Category: Television

Homer Economicus

The editor is Joshua Hall and the subtitle is The Simpsons and Economics.  The Amazon summary starts with this:

In Homer Economicus a cast of lively contributors takes a field trip to Springfield, where the Simpsons reveal that economics is everywhere. By exploring the hometown of television’s first family, this book provides readers with the economic tools and insights to guide them at work, at home, and at the ballot box.

Here is one Joshua Hall essay related to the book (pdf).  Here is the book’s home page.

What was Aragorn’s Tax Policy?

Excellent interview with George R. R. Martin at Rolling Stone:

How did you come up with the Wall?
The Wall predates anything else. I can trace back the inspiration for that to 1981. I was in England visiting a friend, and as we approached the border of England and Scotland, we stopped to see Hadrian’s Wall. I stood up there and I tried to imagine what it was like to be a Roman legionary, standing on this wall, looking at these distant hills. It was a very profound feeling. For the Romans at that time, this was the end of civilization; it was the end of the world. We know that there were Scots beyond the hills, but they didn’t know that. It could have been any kind of monster. It was the sense of this barrier against dark forces – it planted something in me. But when you write fantasy, everything is bigger and more colorful, so I took the Wall and made it three times as long and 700 feet high, and made it out of ice.

and some political economy:

A major concern in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones is power. Almost everybody – except maybe Daenerys, across the waters with her dragons – wields power badly.
Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

In real life, real-life kings had real-life problems to deal with. Just being a good guy was not the answer. You had to make hard, hard decisions. Sometimes what seemed to be a good decision turned around and bit you in the ass; it was the law of unintended consequences. I’ve tried to get at some of these in my books. My people who are trying to rule don’t have an easy time of it. Just having good intentions doesn’t make you a wise king.

Matthew Gentzkow wins the Clark medal

The citation is here:

Matthew Gentzkow has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the economic forces driving the creation of media products, the changing nature and role of media in the digital environment, and the effect of media on education and civic engagement.

Matt is at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago and there is much more at that link.  Here is Matt at  Matt’s well-known paper on ideological segregation, with Jesse Shapiro, is here (pdf).  Our class on the economics of the media at considers Matt’s work, for instance see this video on ideological segregation.

Here is A Fine Theorem on the Bayesian persuasion paper.

An excellent choice, of course, and hearty congratulations are in order.

Male dance moves that catch a woman’s eye

The bottom line seems to be this:

By using cutting-edge motion-capture technology, we have been able to precisely break down and analyse specific motion patterns in male dancing that seem to influence women’s perceptions of dance quality. We find that the variability and amplitude of movements in the central body regions (head, neck and trunk) and speed of the right knee movements are especially important in signalling dance quality. A ‘good’ dancer thus displays larger and more variable movements in relation to bending and twisting movements of their head/neck and torso, and faster bending and twisting movements of their right knee. As 80 per cent of individuals are right-footed, greater movements of the right knee in comparison with the left are perhaps to be expected. In comparative research, there is extensive literature on the signalling capacities of movement…Researchers have suggested that females prefer vigorous and skilled males; such cues are derived from male motor performance that provides a signal of his physical condition.
The paper is here (pdf), via Samir Varma.

Your porn is not Canadian enough

For failing to broadcast sufficient levels of Canadian-made pornography — and failing to close-caption said pornography properly — a trio of Toronto-based erotica channels has earned a reprimand from the Canadian Radio-television & Telecommunications Commission.

Wednesday, the CRTC issued a broadcast notice saying AOV Adult Movie Channel, XXX Action Clips and the gay-oriented Maleflixxx were all failing to reach the required 35% threshold for Canadian content.

Based on a 24-hour broadcast schedule, that translates to about 8.5 hours of Canadian erotica a day.

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank TH.

The cable television market is growing more contestable

From a 2012 report:

The Satellite TV Providers industry is in the midst of a revolution, supplying popular family shows, news, movies, sports, documentaries and other products to a growing swarm of eager subscribers willing to pay for in-home entertainment. For example, the introduction of high-definition (HD) TV vastly improved the quality of shows and attracted subscribers even as disposable income dropped during the Great Recession. “In addition to a dramatically improved reputation for quality, new networks, channel offerings and bonus features are strengthening the industry’s appeal to consumers,” says IBISWorld industry analyst Doug Kelly. Higher spending on industry services is anticipated to result in 5.6% annualized revenue growth to $41.4 billion in the five years to 2012. This climb includes an expected 3.8% increase in 2012 as more consumers continue subscribing to satellite TV…

Over the next five years, the industry will face escalating competition from other media.

