Thursday, December 7, 2017

izzit, 2081 and the Meaning of Equality from Rachel Colsman


rachel_cOne teacher’s Story of How an izzit.org DVD Changed the Life of a Struggling Student

Irving Kristol once said, “Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions – it only guarantees equality of opportunity.”

This concept has always been a challenge to teach in my government classes. This past year was no exception. I teach in northwestern New Mexico, in a district that serves the Navajo Reservation. My particular school is over 80 percent Navajo. Their history makes it hard for many students to understand individual rights when, for many years, their rights had been ignored.

My classes had just finished studying the Bill of Rights. We read the document, broke it down into terminology, and looked at Supreme Court cases. They were still struggling with the idea of equality. I had to find a way to teach them that equality does not mean everyone should earn the same amount, or live in the same size house. Enter izzit.org.
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I have used izzit.org for a couple of years for a variety of topics. I just happened to order the video “2081.” It was sitting on my desk waiting to be watched. I took the video home to preview. My first reaction was awe… followed very closely by apprehension. There were guns. The production was dark. It was filled with powerful symbolism. I knew that it would be a major risk to show it, but I felt that the benefits of using it would outweigh the risks.

I went to my principal for guidance. He told me to go for it. So I did. I could not have anticipated the results.

I had one particular student that was struggling to finish his senior year. He rarely came to class. He seemed disconnected. I thought we were going to lose him. But after I got hold of the 2081 DVD, I asked him please to come to class the next day, as I had a great lesson on equality, and would really like him be there. He looked skeptical. But to my surprise, he actually showed up.

I began class by writing “equality” up on the board. I asked each student to write down their definition of the word. We had a brief class discussion and developed a class definition of “equality,” and wrote it on the board. I handed out the video questions and began the movie. The students were giggling and whispering through the introduction, but when the movie started, things got dead silent. 

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The students were mesmerized. At the conclusion, you could hear a pin drop. I asked the students to revisit their definition of equality for homework, and to bring it in for class discussion the following day. I could have never predicted the response. Students had been discussing the idea of “equality of outcome,” versus “equality of opportunity” with other teachers, in the lunchroom, and at home. The next day, every student was in their seat ready for discussion before the tardy bell had even rung – including our struggling young man. The classroom was abuzz with ideas and meaningful exchange.

After class, the young man who’d been missing class came up and asked if he could borrow “2081” to show his parents. I allowed him to take it, and the revolving door of checking out the video began. Over 50 students took “2081” home to share. Parent-teacher conferences four weeks later revolved a lot around my lesson on equality.

a4Helping students understand the difference of equality of outcome, versus equality of opportunity has always been a challenge. Many of my students believed that government has a responsibility to ensure that everyone has exactly the same things. But this lesson helped them understand the fundamental principle of a democratic republic: equality before the law.

My young man continued to come to class, rarely missing a day. I asked him what made him want to come. He informed me that the video and the lesson really touched him. He realized that hating the system would do nothing to fix his problems: “Democracy doesn’t mean that everyone ends up the same. It means that everyone can make choices, and whether they succeed or fail is up to them. It might not be fair, but at least we each have ownership of our individual journey in life.”

(Note from izzit.org - Please be advised that 2081 is not streaming on our site but you are able to select it as your free DVD for the year! It's a powerful video, and we highly recommend it for high school students.)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

econlife - Why the Secret Service Monitors Fake Movie Money by Elaine Schwartz


When Rush Hour 2 needed many millions in 100 dollar bills, Independent Studio Services (ISS) sent them 14 pallet loads of 4′ x 4′ cubes of fake money. During the filming, the Secret Service showed up, issued a cease and desist order, and accused ISS of counterfeiting. It appears that movie extras had been spending the cash nearby.

Although no one wound up in jail, the raid cost ISS a lot of real money. Their digital files were confiscated and billions destined for a slew of movies, destroyed.

Below, the real $100 bill is the top image while the Rush Hour 2 fake is under it. Commenting on the bogus bill (that does look rather real), a Secret Service agent said,”…son of a gun, if it’s green and it says ’20’ on it, somebody will take it.”

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In this Rush Hour 2 scene, the fake money flies after an explosion in a casino:



Occasionally a movie maker decides to use actual cash. When The Brinks Job (1978) needed close-ups of U.S. currency, they borrowed the money from a bank. Real guards hovered near huge piles of real cash that, after filming, was counted and returned ASAP.

So, where are we going today? To what makes money real.

But first…


Counterfeiting History


Abraham Lincoln signed the act that created the Secret Service on the day he was assassinated (April 14,1865). Because somewhere between one-half to one-third of U.S. currency was reputedly fake, the Secret Service’s sole purpose was to combat the counterfeiting.

