Foundations · Hank · Walter · Walter Jr.

Hank’s Rock Collection

Hank is temporarily disabled and has been collecting rocks to pass the time. Walt Jr. and Hank are both impressed with a pink rock, which Walt goes on to describe why the rock gives it that color. This is a good example of a positive statement, which is a testable statement that has a right or wrong answer. It is not based on some value judgement (like the rock looking cool).

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Foundations · Gus · Walter

Parking Lot Decision

Gus and his people leave the meeting at the hospital with Jesse and head back to their car in the parking garage. As they approach the car, Gus stops and begins to look around at the rooftops around the garage. Walter is on a nearby rooftop and hides as Gus stands right across from him waiting and thinking. He decides to abandon his car, as he fears it may be a trap.

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Foundations

Paying the IRS

Skyler decides to force Ted, her previous employer, to pay his outstanding debt to the IRS. Huell and Patrick visit Ted and strong arm him into writing a check for those back taxes. After signing the check and seeming to cooperate, he decides to make a run for it instead. He takes off running, slips on his rug, and slams head first into his cabinet breaking his neck.

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Behavioral & Game Theory · Foundations

How Big Does it Have to Be?

Skyler takes Walter to a storage area she has rented and shows him the giant pile of money he has made from his meth business. She then asks him “How much is enough? How big does the pile have to be?” Walter appears to have the same determination to earning revenue, but Skyler recognizes that her utility has diminished. The first thousands that Walter brought in may have excited her, but at this point it has become a hassle and it doesn’t seem like another dollar will really change her happiness level.

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Foundations

Lounging on Money

Huell and Patrick are sent to get Walter’s giant pile of money. Upon seeing it Huell and Patrick cannot resist the urge to lay on top of it. Huell suggests that they skip town with the money but Patrick points out that Walter had ten men killed, in prison, all within a two-minute window. While there’s only so much money the two can pack away, is there a threshold that would have induced the two of them to try and run away?

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Foundations · Labor · Supply and Demand · Walter

Truck for Cash

Walter drives to the desert to hide the cash generated by his methamphetamine enterprise but he runs out of gas. As he rolls one of the money-full barrels, he comes by a house and asks to buy the truck sitting in the driveway. Initially, the truck is not for sale but after he offers the man a large stack of money this changes. Next, we see Walter load the barrel in the back of the recently purchased vehicle. Each person/business has a reservation price at which they’re willing to sell products or services. For this lucky resident, it appears $10,000 was at or above his reservation price. If his reservation price was lower than $10,000 then he would hear producer surplus.

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Foundations · Gus · Walter

Family Decisions

Gus and Walter discuss Walter’s decision to start cooking meth. Walt has debated the costs and benefits of his decisions throughout the show’s five seasons. Gus has an incentive to make sure Walter produces for him, so he tries to emphasize the importance of the benefits Walt has received and echoes how large those benefits are relative to the costs.

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Behavioral & Game Theory · Foundations · Walter

Crush the RV

Walter rushes to the junkyard in order to make sure that recreational vehicle (RV), which he used for cooking methamphetamine and it is stored there, is destroyed. When he arrives, the junkyard owner, Old Joe, asks Walter why is he there. In doing so, Old Joe finds out that the DEA agents, who are interested in the RV, are coming there too. Further, he realizes that, as long as the RV is on his property, he could get in trouble, even if he does not actually own it. Property rights and the incentives to care for his business push Old Joe to demand Walter the RV removal. In addition to showing how property rights induce economic agents care for something they own, this video clip shows that people update their information sets and weigh costs and benefits when making decisions.

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Foundations · Hank · Jesse · Walter

Probable Cause

It looks like Hank has finally cost Jesse in the RV and he’s on the hunt to arrest him for meth production. In the process of trying to break into the RV, the owner of the junkyard asks if Hank has a warrant for the RV he’s trying to break into. While pleading his case, Hank doesn’t want to believe that he needs a warrant, but probable cause and the Fourth Amendment are in place to protect people and their personal property. It establish property rights and doesn’t allow the police to violate that property at their own will.

