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Show
Business:

The Economics of Entertainment
• Coming to a (computer) screen near you!
• A new online learning unit on the economics of
entertainment!
• It's colossal! It's stupendous! It's FREE!
• Look for it in 2005!
Maybe you're a true believer, convinced that kids need to know more about economics. So, go ahead.
Put your convictions to the test.
Walk into a high school classroom and start telling the "leaders of tomorrow" why studying economics
will make them healthy, wealthy, and wise. Then launch into a discussion of basic economic principles.
And, just for good measure, be sure to work in that tired old chestnut about a factory that produces widgets . . . whatever they are. If you're lucky, you might walk out of the room with your dignity intact.
Sadly, the dismal science – along with spinach, daily exercise, and C-Span – falls into the category of
"things that are good for you, but . . . ".
continued
3

Which isn't to say we should give up on teaching economics to anyone
under the age of 18. When we manage to spark their interest, kids often
respond with enthusiasm and an intuitive grasp of economic reasoning.
The challenge, of course, is to spark their interest, and for better or worse,
entertainment does the trick.
Not convinced? Try engaging the aforementioned high school students
in a conversation about government's role in protecting intellectual
property rights. Then, after you recover from the disheartening lack of
response, ask them their opinion on free music downloads. Odds are,
you'll meet with greater success, and with some skillful direction, the
kids will learn a thing or two about intellectual property.
And that's one of our main reasons for developing Show Business. The
Federal Reserve Bank of Boston's new online learning unit will be the latest effort in our longstanding commitment to making economics more
accessible to a greater number of students and teachers.
Show Business will feature six "stand-alone" mini-modules designed to
give users the flexibility to focus on sections that best fit their needs.
Each module will include a concise narrative, learning activities, and a
listing of resources.
We hope to post the first two modules on our web site by mid 2005. In
the meantime, if you have any comments or suggestions, we'd love to
hear from you:
robert.jabaily@bos.frb.org
phone: (617) 973-3452

Six Stand-Alone Modules
Module 1: Climbing the Charts
How product markets develop and evolve
The entertainment world is glitzy, glamorous, and fun. But make no mistake, entertainment is a business – a big business. Climbing the Charts
looks at how the music industry was born: The shift from homemade
music to "factory-produced" music, and the evolution of the music market from local to regional to national to international. It also examines
how technological change has affected the market for music products,
with a side story on intellectual property rights and the controversy over
music downloads.

Module 2: “He'll Be Back.”

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Labor markets
Back in 1940, Warner Brothers released You Ought to be in Pictures, a blend
of animation and live action, in which Daffy Duck convinces Porky Pig to
leave cartoons and try his luck as a leading man . . . er, leading pig.
(Daffy, of course, has an ulterior motive.) Studio boss Leon Schlesinger
agrees to tear up Porky's contract, but with a nod to the camera, he lets
the audience know that Porky will be back. Although it runs for just nine
minutes, the cartoon classic deftly captures the essence of how labor markets function, and that's why we use it as the centerpiece for module two,
“He'll Be Back.”

Module 3: They Might Be Giants
The impact of market consolidation
Media conglomerates are getting bigger
every day. They Might Be Giants looks
at how the trend might affect your entertainment choices and the price you pay
for entertainment products.

Module 4: Why Did They Cancel
My Favorite Show?
Consumer choice and the marketplace
At one time or another, and in one form
or another, every TV viewer has pondered the same question: Why Did
They Cancel My Favorite Show?
Module 4 sets out to find an answer by
examining how ratings, demographics,
and market forces affect what we see on
TV. It begins with a general overview
and then focuses on the demise of a critically acclaimed 1980s network TV show,
Frank's Place. (And if you've never heard
of Frank's Place . . . well . . . that's why we
used the word "demise.")

Module 5: Saturday Night At
the Movies
Factors that influence price levels
Mention the movies to grandma or
grandpa and you're almost guaranteed to
hear:
(1) "When I was a kid, you could see two
movies for 50 cents, and popcorn was
only a quarter."

Rob Melnychuk/Digital Vision

and/or
(2) "They don't make good movies
anymore."
Saturday Night at the Movies looks at
what's happened to the cost of going to
the movies and how the product has
changed over the years. There's also a side
story on the process of bringing a film to the
screen, with special emphasis on financing a
film project.