Have I mentioned Hulu TV and YouTube and Netflix, especially the non-broadband requiring discs?  How about reading the internet?  How about using your iPad to watch downloaded movies and TV shows?  New social media for sharing?  “Let them download somewhere else”?  There is a reason why “cable” and “cord cutting” appear so frequently in the same sentence.

There is no big deal with Comcast acquiring Time Warner, also because the two companies serve separate districts.  If anything the new consolidated entity will have stronger monopsony power over programs and can bid their prices down.  (Isn’t ESPN with its sports contracts a monopoly of sorts, just as the sports leagues are?)  We all know that monopolists facing lower marginal costs tend to lower price (contrary to Tim Wu), even if not by as much as we might like.  Krugman worries that “This would, in turn, make it even harder for potential competitors to enter markets served by ComcastTimeWarner, strengthening its monopoly position.”  A better sentence would have been “No five year period has so increased the contestability of the cable sector than the last five years in the United States.”

One might also add that if ComcastTimeWarner can bid down prices on programs, this need not keep out other competitors.  Those programs are non-rivalrous in consumption, and the sellers can extend whatever price discounts they might wish to new competitors, to increase the demand for their products.  The final equilibria here are complex, but in general the ability of a strong firm, in this setting, to bid down input prices is not a bad thing.

Addendum: If you wish to worry about something, it is how to get more competition within a single market, as you might for instance do through municipal wi-fi, the successor to 4G, and so on.  Worrying about the horizontal spread of trading in one monopoly for another is beside the point.  What I am seeing in various comments on Twitter is people with objections to cable monopolies, some of them valid objections, then objecting to possible changes in the market out of basic mood.

*Prisoners of War*

This is the Israeli-TV source for the better-known U.S. show HomelandHomeland seems like and indeed is a completely implausible plot line, and that aside about a third of the episodes are downright awful.  It is saved by having one of the most incandescent romances in screen history, namely between Carrie and Brody, a passion which burns so brightly yet collapses immediately into the banal once any hint of peaceful calm is introduced, thereby necessitating certain plot twists which close out season three.

Prisoners of War [Hatufim] avoids these problems and takes away the romantic gloss.  The movie shows torture scenes repeatedly, and even if not with full realism it does not feel like typical Hollywood treatment.  There is more than one captive and the pace is slower and more contemplative.  Parents play a larger role in this story.  The “Carrie figure” has a smaller and less narcissistic profile.  The “Sol figure” remains Jewish.  I have heard Israelis object to what you might call an…unsentimental…portrait of the Israeli state in the series.  And “the first season of Hatufim was Israel’s highest-rated TV drama of all time.”

I recommend this show for most followers of intelligent TV.  You can watch on Hulu or order the discs, season two is on its way in the post from Israel.  The creator, Gideon Raff, plans to produce a season three as well.  Here is a NYT review of the Israeli series.  Here is a Guardian review.  Here is The New Yorker.  Here is a brief trailer.

Introductory Korean drama

To an economist like me, this fondness for hospitals is surprising, because hospitals are expensive in Korea and much of the bill is not covered by Korea’s National Health Insurance system.  Price-elasticity of demand does not seem to work in Korean drama.

That is from Princeton economist Uwe E. Reinhardt, from a document from his “class” on Korean Drama (pdf).  He introduces the “class” with this explanation:

After the near-collapse of the world’s financial system has shown that we economists really do not know how the world works, I am much too embarrassed to teach economics anymore, which I have done for many years.  I will teach Modern Korean Drama instead.

Although I have never been to Korea, I have watched Korean drama on a daily basis for over six years now.  Therefore I can justly consider myself an expert in that subject.

By the way, I have been watching Boys Over Flowers lately, a Korean drama (it’s also on Hulu).  Think of it as a mix of Heathers, Mean Girls, and Clueless, but set in a posh Korean high school, with lots of “Average is Over” value.  There is definitely income-elasticity of demand in Korean drama, even if there is not much price-elasticity.  There is also plenty on matching models, moral hazard, status competition, and repeated games, and not always with cooperative solutions.

For the pointer I thank Oriol Andres.

