Ed Glaeser was an economics professor of mine in college. He proudly called his class “boot camp” for economists and noted that while his class reviews always said that his class was “too difficult and too fast”, he never planned to change it.
When I found out that he wrote a piece for the New York Time’s Economix blog on how to stir in economics lessons to childhood fairy tales, I was intrigued:
“If you are an economics-minded parent of young children, like me, then you may also have spent long hours wondering how to teach economics to your toddlers. Luckily, much-loved children stories can be made far more delightful with a healthy dose of supply-and-demand charts. Many such tales already include their own hidden economic messages that only need to be exposed to bring edification and enjoyment to the under-5 set.”
“The Three Little Pigs,” for example, is more than just a story about the value of better building materials. Like a whole host of fairy tales (“The Ant and the Grasshopper,” or “The Goose with the Golden Egg”), it teaches that sensible investment can yield high returns.”
He gives few other examples which led me to wonder, why is Glaeser so interested in fairy tales? Apparently, its because his first paper was on Cinderella:
“The first thing I ever published in an academic journal was “The Cinderella Paradox Resolved,” which purported to make sense of the odd fact that Cinderella’s parents invested in only two of their three siblings, despite the fact that standard economics pushes toward more equitable arrangements.
The story itself explains this fact with “The Wicked Stepmother Hypothesis,” a reasonable but excessively straightforward explanation of the decision to ignore Cinderella. I offered a distinctly less plausible explanation. The marriage market in Cinderella’s country was a tournament, where marrying the prince carried high rewards and everyone else was a mouse, pumpkin, etc.
In a first-past-the-post race, it often makes sense to lavish investment on only one or two competitors, which makes the stepmother’s behavior entirely rational. Of course, the stepmother did choose to back the wrong horse, but that just makes her unwise, not wicked.
As I explain this logic to my children, they respond with the glazed and distinctly annoyed looks that conveys to me their inner joy. I am sure that you will get the same reaction.”
So, do I take advice from Glaeser on how to raise my kids? On the one hand, he is an intelligent, wealthy, well-dressed man (always wore 3-piece suits if my memory serves me), who smokes a cigar. On the other hand, he was giving our class a lecture on the Slutsky Equation while his wife was in labor (probably with one of the kids who had to listen to this “re-telling” of Cinderella)…