Inequality · Jesse · Macroeconomics · Walter

Cost of Getting Even

The scene brings forward a discussion between Jesse and Walter. Their dialogue is centered on how their competitors choose to protect their turf and the shooting of their partner Combo, for which Jesse seeks revenge. The scenes within are particularly useful for discussing the importance of property rights delivered by a functioning legal system and the consequences brought about by the impossibility of enforcement, for instance, in the black markets for drugs. For example, when Combo sells “blue” methamphetamine in the competitors’ turf he ends up being killed by an 11- year old boy. The rival gang seizes and sells the “blue” methamphetamine, distributed by Combo and cooked by Walter and Jesse, as their own. Outside of black markets, courts or specialized branches of the police would have handled such disputes. However, when the rule of law and property rights are absent, vaguely defined, or not enforceable, agents resort to other means of enforcement such as violence, which breeds more violence – Jesse is obviously seeking revenge for Combo’s death.

The clip is also useful for illustrating the socio-economic costs and the unintended consequences of illegal drugs and the black markets that form in response. The loss of life and the use of children, often from poor neighborhoods and low-income families, as labor are obvious. A discussion about social mobility and human capital development may also originate within these scenes. In broad terms, children who end up dealing drugs and protecting turfs fail to accumulate the much-needed human capital, which should allow them to fare better than their parents. The scenes within may also be used to discuss how failure to accumulate human capital or make meaningful investments in tomorrow’s labor force diminishes a jurisdiction’s ability to produce goods and services, or, in other words, shifts that jurisdiction’s production possibility frontier inward.

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

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Gus · Supply and Demand

Almost Pure

Gale is asked to test the purity of Walt’s meth and finds that it’s 99% pure, while he can only produce a version that is 96% pure. From Fring’s standpoint, 96% is good enough, but Gale is impressed that another chemist can achieve a 99% purity level. It is apparent that Gus weighs the costs and benefits of producing 99%- or 96%- pure methamphetamine. After all, the equipment he just purchased is suited for producing both purities, which makes the two varieties substitutes in production. Nevertheless, Gus decides that a purity of 96% will suffice. From his perspective, the cost of working with Walter, who is regarded as unprofessional, outweighs the 3-percentage points increase in the purity of the drug. However, Gus’ methamphetamine, although 96% pure, is inferior to that of Walter and the logic of the Alchain-Allen theorem tells us that he might be losing out as long as it competes with the “blue” drug. In other words, the Alchian-Allen theorem states that, when the same transportation, distribution, tax, or sale-specific markup is added to the prices of two similar varieties of the same product, the relative consumption of the higher quality good will increase. Since from a legal perspective, the risks and costs of distributing methamphetamine are, more or less, the same, regardless of its purity, a relatively larger market share will be accounted by Walter’s “blue” methamphetamine. The scenes within the video clip are also useful for discussing product differentiation as a key characteristic of monopolistically competitive markets. The blue color of Walter’s methamphetamine represents a signal of quality as well as purity that bridges the seller- buyer information gap, a problem that plagues black markets such as those for drugs and other illicit goods or services.

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

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Jesse · Market Structures · Mike · Supply and Demand · Walter

Hire the Cook

After a failed first attempt to gain full control over a key production input and get the blue methamphetamine off the market, Declan, a Phoenix-based dealer, meets with Jesse, Mike, and Walter. Right from the start, Walter tries and appears to succeed in convincing Declan that collaboration is the best path forward. This way, Walter’s superior blue methamphetamine remains in production and the methylamine, the key input, is used in the most efficient and profitable way. Further, Declan and his crew would serve as their distributor. This way the parties specialize according to their comparative advantage while all parties economize and gain from trade.

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Macroeconomics · Supply and Demand · Trade · Walter

Demand for Meth in the Czech Republic

Lydia presents Walter with the opportunity of expanding into a new market (the Czech Republic). Lydia goes further and points out that entry should not be difficult given Walter’s high-purity “blue” methamphetamine and the inferior alternatives available there. Also, it is worth noting that such overseas expansion would not have been possible without Lydia’s expertise regarding global supply chains.

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Behavioral & Game Theory · Market Structures · Saul

Meth Lab in the Basement

Controversial lawyer Saul Goodman is trying to buy back Jesse’s house. Negotiations start and seem to unfold well until the parties disagree about the sale price. The couple ask for $875,000 but Saul’s client offers only $400,000. The couple and their counselor feel offended by such an offer and, while mentioning that the meeting was a complete waste of their time, start walking out of the room. They stop once Saul mentions the methamphetamine laboratory that used to be in the basement. This unpleasant, but key attribute is purposefully hidden from the buyer to keep up the value of the house. However, in this case, the prospective buyer seems to have done his homework. Unfortunately, in many of today’s transactions, the information held by sellers is not available to buyers and vice versa. In cases where such information gaps persist and are systematic, markets unravel and ultimately fail.

Also, note that upon introducing himself, one of the sellers immediately recognizes Saul as “the lawyer on late-night television.” This is because of his catch-phrase “Better Call Saul”, which is present in all ads involving his business. Differentiation is a key feature of markets in which many of today’s sellers and buyers interact. Together, these traits outline some characteristics of monopolistically competitive markets.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that Mr. Gardiner, the couple’s counselor, is ardent to get right to business. This leads Saul to remark, “I get it. Flat-fee clients, am I right?” This arrangement incentivizes Mr. Gardiner to service his clients as fast as possible and therefore maximize his hourly pay. The more time he spends with his clients, the lower his hourly pay (since it is a flat charge), and the higher his opportunity cost.

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

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Jesse · Market Structures · Walter

No More Chili P(owder)

This clip shows Walter’s preference for producing superior products. In an inspired scene, Walter states: “You and I will not make garbage products. We will produce a chemically pure and stable product. One that performs as advertised. No adulterants. No baby formula. No chili powder.”

Why should Walter care about how his product performs? Why should product quality matter, especially when traded in a black market characterized by a relatively inelastic demand?

Product differentiation and quality, customer satisfaction, monopolistic competition, and market power can be discussed using this scene. As the show progresses, for example, viewers learn that Walter’s product is the best in the market, highly sought after, and blue. This last characteristic is especially important when learning about the white-colored competing methamphetamine. Product characteristics shape its substitutability and determine the elasticity of its demand or why brand products are often priced differently from generic products.

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

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