It’s no wonder why America’s youth are so enamored with the idea of socialism and big government while being vehemently opposed to free market capitalism. In a a survey of teenagers conducted by Junior Achievement USA and the Charles Koch Foundation in 2019, 93% of teens view economics as important, but struggle with grasping the basic concepts, which includes market structures.
If young Americans can’t even grasp basic economic concepts, we can’t really expect them to translate these concepts into their own lives.
What if we found more innovative ways to teach people basic economic concepts—namely through pop culture references?
Let’s start with an iconic part of contemporary pop culture: “The Bachelor” television franchise. Here we can draw comparisons between monopolies, closed and open economies, and free markets.
ABC, the franchise’s home channel, has aired 42 seasons of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” and six seasons of “Bachelor in Paradise.” From the 42 seasons of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” 10 couples—five of whom are married—stayed together. From the six seasons of “Bachelor in Paradise,” six couples—three of whom are married—stayed together.
In “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” roughly 30 contestants spend several weeks vying for the affection of the bachelor or bachelorette who offers the one thing contestants want: a relationship and, ideally, marriage.
This has two main implications.
First, the bachelor and bachelorette can set high expectations for their contestants, while they themselves have no one keeping them in check. No competitors challenge them, which also means no one is around to hold them accountable for setting these high expectations.
Second, the contestants must meet or exceed those expectations in order to end up in the relationship. All but one will be unable to do so. The others are either sent home or send themselves home because they decide the costs are too high.
This is how monopolies work. One firm controls a market and is therefore the only firm offering a particular good or service. Other firms aren’t allowed to enter the market and compete, so the monopoly firm can then set its own price.
Because the customers’ only choice is what the monopoly produces, the company can charge what it wants without losing business to competitors.
High monopoly prices mean fewer people can afford its product, and those who get the product are likely to be less than fully satisfied because it was the only available choice.
“Bachelor in Paradise” is slightly different from “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.” In “Bachelor in Paradise,” 30 to 40 participants are chosen. Half are women and the other half are men.
This show introduces choice to the participants. Unlike “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” participants aren’t limited to pursuing just one person and can explore other options.
In other words, contestants are participating in what resembles a closed-economy free market model. All parties can explore and compare options within the paradise community, weigh costs and benefits, and ultimately make a personal decision.
If one relationship isn’t worth the personal cost, such as time, effort, and personal expectations, the participant will move on to a different relationship, which he or she views as having a lower personal cost. Because everyone now has choice, participants are incentivized to make themselves more available and keep their costs to others low.
The availability of more individuals to pursue relationships means contestants have more opportunities to get what they want at a cost deemed reasonable to them.
The monopoly model of “The Bachelor” has resulted in only 0.8% of contestants obtaining marriage, the product they wanted. The closed-but-free market model of “Bachelor in Paradise” resulted in 3.2% of contestants obtaining the marriages they wanted.
But we know that not all those individuals who failed to obtain marriage from “The Bachelor” or “Bachelor in Paradise” are destined to be forever single. In fact, they have a drastically higher likelihood of getting married in the open and free relationship market of the real world.
With greater access to more eligible individuals via a variety of communication methods that easily connect individuals with those outside their usual environments, 65% or more of adults not only have relationships, but actually get married.
In a nutshell, monopolies and closed economies limit people’s choices and attainment while the free market provides the greatest opportunities and success.
It’s vital that young people understand how these economic models play out in their everyday lives.
The laws of economics dictate how the world works just as much as the laws of physics. Lacking basic economic understanding means people will fail to understand how the world works.
As friends, neighbors, teachers, and family members, we should take advantage of nontraditional ways to teach economics. “The Bachelor” franchise may just be the place to start.
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