Look to ‘The Simpsons’ For Economics Lesson

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The book ‘‘Homer Economicus” zeroes in on a variety of economic fundamentals, as they have played in episodes of the show.

Courtesy of Brian Garr @ Boston Globe:

You might not have known it, but all those episodes of ‘‘The Simpsons’’ were just secret economics lessons. Turns out the yellowish, four-fingered cartoon characters have a lot of insight to offer on basic economic theory.

We know this thanks to Joshua Hall, an associate professor of economics at West Virginia University — and the brains behind the new book ‘‘Homer Economicus: The Simpsons and Economics’’ (Stanford University Press).

Hall got the idea to incorporate pop culture icons like Homer Simpson into his lessons after teaching a three-hour night business class. “It’s hard to go three hours when you’re just lecturing and eyes start glazing over,’’ he said.

Hall started using examples from ‘‘The Simpsons’’ to hammer home lessons — from urban transportation in the monorail episode to a gambling lesson involving Mr. Burns and a casino.

Hall began with the theory that episodes from the cartoon offered numerous: from the simple, such as supply and demand, to the more complex, such as the economics of immigration and health care.

‘‘Economics is about recognizing that everything has a cost and there’s tradeoffs — if you do X, you can’t do Y, we all have 24 hours in a day,’’ Hall said. ‘‘And ‘The Simpsons,’ even though it’s cartoonish, is not divorced from reality.”

Hall, editor of the book, teamed up with several other economists to produce it, with each contributing an essay on a specific economics lesson to be learned from the show.

Hall offers the following lessons from Homer Simpson and friends:

■ Individuals respond to incentives.

‘‘King-Size Homer’’ begins with Homer trying to avoid office calisthenics. He realizes if he is classified as disabled he can work at home and avoid any strenuous activity. After going through his options, he gains 61 pounds in order to be classified ‘‘hyper-obese.’’ While not everyone will respond to the same incentives as Homer, we all respond in a predictable way to changes in costs and benefits of an activity.

■ There is no such thing as a free lunch.

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