Module 6: Another Lethal Weapon?
Globalization
Action movie sequels may not be high art, but they make big money in
the global marketplace, where dazzling special effects matter more than
crisp dialogue. Another Lethal Weapon? looks at economic issues related to the worldwide popularity of U.S. entertainment products – movies,
music, TV, computer games, and licensed apparel.
5

Two Thumbs Up!
Winning Essays from the Federal Reserve
Bank of Cleveland’s 2004 Essay Contest:

6

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Economics Goes
to the Movies

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston is not the
only Reserve Bank to use entertainment as a
hook for teaching economics.
In 2004, the Federal Reserve Bank of
Cleveland's annual essay contest gave high
school juniors and seniors the opportunity
to choose their favorite movie and explain
the economic concepts behind the scenes. We
were so struck by the quality of the essays that
we asked permission to share the first and second place winners with our readers. Here they
are. Enjoy!
And if you'd like to read some of the other
entries, which are impressive in their own right,
here's the link: http://www.clevelandfed.
org/Education/essay04/winessay04.cfm
Congratulations to all the contestants, their
families, and their teachers. And thank you to
our colleagues at the Cleveland Fed, Jennifer
Ransom, education coordinator, and Lori
Boehm, graphic designer.

First Place
Money and Banking in
the Movie Mary Poppins
Anna Dev
Shaker Heights High School
Teacher, Mrs. Diana Jones
Mary Poppins is a Disney classic movie,
based on a book by P.L. Travers, and directed by
Robert Stevenson. The story features the wellto-do Banks family in London in the year 1910.
The Banks children, Jane and Michael need a
nanny and Mary Poppins appears magically.
From tea parties on the ceiling to popping into
pavement pictures, Jane and Michael accompany Mary Poppins and her friend Bert, the chimney sweep, on a series of magical adventures.
When George Banks, the conservative
father and banker, asserts that the children
should learn about the real world instead of
playing games of fantasy, Mary Poppins suggests that the children visit the bank with their
father. On the way, Michael wants to use his
'tuppence' (two-pence) to feed the birds. His
father refuses, pronouncing it a waste of
money and promises to share his plans for the

tuppence at the bank. At the bank, Jane and Michael are introduced to
the chairman, the senior Mr. Dawes. The children's visit to the bank
together takes up less than ten minutes in the movie and yet in those few
minutes, the movie introduces the audience to fundamental economic
concepts. The time value of money and compound interest in financial
economics (Hirschey, 727) are introduced in the form of a song sung by
the elder Mr. Dawes, "a giant in the world of finance." Accompanied by a
chorus of other bankers, Mr. Dawes tries to convince Michael, with a
song, the wisdom of saving the tuppence in a bank account and the
magic of compounding as the principal multiplies over time. As Mr.
Dawes explains, Michael Banks's present value of one tuppence can grow
into a future value of a "generous amount" through semiannual compounding, if Michael deposits the tuppence in the bank. Mr. Dawes then
goes on to explain the relationship between savings and investment
when he tells Michael how the savings "prudently invested by the bank"
will fund investments such as "railways through Africa, self-advertising
canals and plantations of ripening tea."
Michael, refusing to be swayed, demands his tuppence back, and
gets into a struggle with Mr. Dawes. When the other customers at the
bank hear Michael yelling "give me back my money," they think the bank
is insolvent, and the ensuing panic starts a run on the bank as all the
depositors demand their money back immediately. Later that day,
George Banks loses his job for having caused a bank run. For Michael,
the opportunity cost of the tuppence saved is the pleasure of feeding the
birds which is the "next best alternative foregone" (McConnell & Brue,
27). Michael makes a choice between consumption now and consumption in the future (inter-temporal consumption) when he chooses not to
save his tuppence. The opportunity cost of the future consumption is
present consumption foregone. This episode also illustrates the role of
subjective preference and choice and how it varies across individuals.
Michael prefers to feed the birds today rather than choose future "opportunities" of savings and investment. Evidently, Michael has a rather
strong preference for the present over future consumption, in contrast to
his father and the other bankers who express a preference for future
rather than current consumption.
The run on the bank is the most succinct economic concept that the
movie depicts. A bank panic or bank run is a situation in which all or
most depositors appear at once to demand those deposits in cash
(McConnell & Brue, 269). Banks only keeps a small portion of their
deposits as reserves and lend or "wisely invest" the remaining as the
bankers chant in unison to Michael. This is the system of fractional
reserve (McConnell & Brue 257) which helps banks create money by
loaning out the excess reserves as credit. This is what makes the banking
system vulnerable to bank runs. Individually, as customers lose confidence in a bank, they are acting rationally when they demand their
deposits back. But in the process, there is a run on the bank causing the
bank to fail and a loss for all its customers (Kaufman). If the bank is
indeed insolvent, then this could affect other banks and financial institutions which transact with the bank. This is called financial contagion
(Kaufman). It is to ensure against such loss of faith in the banking system that central banks such as the Federal Reserve have been charged
with being the lenders of last resort and that deposits insurance has been
introduced (Parkin, 404). Such interventions make the possibility of
bank runs remote. However, financial contagion is still observed in security markets as investors lose faith in financial transactions. Even today,
the rule in financial markets is to halt all trading when there is panic
7