Fast forwarding to 1992, we can look at current counterfeiting criteria. According to the Counterfeit Detection Act of 1992, the fake money has to be clearly bogus in several ways.

It should be…
  • either 75% smaller or 150% larger than real cash.
  • one-sided.
Also, after its final use, the equipment used to make the money has to be destroyed.


Our Bottom Line: What is Money?


The textbooks say that any commodity can be money if it has three basic characteristics:
  1. a medium of exchange
  2. a measure of value
  3. a store of value
It makes sense that money needs to be real for us to believe it is a medium of exchange. Get enough of those fake movie dollars in circulation and we have a problem.

My sources and more: Thanks again to 99% Invisible for another quirky episode. Only the beginning, the fake money story took me to more detail about movie prop money at priceonomics and Mental Floss. From there, it made sense to look at some counterfeit money history.

Please note that sections of Our Bottom Line were in a previous econlife post.

Hazlegrove-6763_6bIdeal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz's work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

econlife - Why There Is No Such Thing as a Free Coupon by Elaine Schwartz



Last week, I paid $25 for three hours at an NYC parking garage. Others though paid $50 for the same amount of time.

We could say that it cost me less.

But there is much more to the story.


What the Coupon Cost Me


To get my $25 discount, I had to…
  1. Download the Icon Parking app. (Icon is a parking garage owner in NYC.)
  2. Find the link to the garage I had selected among their hundreds of locations.
  3. Open the link and enter my email.
Then I received an email that said this. (I added the arrow.):

Icon_Parking_Coupon_for_November_15th_-_laineyschwartz_gmail_com_-_Gmail-1


















You can see that I had to remember to download the email at least 30 minutes before getting my car.  It would have been much easier to download when I paid. But Icon did not want to make it easy.


Our Bottom Line: Price Discrimination


An economist would say that Icon Parking was engaging in price discrimination. They were targeting a lower price to a specific segment of their market. That market segment would be willing to trade time and hassle for money. That market segment also was more price sensitive or we could say, elastic. By elastic, an economist means that the quantity demanded goes up or down by a greater proportion than the change in price.

A firm’s price discrimination typically is based on a customer’s willingness to pay. The goal is to maximize the revenue from the group that can pay more and also from those that cannot. Movie theaters have senior citizen discounts because the elderly tend to have less discretionary income while everyone else can theoretically pay full price. Educational institutions have financial aid based on need. Airlines have discovered how to identify the observable traits of a business traveler and then charge more for those characteristics.

And it need not even be entire groups. Once websites know more about online shoppers, they can individualize pricing as well as the entire shopping experience. They can treat the valued customer, the repeat customer, the new customer and the price conscious customer differently.

Returning to Icon, you can see what they had in mind. They created a time sacrifice that would cater to the consumer that was price sensitive. The result was getting my $25 as well as $50 from many other patrons.

My sources and more: Price discrimination is usually related to monopoly power. If you would like to read more on the topic, I recommend the always insightful Conversable Economist.

I did want to note that today’s featured image was from the Icon Parking website.

Hazlegrove-6763_6bIdeal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz's work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Attention to Detail by Andy Jobson

Working at a military academy brings its own set of priorities.  Our literature promotes the JROTC program as a structural support for academic success, and in many ways that is true, despite occasional conflicts between military and academic goals. 

One element that I have grown to appreciate more over the years is the emphasis on attention to detail.  For a JROTC officer, that entails making sure your gig line is straight, your insignia is correct, your shoes are shined, and your room is “squared away.”  As a teacher, I emphasize the same thing in different ways.  Have you followed the directions as written?  Have you produced neat work?  Have you paid attention to margins and the heading I require?  Are you using punctuation appropriately?

Sometimes the boys get frustrated with my demands.  I work with eighth- through twelfth-graders, and like many teenage boys, they tend to overlook ‘minor’ details.  (How many times have my own boys at home simply not ‘seen’ the piles of clothes and toys in their room?)  There was a time in my educational journey where I might have been willing to forgive such niceties; did it really matter if the boys used the heading I suggested or something else?  The older I get, though, the more I find myself insisting that the boys pay attention to my expectations and meet them.

I think I resisted some of this because I didn’t like the ‘factory’ model, where we were training our boys to be laborers under the industrial system.  The ‘new education,’ we were told, was to prepare students to be critical thinkers, not clock-punchers and automatons.  I agree that critical thinking and independence is vital (hence my association with izzit!), but I also see that paying attention to the directions is a vital skill for success.  Can you say “tax returns”?



