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Seinfeld Economics: The Smelly Car

by Linda Ghent

An externality is a situation in which the private costs or benefits to the producers or purchasers of a good or service differs from the total social costs or benefits entailed in its production and consumption. An externality exists whenever one individual's actions affect the well-being of another individual -- whether for the better (positive externality) or for the worse (negative externality).

The Coase theorem states that, when trade in an externality is possible and there are no transaction costs, bargaining will lead to an efficient outcome regardless of the initial allocation of property rights.

Moral hazard occurs when a party insulated from risk behaves differently than it would behave if it were fully exposed to the risk. Moral hazard arises because an individual or institution does not take the full consequences and responsibilities of its actions, and therefore, has a tendency to act less carefully than it otherwise would, leaving another party to hold some responsibility for the consequences of those actions. For example, a person with insurance against automobile theft may be less cautious about locking his or her car, because the negative consequences of vehicle theft are (partially) the responsibility of the insurance company.

 

Seinfeld: The Smelly Car

While Jerry and Elaine are at a restaurant, a valet parking attendant with body odor leaves Jerry's car with a lingering smell. The external costs are large: the smell attaches itself to Jerry and Elaine, who have to resort to costly measures to cleanse themselves. Jerry attempts to recoup some of the damage by cleverly bargaining with the restaurant owner to cover the cost of cleaning the car. In the end, the cleaning is not enough, and Jerry leaves the car and keys in plain sight hoping it will be stolen, in which case the insurance company will bear the loss.

from Seinfeld, Season 4 (1993)
Creator: Larry David & Jerry Seinfeld
Posted by Linda Ghent
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