When I teach my Ten Pillars of Economic Wisdom, I spend a lot of time on the pillar "Economic thinking is thinking on the margin." I go into how so many issues are issues of margins. I apply it all over the place.
I do so with friends also. I was talking to a friend recently who has a reasonably-well-paying job and gets the respect of many of the people she deals with but doesn't get the respect of her employer. She needs a well-paying job for the foreseeable future, both to raise her daughter and to put away savings for her retirement. I suggested that she "think on the margin." Specifically, think through ways that she could make the job, say, 10% better. And then, if she gets there, make it another 10% better.
I was thinking this morning about my beloved Golden State Warriors' loss last night to the Memphis Grizzlies. The Warriors, who were favored, lost by a score of 97-90.
There was a lot of discussion on NBA TV last night and on ESPN this morning about what went wrong. It is true that the Warriors could have been a little more careful and not turned the ball over so much. They turned it over 20 times, which is a lot in the NBA.
But it's also true that it was an issue of margins. What if, instead of hitting 2 out of 13 on three-pointers, Steph Curry had hit 3 out of 13? That's still well below his average. There are another 3 points.
What if, when Steph threw a somewhat careless pass, Tony Allen of the Memphis Grizzlies had not anticipated it, grabbed it, and gone in to score? There are 2 points less for Memphis.
What if Mike Conley of the Grizzlies hadn't had such a hot shooting night and had missed on three-pointer?
We would have a score of 93 for the Warriors and 92 for the Grizzlies. Of course, the end of the game would have been different too, with such a tight score.