Is the Sugar Quota JUSTIFIED?

justifiedJustified, one of the best written and most entertaining shows on television, premiered last night. I liked this exchange between two drawling criminals:

Where’s the rest of the money?

That’s all we got from the candy company.

Yeah, what candy company is that Dillie?

The one that bought the sugar.

The joke is that we think the criminals are talking in street code about another white powder but, as we learn later, they actually are part of a sugar smuggling operation. The US sugar quota has increased the US price of sugar well above world levels and this has in fact pushed a number of candy companies to the wall. I suspect that few of them have turned to the black market for their sugar although I wouldn’t put this past some unethical confectioners. Nevertheless, sugar smuggling is not unknown.

In the 1980s when the US price of sugar was pushed as much as four times higher than the world price there were many smuggling schemes if not actual sugar-runners. In our textbook, Modern Principles, Tyler and I discuss one scheme where Canadian entrepreneurs shipped super-sweet iced tea to the United States where the “tea” was then sifted and the sugar resold. And from 2000 here is a great moment for US democracy, namely US Senator Byron Dorgan rising in support of legislation:

…to prevent molasses stuffed with sugar from being allowed into this country.

As others have stated, the molasses in question is stuffed with South American sugar in Canada [those Canadians again, AT], and then transported into the United States. The sugar is then spun out of this concoction and sold in this country while the molasses is sent right back across the border to be stuffed with more sugar–and the smuggling cycle starts over again.

The Greek public broadcaster showdown, and when do people finally snap?

There is now a chance that the Greek coalition government will collapse, and in some manner re-form, due to the controversy over the possible shutdown of Greece’s public broadcasting outlet (now suspended by the Greek High Court).  Here are comments from Matt, and also from Open Europe.  Here is a long update on the story.

There is a broader point about the possibility of countries on the periphery leaving the eurozone or otherwise choosing a radical change, such as outright default or capital controls or an illiberal government or a blatant renegotiation of the current deal.  Many observers seem to have in mind a path where things get really bad, economically speaking that is, and then a country leaves the eurozone (or makes some other radical choice) because they can’t stand it any more when things are at the absolute bottom.  Once things are looking up, it is assumed that countries are on board for the foreseeable future.

Without wishing to rely too heavily on Tocqueville’s analysis of the French Revolution (pdf), that’s not how things usually work.  Very often there is an ongoing history of major problems and depredations.  Then things seem to get better or perhaps they really do get better.  Expectations start to rise.  Then some small events come along and those events are blown out of proportion, leading to the crisis in public opinion that didn’t quite happen in the first place.

The current Turkish crisis was set off by a dispute over a public park, and the recent demonstrations in Brazil seem to have been prompted by a 7% hike in bus fare prices, which is about ten U.S. cents.  Yet in neither case is the small trigger the ultimate cause of the discontent.

Many deconversions from religion, or from fandom, or even from marriage, work the same way.  Big lies are told and those lies inflict some damage.  The institution in question soldiers on.  A bit later, an apparently smaller slight or problem brings the whole thing crashing to the ground, precisely when things appeared to be getting better.

I’m not saying it always runs that way, only that it is a very common path.  Furthermore the steepest period of decline is very often when people are too preoccupied with coping to make the major adjustment.

The bottom line is that one should not dismiss the importance of small events, especially these days.

Addendum: Edward Hugh argues that Grexit is not off the table.  Here is a short piece on the Tocqueville thesis and China.

The passing of James Gandolfini

Ross Douthat called him “the best actor in the best TV show of all time.”  I consider that to be a fair description.  I will never forget Tony proclaiming in one episode “He ain’t got ungatz” (sp?) and suddenly understanding what my father had meant by that many years ago.  In my dotage I hope to watch through all of the episodes once again.  Here is one good obituary; Gandolfini grew up in Park Ridge, New Jersey and was born in Westwood, both very close to my own upbringing.

Gandolfini was not very well known when he was cast as Tony Soprano, and of course this raises the broader question of how much talent is actually out there.

@ModeledBehavior asked an interesting question: “Are any of the nominees I’m seeing for best TV show ever not centered around crime?”

Where does the right to publicity lie? (hard to discern)

The Screen Actors Guild and several players’ unions have filed briefs supporting Mr. Hart, saying that athletes, actors and other celebrities must have the right to control the use of their identities and to harvest the financial fruits of their fame. The movie industry, book publishers and news organizations, including The New York Times, have lined up on the other side, saying that allowing celebrities to control speech about them runs afoul of the First Amendment.

