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Take a fun flight with an economist

Kauffman Foundation Senior Fellow Paul Kedrosky.

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

KAI RYSSDAL:As the last few days of summer roll by, there's still time for a bit more vacation before it's back to school or work. If you do decide on a last minute flight, beware. The person sitting next to you might be an economist looking for some fun.

But commentator Paul Kedrosky says they're probably not enjoying the ride all that much.


Paul Kedrosky: On arriving into Newark Airport recently, our flight attendant apologized for the flight being late -- except we were almost 15 minutes early. She confessed moments later it was the second time that week she had apologized for an early flight being late.

Hmmm, says my inner economist. Newark hasn't added runways, and nothing has changed in the way air traffic is controlled. So if flights are now so regularly on time -- and even early -- that flight attendants are taken by surprise, then it must mean that there are fewer people flying.

Hang on though. My flight into Newark was packed, like most of my flights this year. Ah, but that's the law of small numbers: I am generalizing from a single plane to the airline industry.

It's more likely that in response to the Great Recession airlines canceled oodles of flights, thus putting more people on the remaining ones, with the happy side effect of reducing air congestion.

Couldn't I have just enjoyed arriving early into Newark? Sadly, no.

Thinking like an economist is a mental disorder, one that means your brain gnaws continually at the economic patterns in daily life. Sometimes it's important, like realizing that people comparing bank CD rates at parties means that domestic savings is rising quickly. So worries about China buying U.S. treasuries are overdone. Sometimes it's practical, like noticing how crowded campsites have become and thinking it would be a good idea to set up a Vickrey price auction for sites. And sometimes it is, well, cracked, like my recent eighth-hole brainwave that the best solution to slow play in golf would be to price golf on an hourly basis.

You see? To an economist life is like being a physicist trapped inside the Large Hadron Collider: Economic data shoots right through you all day, like being drilled by accelerated tachyons. It's a wonder we're not all sick. Oh wait, we are.

Ryssdal: Paul Kedrosky is a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation. His blog is called "Infectious Greed."

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