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Foundations · Jesse · Walter

What’s More Important Than Money?

The benefit ($1.5 million) relative to the cost (time and effort) of cooking meth is different for Walter and Jesse. The benefits are obviously lower than the costs in Jesse case but not for Walter; as he seems happy with trading his time and effort for the cash. Even with clear and predictable benefits, people’s own subjective costs of their time can still make them disagree on the cost benefit analysis.

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Behavioral & Game Theory · Foundations · Jesse

Not My Decision

Jesse fills up the RV’s tank and asks for a pack of cigarettes. However, he does not have the money to pay for these. He asks if he can come in a pay later but the cashier tells him that the gas station belongs to her dad, who is very careful when it comes to money. The gas station belongs to the father and he has the incentive to care for it, but the same can be said about his daughter. According to her, Jesse could leave and come back later.

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Foundations · Labor · Skyler · Walter

Was it Worth It?

Walt weighs the costs and benefits of his decision to start producing meth. The benefits are clear, the money will cover college tuition, tutors, mortgage payments, and all future expenses. The costs have been larger than Walter could imagine, but he believes all the benefits have outweighed the costs of his decisions.

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Foundations · Labor · Skyler

Not Worth Turning Him In

Is it worth Skyler’s trouble to turn Walt in for making meth? She discusses this decision with her lawyer, but can’t seem to convince herself to go through the process. In this scene, Skyler is audibly weighing the costs and benefits of her decision. The lawyer seems to think that the benefits of turning her husband in outweigh the costs, but Skyler decides otherwise

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Foundations · Gus · Walter

Not Worth the Money

It’s time for Walter to quit so he stops by to visit Gus Fring. Gus wants to offer Walter 3 million dollars to keep making his blue meth for 3 more months, but even that amount isn’t worth it to Walt. Walter is trying to piece his life back together and believes that continuing to produce his blue meth isn’t worth the amount he’s giving up. Walter admits to Gus that he has more money than he knows what to do with. Even for the wealthy, there’s diminishing returns to acquiring more income.

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Foundations

Clothing Exchange

The criminal twins are looking for new clothing so that they don’t stand out as easily in the desert. They come across a family’s clothesline and begin changing. The family easily decides that the cost of confronting the twins isn’t worth the benefit of keeping their clothes. Their silence is rewarded because the twins know the benefit of fresh clothes is worth more than the car they were driving. This exchange shows two differ sets of people considering whether benefits outweigh costs.

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Behavioral & Game Theory · Foundations

Crawling Markets

In a small Mexican town, some of the locals do not walk but crawl towards the shrine of Santa Muerte. This behavior is a perfect example of how cultural norms create markets, in this case for knee and elbow guards. There is no government authority dictating that people buy the guards or that people sell them, but it happens organically. What other items do you think would be popularly sold along this passageway?

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Behavioral & Game Theory · Foundations · Growth · Macroeconomics · Skyler

Faulty Accounting

Skyler speaks to Ted Beneke (her boss) about some underreported income, which she found while analyzing the company’s accounting records. Initially, Ted labels this as an accounting error, but soon admits to underreporting income in an attempt to avoid paying more in income taxes. From this conversation, it’s clear that Ted purposefully engages in this illegal activity by taking into account the costs and benefits of his decisions. The scene is also useful for discussing the decline in tax receipts during a recession as well as its potential causes. Skyler also has to weigh the costs and benefits of reporting her boss (and friend) to the IRS.

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Foundations · Jesse

Moving Out

Jesse’s getting kicked out because his parents believe he’s making meth in the house. His confusion stems from the fact that a relative passed the house down to him, so he believes the house belongs to him. Only now does Jesse learn that his parents actually own the house, which gives them the right to vacate him from the house. Property rights are an important component of contracts so that it’s clear who is able to control that property.

