Oh, The Simpsons…so a couple of months ago I was approached with the idea of writing about the economics to be found in the Simpsons…I figured that this would be fruitful, since if the Harvard stereotypes regarding the writers are true, it stands to reason that a number of the writers have taken the class that I (used to) teach. 🙂
This all started with a paper written by Joshua Hall at West Virginia University- the paper is, in fact, titled Homer Economicus: Using The Simpsons
to Teach Economics. As it turns out, I got much more than I bargained for. First of all, there are over 400 episodes of the show…and yes, I could have done the math to figure this out beforehand, given that the show has been on the air for 20 years. In addition, there are references to economic concepts in over 90 percent of the episodes I have gone through thus far (116 as of about a half hour ago). I have way more material than I need for the book chapter that this was supposed to be for, and I’m too much of an OCD researcher to stop partway through, so I’m probably going to turn my notes into a database of some sort so that people can look up references by topic and use them as teaching tools in their classes. But, as usual, I digress…
(There is actually empirical evidence that this nudge would work. Brian Wansink shows in Mindless Eating that even something as simple as putting candy out of sight or a few steps away can have a big impact on consumption.)
If you are not familiar, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness describes how small changes in the way that choices are presented (choice architectures) can have big effects on the choices that people make. For example, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein talk about the effect of defaults on 401k savings behavior and give evidence that a simple opt-out versus opt-in scenario increases participation by a factor of four without actually limiting the underlying choices that people have available to them. (The concept is generally referred to as libertarian paternalism, which I have mentioned before.) Their stance is that it’s pretty much impossible to design a choice architecture that doesn’t nudge you in some sort of direction, so we might as well be smart about presenting options in ways that maximize people’s long term happiness (at least as best as outside observers can understand it).
I suppose in some way I am trying to nudge people into wanting to learn economics. 🙂