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Scenes From a Life

Jim Wasserman

Jim is a former business litigation attorney who taught economics and humanities for 20 years. He's the author of a three-book series on how to teach students about behavioral economics and media literacy. Jim lives in Texas with his wife and fellow HumbleDollar contributor, Jiab. They have a book that examines the impact of social media influencers on youth consumerism and identity development coming out in 2023.

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Scenes From a Life

Jim Wasserman  |  Nov 1, 2019

ONE SUNDAY, MY SON was lamenting that he had a school project due the next day, but hadn’t yet taken any steps to get it done. When I asked what his plan was, he replied, “I could use a really good montage right about now.”
For those who aren’t procrastinating teens with a father who delves into media literacy, a montage is a series of quick shots in a TV show or movie that accelerates time around a theme—that theme often being the effort and time expended to achieve a goal.

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Changeup Pitch

Jim Wasserman  |  Oct 25, 2019

WHEN WE WATCH advertisements, we tend to think of ourselves as stationary, with the marketers coming to us and then, if we don’t respond, heading elsewhere. Like an Einstein relativity paradox, however, we observers are also in motion, being coaxed toward the marketer, often without knowing it.
A good business knows its customer niche—and good marketers know how to speak to that niche. Customer niches are defined by demographic attributes. When I discuss these attributes with students,

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Bored Games

Jim Wasserman  |  Oct 7, 2019

THERE’S AN ONLINE forum where writers of articles can request “expert” opinions for pieces they’re working on. Recently, a reporter was seeking recommendations for gadgets parents can buy to keep their children amused on family vacations.
Normally, I either send what I hope is a helpful reply or I move on. In this case, however, I responded—but my answer wasn’t positive.
I first railed against the idea that children needed anything beyond the trip itself,

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Shame on Us

Jim Wasserman  |  Sep 20, 2019

OVER 600 YEARS AGO, Geoffrey Chaucer gave the world The Canterbury Tales, a caustic look at a cross-section of English society. While all the stories are still worth reading, one tale is especially relevant to today’s consumer.
For those who don’t remember The Canterbury Tales, it’s a story about a group of pilgrims traveling from London to Canterbury. They pass the time on the road by having a contest to see who can tell the best tale.

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Under Attack

Jim Wasserman  |  Jul 15, 2019

THE FINANCIAL SITE MarketWatch has been running a series about the lives and budgets of Americans who retire abroad. My wife Jiab and I—who moved from Texas to Spain—were one of the first couples featured, along with a husband and wife who now live in Chile. Both articles made clear there were plusses and minuses to such a move—experiencing new things, but also being away from family—and that we weren’t advocating this for everyone.

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Terms of the Trade

Jim Wasserman  |  Jul 10, 2019

CONSUMER ECONOMICS and media literacy have evolved to become important fields of study, analyzing the way consumers make decisions—and how those decisions can be nudged. Here are 20 of the tricks and techniques used by marketers and others:
Aspirational buying. When consumers are encouraged to live like those they admire, even if they can’t afford it.
Bandwagon appeal. The psychological nudge to do—or consume—something because others are doing it. Also known as FOMO,

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When in Rome

Jim Wasserman  |  Jul 3, 2019

WE DON’T NORMALLY think of classical philosophy as relevant to modern money management. Perhaps it’s the perception that philosophers live humble, financially insecure lives ruminating on ethereal matters. Or, as my businessman father said when he saw I was taking a philosophy course, “That will make you interesting at parties, but how will you eat with it?”
Meet Marcus Aurelius.
If you aren’t a classics person, Marcus was born to a powerful and rich Roman family,

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Bundle of Joy

Jim Wasserman  |  Jun 27, 2019

ON A RECENT VISIT to the U.S. from our home in Spain, I used one of my last days to do some shopping, including purchasing a new laptop power cord to replace one that failed the night before. I have a Dell computer, so I entered the store confident I could easily buy a cord tailor-made for my brand.
“We only sell universal power cords,” the clerk told me.
“I don’t need to power the entire universe,

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Getting Played

Jim Wasserman  |  Apr 23, 2019

“IS CBS PIPING FAKE birds into its Masters coverage?” That was the headline on a recent Slate article, which speculated that the television network might be adding “enhanced audio” of fake bird chirping to its coverage of the golf tournament.
This is not a scandal for the ages. But it serves as a timely reminder that we have fantasized notions of life that marketers and the media don’t hesitate to exploit.
Make no mistake: The PGA,

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The S Word

Jim Wasserman  |  Apr 5, 2019

SOCIALISM. It’s a word that can make people on the far left swoon, as they imagine an egalitarian utopia, even while inciting those on the far right to mumble protective oaths like a medieval citizen seeing a sign of the devil. It’s also a word that Google Trends reports has had a surge in search-related interest since last December.
As competing visions of how to protect and enhance the American economic system vie for political popularity,

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Applying Pressure

Jim Wasserman  |  Mar 22, 2019

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.

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Five Mistakes

Jim Wasserman  |  Mar 14, 2019

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.

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Spoonful of Advice

Jim Wasserman  |  Mar 7, 2019

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,

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Under the Influence

Jim Wasserman  |  Feb 19, 2019

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.

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Gaming the System

Jim Wasserman  |  Jan 24, 2019

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.

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