The dueling briefs cited a grab bag of cases that are hard to wrestle into a coherent legal framework.

The courts have, on the one hand, rejected right-of-publicity suits arising from a painting of Tiger Woods, a comic book evoking the musicians Johnny and Edgar Winter, parody baseball trading cards and a fantasy baseball game that used the names, statistics and biographies of Major League players. But courts have allowed suits over the broadcast of a human cannonball’s entire act, a comic book using a hockey player’s nickname, an ad evoking Vanna White’s skill at turning letters on “The Wheel of Fortune” and a reference to Rosa Parks in a song.

If there is a legal principle that unites these rulings, it is hard to discern. What is clear, though, according to an expansive 2011 Supreme Court decision, is that video games deserve full First Amendment protection.

Here is more, by Adam Liptak.  Here is a Gloria Franke paper (pdf) on some of the underlying legal (and economic) issues.

The value of the pause?

…research suggests that taking breaks between episodes can increase your enjoyment.  Perhaps most amazingly, commercials can improve the experience of watching television.  Even entertaining shows start to drag after five to seven minutes, decreasing our enjoyment.  Commercials disrupt that adaptation process, so when the show comes back on, we can fall in love with Jim and Pam all over again.

The quotation is from Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, and the underlying research is here.  I believe this hypothesis does not apply to me, nonetheless I am glad to season two of Borgen does not arrive until later in June.  I am never tempted by binge viewing, and in general I do not like to watch two episodes in a row.

The decline of interest in female film stars

Glamour featured film stars on half of its covers in 2012. But the May 2012 issue featuring Lauren Conrad, the former star of the reality show “The Hills,” was the year’s best-selling issue, at 500,072 copies. The magazine now expects to make film stars the minority presence in 2013.

At Cosmopolitan, the best-selling cover this year featured Kim Kardashian in April, with 1.2 million copies sold, followed by the singer Miley Cyrus in March with 1.1 million copies. In 2012, three out of five of Cosmopolitan’s top covers featured the celebrities Demi Lovato with 1.379 million copies sold, Khloé Kardashian at 1.354 million copies and Selena Gomez at 1.334 million copies.

Vogue’s best-selling cover in the first four months of 2013 featured Beyoncé with 340,000 copies sold. In 2012, Lady Gaga commanded the cover of Vogue’s September issue and sold nearly double the number of copies of the January 2012 issue, featuring Meryl Streep.

It’s not just younger women’s magazines that are moving away from film stars. When Redbook landed an interview with Gwyneth Paltrow for its January issue, the magazine featured her with her trainer Tracy Anderson and not in what the magazine’s editor in chief, Jill Herzig, called the “traditional A-lister in a ball gown kind of way.”

It is music and TV which are in the ascendancy.  I blame the globalization of the movie market in part, which skews Hollywood movies more toward Asian male audiences, in turn limiting their appeal to American females.  In general international audiences lower the return to good dialog and raise the return on action and explosions, which on average hurts prominent female roles.  Note that men’s magazines are now having more film stars on their covers.  And there is this:

A recently published study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism showed that the percentage of female characters with a speaking part in the nation’s top movies each year reached its lowest point in the past five years in 2012, at 28 percent. Ms. Coles said it had become so difficult to find female film stars to feature from this summer’s blockbusters that her magazine was publishing an article about the problem.

The full article is here.

*Borgen*, season one

He is a market-oriented professor of economics who talks about Milton Friedman to his young Danish students.  She is — suddenly — Prime Minister of Denmark and leader of a moderate left party, but not actually prepared to wield power.  The regime is proportional representation and maintenance of the fragile coalition is all-important.  Her younger child wets his pants while watching TV and they schedule Tuesdays and Saturdays for sex, in vain.  Some media outlets maximize profit, whereas others pursue personal and political agendas.  People who have slept together in the past cannot escape each other’s presence in the elite circles of Copenhagen.  The median voter occasionally surfaces too.

If you are looking for a new “intelligent TV show” to watch, this is my nomination.  I don’t like this as much as my all-time favorite shows, but if you are only going to watch twenty good TV shows in your lifetime, this should be one of them.  You don’t have to care about politics, much less Danish politics, but if you do that will make it all the more intriguing.

You can buy Season one here, and season two is coming out soon.