more information about the quality of the product compared to the other party. This makes the market for used goods unique from new goods. It turns out, though, that the toaster was never for sale.
Luke and Manny’s class is having a yard sale to benefit UNICEF. When Mitchel doesn’t want to donate Cam’s pants, Luke tries to re-frame the charity attempt to guilt his uncle into donating more money. Framing is one tactic to get people to do something they may not have done under the original design.
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.
Luke and Manny’s class is having a yard sale to benefit UNICEF. Manny thinks the point is for them to learn about global altruism, while Luke thinks to point is to beat the other class. The teachers have used the incentive of a pizza party in order to encourage their classes to do their best in raising money. Jay is unhappy with this method and would prefer to write a check instead.
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.
Alex is practicing her college interview for Princeton in the mirror when Haley comes in to style her hair. Princeton is an Ivy League school that is very prestigious and gets a lot of applications. Princeton does not know which applicants it should let in so it screens them. Screening is an action taken by an uninformed party in a situation characterized by adverse selection. There are many things that colleges do to screen applicants. They require high school transcripts, a certain GPA, test scores and they conduct an interview. When someone is interviewed, it’s an opportunity for them to send a signal. A signal is an action taken by an informed party in a situation characterized by adverse selection. Alex wants to signal to Princeton that she’s a good candidate for admission into the university. Haley shares her thoughts about the message that Alex is actually sending.
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!
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.
Its Halloween and Gloria often ties to coordinate her costume with Jay, but he usually just accepts whatever Gloria picks for him. At this point in their marriage, he’s tired of being the “ugly” sidekick while Gloria goes as some beautiful character. The two would like to coordinate their outfits so that they are both happy, but what they may not be able to match correctly. Consider this a modern version of the Battle of the Sexes game.
Lily has the tough teacher but Cam and Mitch just learned of an opening in the “nice” teacher’s class. In this scene, the two approach Ms. Plank about transferring their daughter into Ms. Sparrow’s classroom. Education is one market where consumers have little choice. Some critics argue that this creates inefficiencies in the market while others argue that education consumers may not have enough information to make optimal decisions. Critics insist that giving consumers more choice would not necessarily lead to an improvement in efficiency. This sort of problem is discussed at many levels in education – from school choice to book choice. In this scene, it was clear that the Cam and Mitch were ill-informed of even their daughter’s preferences, but assume that Lily would have done better in the other teacher’s class despite not actually knowing Ms. Plank’s ability.
Haley, Phil and Luke are participating in a psychology study. Luke has convinced Phil that they should push the big red button that says “DO NOT PUSH” but Haley stops them. She says one in a million college drop outs go on to become Steve Jobs. The other 99 thousand don’t (her math is a little off). She recently dropped out of college and is having a crisis. This demonstrates several economic concepts including the importance of human capital and time inconsistency. Human capital comes from going to college but Phil reminds her that there are other sources of human capital. Time inconsistency occurs when you regret a decision in the past.
Phil is trying to sell the family’s station wagon, but it has some issues that he knows would lower the value of the car. Phil words the advertisement in a way to make the car seem unique instead of defective. Akerlof famously questioned the existence of used markets in his famous Market for Lemons paper.
Cameron gets a new job at a greeting card store and loves it because he is able to buy greeting cards with the employee discount. This greatly increases his greeting card purchases, and Mitchell points out that it is not saving them money, but costing them money. The discount represents a price reduction, which causes Cam to increase the quantity of cards he purchases. This can also be seen as a form of mental accounting where Cam prioritizes the savings instead of seeing the cost of each card.
Mitchell complains to Jay about Cam being too nice, and Jay complains to Mitchell about Gloria not liking his dog butler. In the beginning of the scene, the two complain about the actions of their partners and how it imposes a cost on them that they feel their partner is not considering. Jay loves his dog butler, but he also doesn’t want to upset his wife. Cam spends a lot of time helping people and animal, but Mitchell feels it is sometimes a burden.
Jay notes that they are both with people who are very different and that maybe that makes their relationships better. The concept of interdependent utility functions is that people maximize combined utility of a household/relationship even though that means they way not be maximizing their own individual utility functions.
When Claire and Phil cancel Christmas after finding what looks like a cigarette burn in the sofa, Alex suggests she and her siblings all confess so that their parents will reinstate Christmas and go easy on them for protecting their siblings. Unfortunately there is an incentive to cheat, but Luke isn’t smart enough and ends up confessing to something he didn’t do.
