TO BORROW FROM the movie Casablanca, we are all “shocked, shocked” at the college admissions scandal recently uncovered by the FBI. We are seemingly united in condemning the extremes that these wealthy—and sometimes famous—parents went to, as they sought college admission for their children. We’re talking fraudulent inclusion on sports teams, submitting fake standardized test scores and outright bribery.
But the idea of parents gaming the system for their child’s benefit is nothing new to those of us in high school education.
WHEN I TAUGHT economics, I would present students with the financial misunderstandings that people often have—and which the study of economics can help them avoid. Examples? Here are five widespread misconceptions:
Mistake No. 1: The rarer something is, the more valuable it is. Economics really doesn’t care about rare things—meaning those things that are few in number. Instead, economics deals with scarce things, which are things for which there’s greater demand than current ways to fulfill that demand.
MORE THAN 100 years ago, Thorstein Veblen, the father of behavioral economics, explained the thinking behind most of our purchases and investments with the help of two spoons. In his seminal 1899 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen compared a handmade silver spoon, which back then could cost up to $20 ($600 in today’s money) with a machine-made aluminum spoon that cost about 20 cents ($6 today).
Based on strict utility of purpose,
WE LIKE TO THINK we’re rational, especially when it comes to spending and investing. But in truth, all of us are susceptible to impulsive decision-making and unconscious persuasion. Result? We often end up wasting our hard-earned money.
According to traditional economics—which depicts humans as conscious, rational decision-makers—this shouldn’t happen. But this traditional view has been under attack since the late 1800s, when Thorstein Veblen explored conscious irrational decisions, such as buying items simply to impress others.
I’M AN AVID PLAYER of video and computer games—along with 150 million other Americans. They’ve been a nice occasional escape from the pressures and obligations of the real world for more than 40 years and, now well into my 50s, I’m old enough to see them as merely that.
Youth, on the other hand, is more susceptible to having their behavior influenced, if not shaped, by interactive entertainment. There’s much debate as to whether such games promote dissociative behavior and even violence.