Economists Do It With Models

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Economics Is Everywhere, Dr. Seuss Edition…

July 23rd, 2009 · 7 Comments
Econ 101 · Just For Fun

I was recently approached about a possibility to write a chapter in a book about the economics that can be found in episodes of The Simpsons. I found this to be a cute and novel concept, but apparently others have already had similar ideas! I present to you “Oh, the Economics You’ll Find in Dr. Seuss!” by Ben Miller and Michael Watts. (Ben is/was an undergraduate at Purdue University, and Michael is a professor at the same institution.)

I figured I would give you a nice visual for your viewing pleasure:

The overall paper is available online and can be found here. It goes through a brief biography of Dr. Seuss (real name Theodor Geisel) and then outlines what economic concepts are found in a lot (not all) of his works. The paper is 30 pages long, but it is an easy read and has a nice summary table at the end. Some bio highlights (along with my commentary of course):

  • Geisel attended Dartmouth College from 1921-25, and took two principles of economics classes described in the college catalog as designed “to train for citizenship and business life.” (I wish economics classes nowadays had the goals of training for citizenship and business life, since I strongly contend that understanding basic economics helps you to suck less at life in general.)
  • His class notebooks from both Dartmouth and Oxford are full of Seuss-style drawings. (This is unsurprising on a number of levels. I have a friend from college who would draw caricatures of Franklin Fisher during our internediate microeocnomics course. I think this started when he showed up one day in a grey trenchcoat and hat and she was getting an Inspector Gadget vibe from him. There was also a humpty dumpty version, but I’m not sure what the motivation was for that one.)
  • Suess was his mother’s maiden name, and he added the title Dr. to reflect his father’s unfulfilled hopes for his graduate degree at Oxford. (Hopefully it won’t come to that for me, but one way or another I will totally be Dr. Econgirl some day.)

Here is a nice synopsis of the economic concepts:

Title Economics Concepts
And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street! (1937) credible statements
The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (1938) bandwagon effects, interdependent utility, conspicuous consumption, demand, fairness, hierarchical societies, luxury, pride, sumptuary laws, tastes and preferences, fashion, vanity
The King’s Stilts (1939) economics of natural disasters, interdependent utilities, natural resources, property rights/theft, public goods, specialization and the division of labor, work-leisure trade-offs
The Seven Lady Godivas (1939) entrepreneurship, innovation, research and development
Horton Hatches the Egg (1940) contracts, evolutionary economics, fairness, property rights, reputation effects, shirking, specialization, work-leisure trade-offs
McElligot’s Pool (1947) externalities/pollution, risk aversion in production vs. leisure decisions, uncertainty
Thidwick the Bighearted Moose (1948) altruism, entitlements, fairness/equity, free riding, public choice
Bartholomew and the Oobleck (1949) entrepreneurship, experience goods, fame/vanity, pollution, property rights, tastes and product differentiation, unintended consequences
Gerald McBoing Boing (1950) discrimination/diversity, marketable skills, specialization
If I Ran the Zoo (1950) product differentiation
Scrambled Eggs Super! (1953) differences in endowments, interdependence, international trade and diversity in consumer tastes, production, quality control, risk, search costs, specialization
Horton Hears a Who! (1954) asymmetric information, collective action/demonstrations, discrimination, endangered species, public choice, shirking, specialization, skills
On Beyond Zebra! (1955) limited, but examples of: competition, goods and services, innovation, property rights enforcement, scarcity, specialization, transportation
If I Ran the Circus (1956) entrepreneurship, externalities, incentives, labor, unrealistic expectations
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957) altruism, externalities, interdependent utility
The Cat in the Hat (1957) asymmetric information, environmental issues, externalities, monitoring costs, recreation/leisure
Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories
(1958)
1) “Yertle the Turtle”

2) “Gertrude McFuzz”

3) “The Big Brag”

constraints, freedom and the diffusion of political power, greed vs. happiness, unlimited wants

constraints, bandwagon effects, conspicuous consumption, experience goods, fairness, relative income/consumption

cheap talk and credible statements, relative status, game theory, second mover-advantage

The Cat in the Hat Comes Back! (1958) reputation effects, learning (or not, as in basic Cournot models), workleisure trade-offs
Happy Birthday to You! (1959) scarcity, specialization, wants, utility/happiness
Green Eggs and Ham* (1960) complements, experience goods, interpersonal differences in preferences, utility
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish* (1960) preferences, specialization
The Sneetches and Other Stories (1961)
1) “The Zax”

2) “Too Many Daves”

3) “The Sneetches”

4) “What Was I Scared of?”

credible threats, game theory

diminishing returns

learning in a repeated games, preference models of discrimination

discrimination and irrational fears

Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book (1962) wants, work-leisure trade-offs
Dr. Seuss’s ABC* (1963) diminishing marginal utility
Hop on Pop* (1963) nothing
I Had Trouble Getting to Solla Sollew (1965) precautionary motives, risk aversion, shirking, utopian dreams/fallacies
Fox in Socks* (1965) nothing
The Foot Book* (1968) nothing
I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today! and Other Stories (1969)
1) “I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today!”

2) “The Glunk that got Thunk”

3) “King Looie Katz”

entrepreneurship

demand, experience goods, externalities, long-term/unintended consequences, prudence

relative income/consumption, tastes, fads, vanity

My Book about Me* (1969) scarcity and opportunity cost, labor markets, jobs, specialization and personal skills/characteristics
Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?* (1970) experience goods, specialization, training/education
The Lorax (1971) economies of scale, endangered species, environmental externalities, property rights and enforcement, specialization and division of labor, tragedy of the commons, wants
Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!* (1972) goods and services
The Shape of Me and Other Stuff *1973 very little, but examples of goods and services, and personal diversity
Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? (1973) consumption, work effort and monitoring costs, envy, living wage, relative
utility
There’s a Wocket in my Pocket* (1974) nothing but examples of goods and services
Great Day for Up* (1974) tools/capital goods that help people get up
Oh, the THINKS You Can Think!* (1975) nothing except imagination as an unlimited resource
The Cat’s Quizzer* (1976) nothing
I Can Read with My Eyes Shut* (1978) human capital
Oh Say Can You Say? (1979) cost, experience goods, money, occupations, preferences, price, product quality, wants
Hunches in Bunches (1982) choices, decision making, delayed gratification, discounting, opportunity cost, precautionary motives, uncertainty
The Butter Battle Book (1984) arms race games, credible threats, discrimination (taste/preference models), game theory, prisoner’s dilemma
You’re Only Old Once (1986) aging, demographics, externalities (pollution/congestion), health care
I Am NOT Going to Get up Today!* (1987) shirking/leisure
Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (1990) personal beliefs in ability and luck, choices, competition, individual interests and abilities, information, leisure/recreation, migration, opportunity cost, risk, uncertainty, utility, waste/inefficiency
Daisy-Head Mayzie (1994) demand, interpersonal differences, money/fame vs. happiness, principalagent issues, specialization
My Many Colored Days (1996) nothing
Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! (1998) accountability (standardized testing), education and training, entrepreneurship, freedom, general vs. specific training, human capital, incentives, specialization and division of labor, variety


Hm. I had no idea Dr. Seuss wrote so many books. I also had no idea that pride and vanity were economic concepts…who knew that there was so much overlap between economics and deadly sins?

Tags: Econ 101 · Just For Fun

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