This is one of my very few posts in which I'm not trying--or, at least, not trying hard--to draw a moral or a lesson or illustrate an economic principle. I just found it fascinating. If I were trying to extract a lesson, it would probably be a Robin Hanson, we-waste-a-lot-of-money-on-health-care lesson.
Last night, my wife, who's recovering from a bad cold, suddenly had trouble breathing. At about 10:00 p.m., I took her to the local emergency room. When she was giving her data to the nurse who checked her in, I commented on how few people were in the ER compared to the number I expected. She answered, "American Idol must be on tonight."
"Really?" I said.
"Oh, yes," she said. "When American Idol is on or when football playoff games are on, we get way fewer people coming in. Also, we have a lot of 'regulars' and that number tends to drop off when American Idol, or football games, or the Grammies are on."
I read this to my wife just now (she's doing better, by the way) and she told me she has a different moral: "People have an amazing capacity to ignore their symptoms, whether real or imagined, if something comes along that's more interesting." I'm not sure whether this is a different moral or a non-economist's way of stating something similar to my Robin Hanson moral.