Economists take the fun out of TV

Marketplace Staff Aug 24, 2009

Economists take the fun out of TV

Marketplace Staff Aug 24, 2009


Kai Ryssdal: We tend to hear a good amount from economists on this program, analyzing the news of the day, interpreting statistics for us, or looking at consumer behavior. Rarely, though, do we hear them talk about what they do when they’re not on the job. What they do, in other words, for fun. We asked around a little bit, and the sad answer is that even when they’re not working on economics, a lot of economists are still thinking about it. We start a week’s worth of Econ fun-oh-one commentaries today with Susan Lee.

SUSAN LEE: If addictions can be considered fun, then I have a biggie. I’m addicted to the TV series “Two and a Half Men.”

It’s about two bachelor brothers. The handsome one, Charlie, lives in a three-bedroom house in Malibu. On the beach. He drives a Mercedes. He has a housekeeper. He goes out to dinner all the time. And he never seems to work — except for the time he slept with his neighbor, who gave him a Steinway baby grand.

The nerdy brother, Alan, lives with Charlie. He drives a poopy car. He has to sponge off Charlie to buy popcorn at the movies. Yet he works very hard as a chiropractor. Once he even had to take a second job to pay his alimony.

It’s real-world economics turned upside down. Charlie the slacker has everything. While Alan, the worker-bee, has almost nothing except a giant penny jar.

Anyway, the show is very funny.

If you’re feeling really silly, you can find yourself laughing every two minutes. Unless you’re a priggish economist like me.

For instance, I’m totally grumpy about Charlie’s giant amount of disposable income. His life seems to be one big fat windfall gain.

However, according to economic theory, windfall gains are mostly saved — not spent. Yet Charlie spends his money furiously.

But wait, I say to myself, maybe Charlie is borrowing to finance his lifestyle? No, I argue, nobody is going to lend money to a slacker like Charlie.

Or, wait! Charlie gambles a lot on sports. Maybe he wins big, too? Nah, unlikely. Most bettors are losers because bookies’ odds are set pretty efficiently.

Well, my economist self usually debates with my silly self right through the first 20 minutes of the show. And so both selves miss 10 or 11 really good jokes.

Worse, if other people are watching, and I’m yelling out complaints, they miss the jokes, too.

But maybe that’s the function of economists, to take the fun out of life.

Ah, I feel so much better.

RYSSDAL: Susan Lee is an economist in New York City.

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