Learn Economics From Seinfeld

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Here’s a thought experiment: You go to the local pizzeria, order yourself a calzone to go and then leave $1 in the tip jar before you leave. Except something goes horribly wrong: The employee who helped you doesn’t notice that you’ve left him a tip. Should you A) Just be happy knowing that you’ve done a good deed, or B) Tell the employee so he knows you’ve done a good deed?

Most normal people would probably shrug it off and choose the first option, and a select few might choose the latter. But if you’re George Costanza from the popular show Seinfeld, you would actually choose a third option: Stick your hand into the tip jar and try to take out the dollar so you can put it in again while the employee is looking. And in the process you would prove a valuable point: Altruism isn’t really altruism if you’re getting credit for it.

In addition to offering jokes and the occasional moral, Seinfeld was also full of important money lessons. That’s the contention of two economics professors who recently launched Yadayadayadaecon.com, a website that analyzes dozens of Seinfeld episodes for the money lessons that viewers can learn.

Consider the episode in which Elaine brainstorms an idea for a store that sells just the tops of muffins, only to have her boss open up a store which does the same just a few days later. This, according to the professors behind the site, is a perfect example of the value of intellectual property rights.

Then, there’s the episode where Elaine complains about having eaten 23 terrible sub sandwiches in order to get the 24th sandwich for free, as part of a promotional deal. Jerry tries to convince her not to eat the last sandwich, but Elaine is resistant because, as the professors note, she has effectively already paid the price for the deal and now wants her reward, a phenomenon known as a sunk cost.

Linda Ghent, an economics professor at Eastern Illinois University and Alan Grant, an associate professor economics at Baker University, have both used clips from Seinfeld in their classes to convey complicated economic principles, so they decided to create an online resource to serve that purpose.

“This site will be part of an ongoing and expanding attempt to make these sorts of popular culture teaching materials widely and conveniently available,” the creators write on the site’s About page.  “We are doing this in the hopes that the materials hosted here, now and in the future, will be useful to economics faculty.”

Needless to say, a few of the examples highlighted on the site are a bit of stretch, like the episode in which Jerry and Elaine debate whether they should sleep together, which the professors argue is a case of “opportunity cost.” Is that really the best way to teach this concept to students?

Still, the website is a fun and informative resource on the whole, and who knows, perhaps it will encourage more professors to find new and clever ways to teach complicated material.

For more wisdom from Jerry and the gang, check out MainStreet’s roundup of the career advice you can learn from Seinfeld.

—For a comprehensive credit report, visit the BankingMyWay.com Credit Center.

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