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The Economics Of The Big Bang Theory…

February 11th, 2010 · 8 Comments
Econ 101

Oh, hi there. You probably thought I was going to be writing about the nuanced interplay between economics and physics, but no, I am instead talking about the TV show. (Sidenote: I am a little disheartened to see that the top Google results for “the big bang theory” are in fact for the TV show.) If you really want to read about the interplay between economics and physics, here’s a Scientific American article that discusses whether economic growth models are at odds with the laws of physics. Furthermore, in Googling “economics physics” to find that for you, I was intrigued/amused that Google’s autocomplete suggested “economics physics envy” for me. (I’m like a Google Superbowl ad here.) Apparently economists suffer from physics envy because economists like to dress up like physicists and pretend that their field has the same level of laws and hard science that physics does.

But I digress, so I will take off my Marie Curie costume and get back to the point. My mom and I go back and forth over The Big Bang Theory (again, the TV show, not the universe thing)- she loves the show and I really want to hate it. I really want to hate it because it presents such a narrow nerd stereotype- I went to MIT and thus know full well that there are many different varieties of nerd. And no, we aren’t all obsessed with Star Trek. That said, things like the following make it difficult for me to hate on the show too much:

Awww, Sheldon is explaining the concept of positional goods! (The humor in the fact that I had to watch a Mercedes ad before that clip does not escape me.) I think I’m in love…and I also want to see the phrase “neener-neener” work its way into an economics paper.

I’ve written about similar concepts before, such as the idea that people care about their incomes relative to others around them in addition to just the absolute dollar amount. But the ideas are all related, since it’s easier to do the “neener-neener” boasting when your neighbors are poorer. And don’t even get me started on Marx and his commodity fetishism stuff…

(HT to reader Keenan Robert, via my Facebook page.)

Tags: Econ 101

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 the weakonomist // Feb 11, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Neener Neener is in every economics paper that counters previous research, which is just about every economics paper. They just hide it behind fancy words like “positional goods”.

  • 2 Mark // Feb 11, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Don’t forget about Veblen’s “conspicuous consumption”–a sort of pre-WW2 neener neener.

  • 3 Justin // Feb 11, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Normally I love all of the nerd humor in the TV show, but this Monday’s episode was personal because of the econ-nerd-humor. At this point in the show I had a larger than normal smile and I kept repeating “Did you hear that!? OMG! Economics!”

    I’m writing a paper on the economics of trust and the resistance to break the law based on other people finding out you broke the law vs. you morally don’t want to break the law. I like to call it my “If a tree fell in the woods and no one was there to hear it…you’ll knock down 20 trees” theory.

  • 4 Early Retirement Extreme // Feb 11, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    I was a theoretical physicist in a previous life, so I have to suffer a bunch of Sheldon jokes in real life, and I actually have gone to CERN to give an invited talk to boot. From my perspective, the show is to the (hard) science community what Blue Mountain State is to the jock/cheerleader community. A funny parody. Based on the people I met, Leonard and Rajesh are actually quite realistic, whereas Sheldon and Howard; no way.

    PS: I got the word “snafued” into one of my publications, so there is hope :-)

  • 5 Tamara // Feb 14, 2010 at 12:56 am

    Actually I love that show because is brilliant. And I love that scene: Sheldon explaining why Howard value his girlfriend more because Rajesh doesnt have a girlfriend, therefore he has a “good” that Raj doesnt … and my econonerd sing started to make strange noises XD Economics in the big bang theory was awesome, I have seen all the episodes and economics is not a very recurrent subject… neener neener should be a concept introduce in economics XD

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