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.
Luke was supposed to keep a journal all summer, but when school starts again in the Fall, he realizes he only did one day. At the start of the summer, Luke’s focus on the present imposed large negative externalities on him when it’s time to turn in the work later in the summer. People who highly value present consumption are said to have high discount rates because they don’t care about future outcomes as much. This hyperbolic discounting can result in some inconsistencies when Luke looks back and realizes how much trouble he’s about to be in.
Cam gives his mother in-law a pair of diamond earrings, but she reciprocates by giving him exercise equipment and salad drier. Cam doesn’t appear to think that the two gifts were of equal value, which shows how gift giving can be considered inefficient.
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.
Phil is desperate to sell this house. The buyer loves it but is afraid that it is haunted. Phil brings in Gloria to cleanse the house of unfriendly spirits. What they find isn’t spirits – it’s not ghost. It’s only bees! This demonstrates adverse selection and screening. Economics suggests that a market where the buyers know less than the sellers will result in adverse selection. That is, there will be more “bads” (haunted) houses on the market than “goods” (non-haunted). One way the ways that the problem of adverse selection can be reduced is through signaling. Phil (the seller) takes an action (asks Gloria to inspect the home) in order to reveal that this home is a “good” (not haunted) home.
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.
Cam is desperate to win the football game and be a winner. He overhears the opposing team’s coach plans for the next play. Does he act on this insider information? Yes. Using insider information in buying and selling financial securities is illegal because it gives someone an unfair advantage. Similarly, many would consider Cam’s actions cheating. In fact, Cam feels really guilty about it but Mitch encourages him to keep up the facade because winning is also important to him. The decision making process involves weighing the costs (his morals) versus the benefits (winning).
Luke is baby-sitting for Gloria. She expects him to care for her son in a responsible way. When Luke posts a selfie on social media, Gloria worries that her son might be in danger. This represents the principal-agent problem. Luke is the agent and Gloria is the principal. Is he acting in her best interest? Of course not! He’s shirking. To cover up his shirking, Luke tells Gloria that he has a series of photographs of her son in dangerous situation but they’re all fake. Now, he needs a series of photoshopped pictures but doesn’t use photoshop. So, he decides to only give Manny something that he wants if he photoshops Gloria’s younger son in to dangerous situations. This represents trade through barter. Luke has a pass that Manny wants. Manny has a skill that Luke needs. They trade because they have a double coincidence of wants.
In order to get some alone time from their partners, Mitchell and Jay decide to head to the desert, but they didn’t think they’d run into each other at the same spa. In the middle of reading the same book, Mitchell comes across a shocking detail and spoils part of the book for Jay who is sitting across the pool. The gasp provides two examples of economic content. First, Mitchell’s gasp imposes and external cost on Jay because they are reading the same book and Mitchell has ruined the surprise of what happens later in the book. The second is a form of asymmetric information. Mitchell has knowledge about something that will happen in the book later that Jay doesn’t know yet. The power won’t last long as Jay just needs to read a bit more to gain that insight.
Rainer proposes to Haley at dinner, but then the weather turns outside and he’s unsure if he made the right decision. In his back-and-forth about whether this was the right move, he brings up the fact that he’s already messed up one marriage. He notes that messing up one marriage is okay, but if you mess up two marriages then it sends a signal that he’s the problem in the relationship and it will lead to losing a potential sponsorship.
Cam and Mitch went on vacation to celebrate their Honeymoon and brought back gifts to the family. For Jay, they brought a cheesy golfing frog statue, but also with an illness. Jay views the frog statue so poorly that considers it possible the illness is a better gift. Economists like to discuss irrationality of gift giving because we often spend money on gifts for people at a higher value than they would spend on themselves. A second concept at play in the clip is that Cam & Mitch’s trip to Mexico added additional costs on the family through the spread of an illness. Had Mitchell known he would have gotten the family sick, he may not have left.
It’s time for Jay and Gloria to exchange gifts and Jay is anxious about his gift from his wife. He struggles finding the right gift because it always seems like a competition. If the two didn’t exchange gifts then the extra psychic costs wouldn’t exist. It turns out that Gloria actually really loves Jay’s gift, but Jay really wanted that watch.
Cam and Mitch have been married 3 months, but it seems like their honeymoon will never end. Cam continues to give Mitchell flowers even though he clearly doesn’t enjoy them as much as he used to. He may have loved the first bouquet, but eventually he may start to hate them.