Jan 8, 2009

Homer Economicus

While I have known for a while that Homer’s favourite magazine was The Economist, I was happy to find out that two of my major interests, economics and The Simpsons, were combined once again, in the paper, Homer Economicus: The Simpsons in the Economics Classroom, which I found by luck while looking at the AEA programme for sexy topics.

As the authors explain, “many students have a hard time applying basic microeconomics when it comes to real-world situations. A classroom discussion about the effects of a ban on organ sales, for example, can often be derailed by student opinions on the ethics of allowing individuals to sell their organs. Using a fictional, animated television show to discuss issues like organ donation makes it easier for students to set aside their normative concerns and focus instead on the positive effects of policy changes”.

They give many examples from specific episodes. One of them is “King-Size Homer,” where “after learning of a coworker’s absence from work because of a disability, Homer tries to find a way to purposely injure himself so that he too can go on disability and work from home. After walking around a construction site with no hardhat on and trying to trip and hurt himself on an oil spill, Homer almost loses hope of becoming disabled, remarking, “I’m never going to be disabled! I’m sick of being so healthy.” Homer then discovers the disease “hyper-obesity,” realizing that if he gains enough weight, he can qualify as disabled. Homer proceeds to eat as much as he can in order to become disabled. This episode provides a straight-forward example of how individuals respond to incentives and correspondingly how public policies, even when designed with the best of intentions, can lead to unintended consequences, such as individuals trying to go on disability. Homer’s coworker Lenny perhaps clarifies this when he refers to disability as a “lottery that rewards stupidity.”

In “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment,” alcohol is prohibited in Springfield after Bart gets drunk during the St. Patrick’s Day parade. This episode illustrates the differences and similarities between regular and black markets. […] Falling alcohol supply due to prohibition causes the price of a pitcher of beer to rise to $45. The episode also shows prohibition leading to a host of secondary effects such as increased corruption. The local organized crime boss, Fat Tony, bribes the Springfield police in order to smuggle large quantities of illegal alcohol into the city. Another secondary effect of prohibition is seen as bar patrons begin substituting from beer (the standard at Moe’s Tavern when alcohol was legal) to much stronger drinks. After becoming the underground provider of alcohol to Moe’s, Homer, aka the beer baron, is seen making gin, cognac, and “12 year old scotch” in bathtubs in his basement. The similarities between the secondary effects of alcohol prohibition seen in Springfield and the narcotics market in the US are clear.”

And here’s one of their discussion question: “Economists typically believe that increased regulations (such as prohibition) are costly for suppliers. However, Homer indicates that "people were drinking more" as the result of prohibition. Analyze what this implies about supply and demand as a result of prohibition in Springfield?”

No comments: