Walter and Skyler are in the market for a new house. Walter is attempting to maximize his utility by proposing to Skyler a larger house instead. In other words, Walter is trying to move onto a higher indifference curve. However, their limited budget represents a constraint to Walter’s utility maximization problem.
As the party unfolds, Badger orders a pizza from a special venue, which charges lower prices by not slices their pies. Jesse is not at all impressed by this sales approach and, in fact, is a bit irritated. Nevertheless, Badger attempts to link the resources spared by doing away with the pizza-cutting process and the savings passed onto the consumers. While this approach implies significant resource savings on a larger scale, the benefits may not outweigh the costs on an individual (i.e., consumer-by-consumer) basis.
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.
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.
Family meals are a great chance to see all the different complements and substitutes in a market. While milk and cereal are often consumed together (complements) there are other options people can decide upon to fulfill their breakfast need. Walter Jr opts for eggs and bacon (substitutes). The decision process involves weighing costs and benefits of alternatives.
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.
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
There’s a lot of different complements and substitutes that go into a meal. Fries and ketchup are complements, while sushi and burgers are substitutes. The collective decisions we make are influenced by a variety of different products and aren’t isolated to a single market.
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.
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.
In order to start producing large quantities of meth, Walter comes up with a new chemical approach to producing a substitute for pseudoephedrine. This “old school biker” meth is a lost art, but it narrows down the number of people who understand how the chemistry works. When resources are in short supply, prices typically rise. The responsiveness of firms to their inputs often deals on how easily other resources can be acquired.
After promising their new distributor they could produce 4 pounds of meth, Jesse starts freaking out. When the original deal was 2 pounds, Jesse was concerned about being able to buy enough pseudoephedrine to produce that. After showing up at their earlier meeting with only half of a pound, it seems impossible that the two of them can make 4 pounds weekly. It turns out that Walter can chemically create the same effect, but he needs Jesse to pick up some supplies. The elasticity of supply often dictates that the responsiveness of a good depends on how easily other substitutes can be acquired.
Jesse and Walter debate on the best way to start the business. At first, Walter is surprised that Jesse doesn’t want to cook in the garage, but Walter is just as reluctant to cook at his house. The two consider renting a storage unit, but eventually settle on purchasing a recreational vehicle. When starting a business, companies must decide whether to start by renting property, which may have lower costs initially or building and owning their own property.
There are tradeoffs to the two, and this situation is explored often in the decision for young adults to continue renting or purchasing their own home. The clip also serves as a good introduction to risk and uncertainty. Although it would be cheaper to begin production in their own homes, it is also VERY risky. Safe options often mean spending more money upfront.
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).
See more: absolute advantage, comparative advantage, credible threat, credible threat, division of labor, gains from trade, game theory, incentives, opportunity cost, specialization, tradeoffs, ultimatum game
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).