Econ 201 Lecture 2 The Economic Naturalist Example 2.1. “Why do the keypad buttons on drive-up automatic teller machines have Braille dots?” (Bill Tjoa)Example 2.2. Why are child safety seats required in cars but not in airplanes?” (Greg Balet) A mother cannot legally drive her 6-month-old son to a nearby grocery store without first strapping him into a government-approved safety seat. Yet she can fly with him from Miami to Seattle with no restraining device at all. Why this difference? In case of an accident—whether in a car or an airplane—an infant who is strapped into a safety seat is more likely to escape injury or death than one who is unrestrained. But the probability of being involved in a serious accident is hundreds of times higher when traveling by car than when traveling by air, so the benefit of having safety seats is greater for trips made by car. Using safety seats is also far more costly on plane trips than on car trips. Whereas most cars have plenty of extra room for a safety seat, parents might need to purchase an extra ticket to use one on an airplane. Most parents appear unwilling to pay $600 more per trip for a small increment in safety, either for themselves or their children. Example 2.3.Why are Australian films so good? Breaker Morant Picnic at Hanging Rock The Last Wave Strictly Ballroom Priscilla, Queen of the Desert My Brilliant Career Mad Max Crocodile Dundee Gallipoli Moulin Rouge Walkabout Lantana Rabbit Proof Fence The Year of Living Dangerously Muriel’s Wedding ShineCriteria for choosing a film to see: Is it by a well-known director? Does it feature a favorite actor or actress? Has it gotten rave reviews in the media? Word of mouth? Only Australian films with a chance to make it in the US market are really good ones—those able to generate strong reviews and word of mouth. Example 2.4. Why do brides spend so much money on wedding dresses, while grooms often rent cheap tuxedos, even though grooms could potentially wear their tuxedos on many other occasions and brides will never wear their dresses again? (Jennifer Dulski) This is my all-time favorite economic naturalist question. In attempting to answer it, Ms. Dulski began with the assumption that distinctive attire matters more for women than for men on important social occasions. This might strike many as a heroic assumption, but evolutionary biologists tell us that in largely monogamous species such as humans, distinctive appearance is indeed more important for females than for males. (Precisely the opposite pattern is observed in species in which dominant males take many mates. In those species, bright coloration and other distinctive features are more likely to be found on males than on females.) Ms. Dulski reasoned that if men need not wear distinctive clothing on special
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