it is to miss the precious opportunity of fatherhood. There is yet another
classic example of opportunity cost, as Bert drives home the fact that the
opportunity cost of Mr. Banks' glowing career at the bank is time foregone with his children. As Bert says to Mr. Banks, "you've got to grind,
grind, grind at the grindstone, while childhood slips like sand through a
sieve. And soon they've up and grown, . . . and it's too late for you to
give." Bert's simple words strike a chord, and the story ends with a
reformed Mr. Banks returning to his family, anxious to mend his
relationship with his children.

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selling. This is depicted in the movie, where
the bank panic is contained by closing the
doors and calling a halt to all transactions. In
the movie Mary Poppins, since the bank is not
financially insolvent and the panic is based on
inaccurate information, the bank run is contained, and the story ends on a happy note with
Mr. Banks being named one of the directors.
In the end, it is Bert the chimney sweep,
who states the moral of the story. He reminds
Mr. Banks how short childhood is and how easy

8

Bibliography
Hirschey, Mark, (2003) Managerial Economics,
Thomson South-Western Ohio.
Kaufman, George G. (2004). “Bank Runs,” The
Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.
Liberty Fund, Inc. Ed. David R. Henderson.
Library of Economics and Liberty. http://
www.econlib.org/library/Enc/BankRuns.html
Mary Poppins (1964) http://www.reelclassics
.com/Musicals/MaryPoppins/marypoppins.htm
McConnell, Campbell R. and Stanley L. Brue,
(2002). Economics: Principles, Problems and
Policies, McGraw-Hill/Irwin, New York
Parkin, Michael, (2000). Macroeconomics,
Addison Wesley, USA.

Second Place
The Opportunity Costs
of Family Man
Hannah Richman
Pennsylvania Homeschoolers
Teacher, Mr. Howard Richman
I push the videotape in and it clicks with a
thud and the arrows turn green as the movie
begins to play. I settle back on the sofa, letting
my mind fade away from the activity of the
screen. In the back of my mind I think about
the economics chapter I read that morning and
about the essay I will have to write later this
night. My mind spins as I try to sort out the
concept of opportunity costs in my head. I turn
to my dad as the previews drone.
"What do opportunity costs have to do
with the real value of life?" I say, frowning.
"Can't someone make a decision based on happiness anymore, without having to think of
exactly what the cost of their next best alternative would be? I know I don't look at my choices in terms of how much more money I will
earn or lose if I go one place over another." I
pause for a moment to think. "Well, at least not
most of the time." My dad turns away from the
TV screen.

"Hannah, you can weigh your opportunity costs in different ways.
Opportunity costs are basically the costs and benefits of a certain action,
as compared to your other choices. For instance, when you decide if you
want to watch a movie at home or go to a theater, you might think of the
extra cost of the theater, and then the extra benefit of the larger screen
and perhaps the friends who you might see the movie with. Then, you
weigh the options and subtract from your first choice the value of the second choice, so from seeing the movie at home you would subtract the
loss of companions and high quality. You might not do this consciously,
but it is a good practice to get yourself into. Now quiet, here comes the
movie."
A hush descends on the room as we watch the opening credits.
"Family Man," I mutter aloud as I read the title of the movie. "It doesn't
sound very exciting," I tell my dad. I'm never very happy with my father's
choices in movies.
"Shhh, just watch it!" my dad replies tersely. I take a handful of popcorn and watch as the plot begins to unfold. I soon see the movie is not so
boring. The main character, Jack Campbell, has the ideal capitalist life.
He is president of a large company, drives a Ferrari, is popular and daring,
and altogether living the American dream.
"Where is the family? I thought this was about a family?" I whisper
to my dad. "The family part is coming, be patient and SILENT!" my dad
responds. Sure enough, in a few minutes, Jack Campbell's life takes a
strange turn. He is given a magical "glimpse" into what his life would
have been like had he married his college girlfriend instead of traveling to
England to further his career. A glimmer of light shines in my head like a
bright piece of gold. This isn't strictly a business transaction, but it is still
opportunity costs at work. Jack's first choice was that the option of going
to England was worth more than the cost of possibly losing his lovely
girlfriend. I focus back into the present story. His life in this "glimpse"
appears completely worthless. He lives in a small house in suburban
New Jersey, works as a tire salesman, has two kids to hassle with, and
plays on a bowling team for fun. Jack Campbell, of course, does not like
this kind of life.
"Well, given this choice, certainly the better opportunity is his former life!" I whisper noisily to my dad.
Suddenly, however, a change comes along. Jack realizes that this life
has its challenges, but also amazing rewards. He finds himself suddenly
doing things he can respect himself for. He cares about other people, and
he falls in love with his children and all over again with his wife. He realizes that suddenly his life has something that GDP cannot measure. He
has happiness.
"Oh, so I get it," I announce happily. "He is weighing his opportunity
costs again in this choice! He knows his other life would give him
money, but he chooses the companionship and joy of being a family man
instead, because the value of his family has risen above the value of his
job as a rich business man!"
"Brilliant," my dad replies, turning the volume on the TV up a few
notches. "Now have some more popcorn."
The popcorn is already gone, I notice. The supply has diminished
due to the demands of my appetite. Instead of popcorn, I curl up hugging
an afghan with a huge smile on my face. Suddenly economics doesn't
seem so distant or even so harsh. Opportunity costs become something
that can be used for good, and not just for cold money-hungry misers. As
the credits scroll over the closing shot, my mind runs back to the economics chapter with an amazing kind of economical peace.
9

