Homer Economicus: The Simpsons and Economics

By Joshua Hall | Go to book overview

15
HOMER ECONOMICUS
OR HOMER SAPIENS?
Behavioral Economics in The Simpsons

Jodi Beggs

BEHAVIORAL ECONOMICS is an emerging field at the intersection of psychology and traditional economics. If you’ve ever taken an economics course, you may recall that one of the central assumptions of nearly all traditional economic models is that individuals and companies act “rationally”—that is, in ways that maximize their long-term happiness or well-being.1 Since the world is a complex place, this assumption technically requires that everyone has (or at least acts as though they have) unlimited information-processing capabilities, perfect self-control, complete and objective knowledge regarding the usefulness of every item available for purchase, and so on. It’s not hard, however, to look around at our neighbors, our friends, and probably even ourselves to see that this assumption is unreasonable when applied literally in the real world.

Traditional economists acknowledge that people aren’t perfect, but they contend that the “errors” in judgment that people make are reasonably random and just create noise in an otherwise well-functioning economic world. Behavioral economists, on the other hand, are interested in describing the ways in which people exhibit consistent irrational biases in decision making and judgment. To err is human, as the saying goes, and behavioral economists want to understand the ways in which economic actors are, well, human.2

It’s generally more entertaining to watch humans than to watch economic robots, so it’s not surprising that movies, books, and television shows generally focus on characters who are imperfect, in some ways irrational, and often downright goofy. The Simpsons is no exception to this model, and the world

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