Bryan Caplan  

From Comic-Con to Econ

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Sayonara... The Economic Consequences of M...

Last week, when Econlog readers had the good luck to get Eric Crampton as a guest blogger, I had the good luck to find myself at Comic-Con, the world's largest comic book convention. I must not be quite the nerd I fancy myself, because it was only when my wife and I drove into San Diego on Wednesday that I realized that Comic-Con was HERE, NOW. My wife was kind enough to juggle our schedule so I could spend Friday walking the stalls, buying geeky stuff, checking out the costumes, and hearing Samuel L. Jackson mock stupid questions about Snakes on a Plane. The absolute highlight of an incredible day:

Audience Member: But is the behavior of the snakes at all... realistic? Is that really what snakes on a plane would do?

6,500 Fans in Unison: Boo! Boo!

Jackson Are you high? Because we asked every [expletive] snake expert in the world, and every [expletive] one of them said that this is EXACTLY what snakes on a plane would do!

OK, now that I've set the stage, back to economics. One of the books I bought was an autographed copy of Y: The Last Man, a graphic novel series about the aftermath of a plague that kills every male on earth, except for the hero, Yorick, and his monkey, Ampersand. Besides being awesome, this series is full of economic content. From the intro to Book 2:

This "gendercide" instantaneously exterminated 48% of the global population... 495 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are now dead, as are 99% of the world's landowners. [Can that be right? B.C.]

In the United States alone, more than 95% of all commercial pilots, truck drivers, and ship captains died... as did 92% of all violent felons. Internationally, 99% of all mechanics, electricians, and construction workers are now deceased... though 51% of the planet's agricultural labor force is still alive.

In the book, the consequence of this massive decline in labor supply is NOT a sudden rise in real wages. The women don't just lose sons, husbands, fathers, and brothers; they find themselves on the edge of starvation.

Does this violate Econ 101? It would, if labor were homogeneous. If all labor were the same, then a decline in supply would increase the price. But as the preceding passage emphasizes, male and female labor are quite different. Specialization and trade between these different kinds of labor make both sexes far richer than they would otherwise be. So when all the men die, female pilots get a massive raise, but the average women is lucky to earn a can of vegetables per day. Profound.

I know a few textbook authors read this blog. My recommendation for your next edition: Cut one excerpt from the Wall St. Journal to make room for one from Y: The Last Man. As Stan Lee might say, "Consider it, True Believer!"


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COMMENTS (5 to date)
James writes:

In this case, it wouldn't matter even if labor were homogeneous because it violates ceteris paribus. Half of the customers are no longer there on the demand side.

Any departure from the recurring WSJ text box, however, would be a good one.

Daniel writes:

At first I thought you were going to blog about some kind of Szazian rational choice model that applied to herptiles.

Nacim writes:

Good call on Y! I'm eagerly awaiting the next issue.

dsquared writes:

Please please tell me you were high or jetlagged when you wrote this Brian, or that "Econ 101" is a course only taught to dedicated surrealists.

You can't use a Marshallian demand curve to derive wages. Labour is not consumed. It is part of a production process. The demand and price for labour are determined by a production function, not a demand function. I have mentioned this before in comments here, I think.

James above correctly notes that the general equilibrium implied is crazy, but even in partial equilibrium, a massive decrease in the supply of labour would most likely result in a massive decrease in output, incomes and consumption even with homogeneous labour.

TGGP writes:

Sixteen Volts had pretty amusing commentary on this comic: http://sixteenvolts.blogspot.com/2006/06/eliminate-men-and-women-will-shape-up.html

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