Lessfor Travel
your

Checks

If you use checks – and a lot of you still do – you ought to be aware of a federal law that took effect on October 28, 2004. The
Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act – "Check 21" for short – dramatically changes the way banks process checks and is certain to have an impact on consumers – especially those who've been known to "play the float."
The float?
OK. Let's assume you're not just
playing the innocent, and you really don't understand the concept of
"playing the float." Here's a recap.

The Float: A
Hypothetical Example
You don't have enough money in
your checking account to cover the
mortgage payment, but you will by
payday, which is only three days
away. So, you write the mortgage
check, drop it in the mail, and cross
your fingers that it won't make its
way through the banking system
before you get paid.
Yes, you know you're not supposed
to write a check if you don't have
enough money in your account to
cover it. But you're not out to
cheat anyone. You're just "playing
the float."

Facts about Checks and the
Payments System
News coverage of Check 21 contained some interesting and enlightening facts
about checks and the payments system.
• Only 36 percent of Americans now receive canceled checks in the mail with
their bank statements.
From a study conducted by the American Bankers Association and Dove Consulting.
Reported in The Wall Street Journal, 10/28/04

• Cash and checks accounted for 47 percent of consumer purchases in stores
in 2003, down from 51 percent in 2001, and 57 percent in 1999.
From the American Bankers Association and Dove Consulting study.

• More than 75 percent of business-to-business transactions are made with
paper checks.
From a survey conducted by the Association for Financial Professionals
Reported in The Wall Street Journal, 10/28/04

• Only 1 in 8 Americans balance their checkbook.
CNN/Money web site, 10/28/04

• According to the American Bankers Association, 23 percent of Americans
aged 18 to 34 and 50 percent of Americans aged 55 and up get their original
checks back in the mail.
CNN/Money web site, 10/28/04

Your mortgage company is in
another state, so your check will
take two or three days to get there.
continued
10

• In 2003, Americans used checks to pay 60 percent of recurring bills. That's
down from 72 percent in 2001.
Source: American Financial Services Association

Ryan McVay/Getty Images

Consumers‘ Shifting Preferences
for Making In-Store Payments
Percent Using Each
Payment Method

100
10

11

80

11

15

15

16
2

2

22
21

60
18

18

40

20

39
33

21
Signature Debit
PIN Debit
Other
Credit Card
Check
Cash

15

tal images of the check
instead, which means that
float times will be shorter
because electronic images
will move through the
banking system much
faster than paper checks.
Bank customers who don't
receive their canceled
checks in the mail with
their account statements
won't experience much of a
change – but their checks
may still clear faster. As a
senior
attorney
for
Consumers Union told The
New York Times, "We need
to treat every one of our
checks as if it is the one
that's going to clear today,
and that's new."

32

The other big change is
that banks can now create
substitute checks – special
0
1999
2001
2003
paper copies of the front
and back of original checks.
Source: ABA/Dove Consulting, 2003/2004 Study of Consumer Payment Preferences
You can use the substitute
checks to prove payment,
Then your mortgage company will deposit the
just as you might have used canceled original checks in the past. Or your
check in its bank, which will process it, bundle
bank might provide a substitute check to you when returning a
it, and load it on a plane for the trip back to
"bounced" check that you deposited in your account.
your bank. Finally, your bank will deduct the
amount of the check from your account, and if
there's money in your account to cover it, the
check "clears."
The elapsed time between writing a check and
actually having the money deducted from
your account is known as "float," and over the
years many consumers have used float time as
a sort of "financial management tool" to bridge
the gap between payday and the due date on
their monthly bills. Of course, there was
always a certain amount of risk involved
because checks sometimes clear faster than
expected. But after Check 21 takes full effect,
"playing the float" will be more of a gamble
than ever.