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Foundations · Jesse · Supply and Demand

Precious Cargo

The DEA is close to catching Jesse and Walter, which means Jesse needs to get the meth equipment out of his house fast. Badger knows a guy who owns a tow company and will tow away the RV, but it’s going to cost Jesse. This is a great example of inelastic demand for services. The DEA is close behind, and Jesse doesn’t have a lot of time to shop around for a better deal. The tow truck driver knows this, which is why he mentions the price is so high because of the cargo, not the miles. This means Jesse will need to pay a hefty sum to get his discrete services.

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Foundations · Jesse · Labor · Walter

Uprooting Your Life

Tuco is getting worried and suggests that they all move to Mexico so that the government will stop tracking them. Walter and Jesse aren’t keen on this idea because it means they’d have to give up their family, and that’s a cost Walter isn’t willing to make, even for lots of money. The whole reason he started making meth was to support his family, but Tuco doesn’t seem to understand the issue. He suggests that he can just get another family, implying they are substitutable.

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Foundations · Growth · Jesse · Labor · Macroeconomics · Walter

Paying for College

After watching a gruesome beating, Jesse and Walter are officially scared of their new distributor, Tuco. Walter starts to calculate just how much money he needs to earn selling meth in order to take care of his family. Becker’s theory on the rational criminal suggests that criminals take the time to calculate the costs and benefits before committing their crimes. Walter is even careful to consider future inflation changes as he determines the appropriate amount to “invest.”

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Foundations · Jesse · Walter

Wasting My Time

Tuco shows up in a junkyard expecting to purchase 2 pounds of meth from Walter and Jesse, but the two of them only brought about half a pound. Tuco isn’t happy because he’s wasted his time coming out for such a small quantity and isn’t too keen on their excuses. He docks part of their pay for “wasting his time.” All of our actions, including taking time to do something, has costs even if the price is zero. People often forget the value of their time, but not Tuco.

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Foundations · Hank · Skyler · Walter · Walter Jr.

Correlation vs. Causation

There’s an arrest on school property, and Hank shares why he believes the janitor was responsible for the recent thefts at the school. The theft corresponds to popular equipment used to make meth, and the janitor (Mr. Archilleya) had a past record for possession of marijuana, had access to the school, and during a search of his vehicle, had possession of marijuana. Skyler is confused how Hugo could even get a job at a school with his record, but Walt notes Hugo doesn’t seem like a drug dealer. This is a classic example of mixing correlation with causation. Just because Hugo has markers that could potentially make him a criminal, it doesn’t mean that it would cause him to be willing to steal from his employer. Society often mixes correlation with causation, which results in some unfortunate outcomes.

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Foundations · Jesse · Macroeconomics · Trade · Walter

Let’s Make a Deal

Walter tracks down his former student, Jesse, with the intention of collaborating with him in the production of methamphetamine. Walter’s intentions become obvious once he starts revealing that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has apprehended Jesse’s former business partner. Walter goes further and adds, “But you know the business and I know the chemistry. I’m thinking … maybe you and I could partner up.”

While Jesse has performed both tasks in the past, there is little doubt that Walter, because of his chemistry knowledge and perhaps better task-management skills, is more productive at making methamphetamine as well as distributing it. Even though Walter has absolute advantage in cooking and distributing methamphetamine, the logic of comparative advantage tells us that Walter and Jesse should collaborate. More specifically, Walter should cook while Jesse should distribute/sell the methamphetamine.

Incentives, and how individuals respond to incentives, represent another key economics concept. In this clip, Walter’s offer for a partnership deal comes with a catch:

Jesse: “You wanna cook crystal meth? You. You and me.”
Walter: “That’s right. Either that, or I turn you in.”

Walter threatens to inform the DEA about the methamphetamine business if Jesse chooses not to join the partnership. Here, Walter is encouraging some action (joining him) by issuing a threat (turning Jesse in). Their interaction represents an ultimatum game, in which Walter’s threat is an example of a negative incentive.

This description comes from Duncan, Muchiri, and Paraschiv (Forthcoming).

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