Dangerous Advice

Alex is unsure of what she should do with her life and she’s avoiding her mom. Jay picks up on the situation and tries to provide some guidance. Alex has been dreaming of becoming a scientist her whole life, but lately she’s dreamed up becoming a singer. She can’t have both and recognizes that to pick a path requires giving up the other option. We’ve seen this indecision with Alex when she was trying to decide whether to spend her summer interning or relaxing. Jay hints that he used to be a daredevil, but he gave it up to become an entrepreneur.

 

See more: , , opportunity cost, , tradeoffs

Christmas Time the Whole Time

Cam’s dad, Merle, is fighting with Cam’s mom and they are considering a divorce. While there are utility gains from separating from partners, Merle believes he can do better than his current wife because he sees Jay and Gloria as role models. Gloria, however, paints a bleak picture of Merle’s future. Does Merle really have better options waiting out there or would he maximize his expected utility by staying with his current wife?

 

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Hiking vs Hugh

The entire family is visiting Australia and has a hike planned for the day. On their way to the van, Cam and Mitch get a text from an old friend inviting them to join him on Hugh Jackman’s yacht that day. Cam and Mitch have to decide between time with their families or time with famous people. They don’t want to seem starstruck, but they also don’t want to be bitten by a snake in the name of family time.

 

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Farewell to VHS

Video cassettes have been replaced by DVDs and streaming services and are slowly becoming an outdated technology.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.

 

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What Would Santa Do?

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.

 

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Opportunity Cost of College

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.

 

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Expiring Spa Certificate

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

The Upstairs Unit (Part 2)

Pam’s ex-boyfriend is back in town and wants to get back together. Mitchel is all in favor of the reconciliation, but Cam is against it. Why is Mitchell so eager for her to move out? As long as Cam’s sister is in the apartment upstairs, they aren’t able to rent the apartment out and earn extra money. While Cam is trying to be generous for his family, Mitchell sees the missing dollar signs.

 

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One Nice Thing

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: , positional good

The Unit Upstairs

Cam and Mitchell own a duplex, which they would normally rent to someone so that they could earn a bit of extra income. This time around, Cam’s sister, Pam, needs a place to stay while pregnant, so Cam offers it to her rent free. This has put a bit of a strain on Cam and Mitch’s relationship because Cam’s sister has stayed longer than they planned and they need the money from the rental.

 

See more: , interdependent utility functions

Mister Ekshun’s Illusionatorium

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.

 

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Preferences and Tradeoffs for Cal Tech

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.

 

See more: , incentives, nonpecuniary benefits, self interest

Meryl is Just Okay

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: , opportunity cost, utility

Unlosable Position

Alex has worked hard her entire life preparing for the perfect future, even learning how to play cello while playing lacrosse. She’s landed her dream internship, but it’s a very high stakes position and an extremely stressful environment.

While this decision troubles Alex, Phil steps into play a board game that Alex was just about to win. Alex has set Phil into a position to all but guarantee victory, but Phil decides to do something unexpected. While Phil uses this as a metaphor for Alex’s internship, it also represents the role of opportunity costs in our everyday decisions.

Every time we choose to do something, we are also choosing NOT to do something else. SO if Alex takes the internship, she’s giving up a relaxing summer that could be a much needed break for her. On the other hand, if she takes the summer offer, she may be missing out of an internship that could greatly influence her future career.

 

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