Under Check 21, banks no longer have to send
paper checks to other banks in order to receive
payment. They can electronically transfer digi12

Janis Christie/Getty Images

Two Big Changes

You can view the entire section, Frequently Asked Questions About Check
21, at http://www.federalreserve.gov/check21/faqs2.htm And for
other resources, including Consumer Guide to Check 21 and Substitute
Checks, go to http://www.federalreserve.gov/check21/
Another good resource is on the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston's web
site: http://www.bos.frb.org/consumer/check21/index.htm

Ryan McVay/Getty Images

According to Frequently Asked Questions About
Check 21, a section on the Federal Reserve
Board's web site, "A substitute check is legally
the same as the original check if it accurately
represents the information on the original
check and includes the following statement:
This is a legal copy of your check. You can use it the
same way you would use the original check. The
substitute check must also have been handled
by a bank."

13

Those

Were the

Days !?

The Early Days of Check Processing at the Boston Fed
We reprint here an excerpt from Those
Were the Days!, originally published
in 1953 to mark the Federal Reserve
Bank of Boston's 40th anniversary.
The author, Lewis Stoyle, was the
Bank's first employee, and his reminiscences on check handling serve as a
nice complement to the timeliness of
Check 21.

Check Collection, 1953
Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

14

. . . The Federal Reserve Act was signed by
President Wilson on December 23, 1913, but it
was not until the fall of 1914 that things really
began to happen. Directors were appointed,
officers were chosen, banking quarters were
obtained and clerks were hired. . . .
The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston was
opened for business on November 16, 1914,
with three officers and fourteen clerks who
reported for duty at the unearthly hour, for
bankers, of 7:30 a.m . . . .

And Now Come Checks
Now let's trace the gradual development of a
department that has the dubious distinction of
probably causing more criticism and more
headaches than anything else the bank has
undertaken.
The bank joined the Boston Clearing House on
November 13, 1914, and five days later began
to clear its Boston checks through that institution. Little further progress was made until
June 15, 1915, when the collection of checks
outside of Boston was started. Forty-three
banks put forth the tender leaves of hope and
joined the new undertaking. The first day's
total number of checks handled was 226, but as
time went on the situation slowly improved
until on October 15, 1915, the department
racked up the outstanding number of 1,803
checks handled in one day.
The real beginning of the Check Collection
Department, however, took place on July 15,
1916, when this bank took over the so-called
Foreign Department of the Boston Clearing
House, a department that handled checks
drawn on New England banks.
As most of the member banks outside of
Boston preferred to send their checks to their
Boston correspondents for collection, progress
was far from rapid in the new department for
some time. However, with the elimination, on
June 15, 1918, of the service charge which had
been imposed on member banks for clearing
their checks when the system was first inaugurated, volume picked up considerably.

Check Sorting, 1951, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Start of Night Force
The average number of New England checks handled daily increased
from 9,000 to 35,000, requiring a force of 116 clerks, to say naught of
three men who had been inveigled into forming a Night Force (probably
frustrated with their daily existence and wanted to try something different. They got it.).
Several different procedures and systems have been adopted by the bank
in an endeavor to speed up the work and get the clerks out at a reasonable hour with enough energy left to enjoy the evening.
The system used in the beginning was thorough, to say the least. Each
check was handled eight times: first, at the sorting table; second, listed on
block sheet; third, run through endorsing machine; fourth, examined to
be sure check had been endorsed; fifth, sorted into rack; sixth, rechecked
for missorts; seventh, listed on outgoing cash letter; and eighth, listed
again for verification.
The clerks got attached to the checks after so long an association and
hated to see them leave the bank at the end of the day. Incidentally, it is
said that one girl, when she encountered a check for a million dollars,
took it home to show her mother. When she brought it back the next day
she couldn't understand why the manager seemed so upset and distraught.
The personnel of this department has increased through the years. In
1917 there were 25 clerks handling checks and there are now 346 on the
day force. With three as a start in 1917, the Night Force now has a staff of
184, mostly women.
As the Fiscal Agency and Check Collection departments grew and
expanded through the early years, so did other departments which were
no less important, especially from the viewpoint of providing service to
the member banks. Prominent among them were the Accounting, NonCash Collection and Currency and Coin departments, all of which
required the service of a sizable number of clerks.
15