If all I’ve done is to train my boys to follow directions, I have failed.  At the same time, though, if I haven’t trained them to read and follow directions, including MLA citation format and the works, then I think I have also failed.  Details matter.



An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

econlife - Why Albums Are Longer by Elaine Schwartz


We are streaming more of our music with the newest albums having as many as 45 tracks.

Where are we going? To some marginal thinking.

But first, a bit of history…


Music Industry Revenue


Does anyone remember LP records?

In 1980, the music industry was dominated by LP/EP. With LP standing for long play and EP, extended play vinyl records, both represented almost 60% of the revenue generated by different musical formats. Next, we had cassettes at 19.1%.

By 1992 CDs had ascended to that 60% position and by 2002, were at a whopping 95.5% of all revenue. Fast forward to 2012 though and all began to change. You can see that CDs had moved way down as downloaded singles and albums became more popular:
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But this graph says it all:

U_S__Music_Industry_Revenue_Grew_11__in_2016_Thanks_to_Streaming_Music_Services_-_Mac_Rumors




























New Incentives
With streaming becoming increasingly dominant, the incentives in the industry have changed. Musicians have always coveted a higher ranking from Billboard. But now that they count streaming, Billboard has made downloads ever more crucial.

This how The Washington Post explains their criteria:  music industry revenue






You can see that it’s the length that lets you “climb the charts” because longer albums maximize the chance for more downloads.

Examples? Here I again quote The Washington Post since I know little about the 22 tracks in Drake’s “More Life” and the 20 in Ty Dolla $ign’s “Beach House 3.″ The “record” right now though goes to Chris Brown’s “Heartbreak on a Full Moon” with its 45 tracks.


Our Bottom Line: Thinking at the Margin


Thinking about extras, we should thank British economist Alfred Marshall (1842-1924) for his insight. Marshall was the first scholar to suggest we keep an eye on the margin if we truly want to understand supply and demand. Because the margin is where we decide if we want something extra, the cost of that extra item shapes our behavior. At the margin, sellers decide whether to produce something extra and consumers calculate the quantities they are willing and able to buy at different prices. Their decisions depend on the extra item’s marginal utility–its value at the margin.

So, those extra tracks are no longer an artistic decision. As revenue generators, they have considerable marginal utility.

My sources and more: Making yesterday’s walk a pleasure, Tim Harford’s More or Less podcast alerted me to the longer album phenomenon. From there, I discovered more facts in The Guardian and Forbes. But The Washington Post had the best article.

Hazlegrove-6763_6bIdeal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz's work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

econlife - When Organ Donors Need More Than a Nudge by Elaine Schwartz


Economic research tells us that default options are powerful. Because they ask us to do nothing, we tend to select them. So, if the default retirement plan encourages the most saving, many of us wind up putting more aside. Or, if we are defaulted into a high co-pay health insurance plan, we take it.


But really, it is more complicated.

Where are we going? To a closer look at deceased organ donations.


Organ Donation Defaults


In France, deceased organ donation recently became the default.

People will automatically donate their organs when they die unless they actively “opt-out.” Reading Richard Thaler, most of us would say the nudge should work. And yes, when the law went into effect on January 1, 2017, only 150,000 out of a possible 66 million had signed the “refusal register.”

Similarly, with opt-in as the default, Spain has led the world with a 35.7 out of 1 million donation rate. But here is where it gets tricky. Looking further, you would discover that Portugal and Belgium’s donation rates are similar to the U.S. And yet, the former two countries have the “opt-in” default. Furthermore, when Australia (+41%) and the U.K. (+36%) successfully upped their 2009 deceased organ donation rates by 2014, they did not change their consent systems:


discussion_doc-_international_reform_programmes_docx


Our Bottom Line: Spillover


From a study on how to boost New Zealand’s deceased donor organ rate, I saw some of the behind-the-scenes issues. My takeaway was that increasing deceased organ donations has to involve institutional spillover.

Looking at Spain, Portugal, and Croatia, the New Zealand study said you need the following. (Some I directly quoted while others I summarized):
  • an appropriate legal, ethical, and governance framework
  • a national coordinating body
  • hospital-based donation specialists
  • specialist training
  • financial and media support
  • international best practices sharing

Where does this leave us? Sometimes a nudge is not enough.

My sources and more: For nudges generally, Richard Thaler (2017 economics Nobel laureate) talks about them in a Yale Insights article. More specifically, for organ donation, you might enjoy this NY Magazine article. But for the story behind the nudge, this New Zealand report from its Health Ministry has the best information.

Hazlegrove-6763_6bIdeal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz's work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.