During his twenty years on television, Homer Simpson has pursued some interesting business endeavors. But most famously he has made a name for himself as a hapless, but big-hearted, man who always seems to stumble through life by a combination of good luck and compassion from others. And there is another humanistic quality that he always seems to illustrate: a child-like naivety that expresses his good-nature and his undying love for his family. Unfortunately for many, these qualities are not enough to get by in the world – especially during these tumultuous economic times (Note: we are also not cartoons). If we look at The Simpsons, and its main character, we can find some economic guidance – if only by accident. In most cases, practical lessons can be derived from Homer, in the form of ‘what not to do’:
On the Stock Market:
“Buy low and sell high; that’s my motto”.
Sounds easy right? Well, if this were the case, someone as simple as Homer would be able to navigate during the precarious times. But it goes without saying that he has sometimes failed to execute. During one episode, Homer exclaimed (in regards to his involvement in the Pumpkin business):
“This year I invested in pumpkins. They’ve been going up the whole month of October and I got a feeling they’re going to peak right around January. Then bang! That’s when I’ll cash in.”
Obviously, the humor in this situation is apparent, but the message it conveys could not be more timely: study the market as best as you can; take into consideration the associated aspects of the companies and commodities you invest in; and don’t look at the market like a get-rich-quick scheme. Simple enough, right?
Incentive Based Employment
“Son, if you don’t like your job, you don’t strike, you just go in there every day and do it really half-assed. That’s the American way.”
“Son, if you really want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now quiet! They’re about to announce the lottery numbers.”
Unemployment rates are the highest they’ve been in decades and it seems that employee productivity is more closely scrutinized than ever. Many people point to American industry (automotive, specifically) as less competitive and innovative than foreign companies. This, coupled with an overall lackadaisical approach to productivity has been pointed out as a major contributor to the poor state of the American Economy.
In the Episode “You Only Move Twice”, Homer is recruited by a ‘Mr. Scorpio’, a nice man that is the head of a secret organization consumed with world domination. Unknowingly, Homer helps Scorpio build a nuclear reactor that is used to power the latter’s weapons arsenal. From this episode we have this little gem:
“Mr Scorpio says productivity is up two percent, and it’s all because of my motivational techniques. Like, donuts. And a possibility of more donuts to come.”
In today’s economy, the employment marketplace is extremely competitive. Individuals are less likely to compare prospective employers based on incentives, but rather continued employment has itself become the incentive to hard work.
“All my life I’ve had one dream, to achieve my many goals.”
“If something’s hard to do, then it’s not worth doing.”
It’s no secret that a lot of wealth is created during a recession. The winners are those enterprising individuals who take calculated risks, work hard, and stay focused. Consequently, they succeed while those around them fail or struggle to stay afloat. These are those times. Homer, according to his above sentiment, would fail – flat on his face. But when you least expect it, from the vault of ‘Homer Genius’ comes this:
“All right, let’s not panic. I’ll make the money by selling one of my livers. I can get by with one.”
Sacrifice: an important virtue in enterprise and in personal finances. Much of the literature that has been created on finance in the last year has stressed cutting out unnecessary spending. Of course, this might be a stretch, but Homer shows that sometimes personal sacrifices are warranted, especially when the well-being of one’s family is at stake. Even, if we only have one liver. (Note: Mint does not, under any circumstances, endorse the selling of vital or semi-vital organs).
Business and Personal Ethics
“Marge, don’t discourage the boy! Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals! Except the weasel.”
This first quote would be less funny if Homer were able to weasel out of anything. The bottom line, however, at the marketplace or in your personal finances, is to live up to your responsibilities. This will help to curtail any need to weasel out of dodgy situations, ie: collections, bankruptcy loop-holes, foreclosures, et al.
“Oh no! What have I done? I smashed open my little boy’s piggy bank, and for what? A few measly cents, not even enough to buy one beer. Wait a minute, lemme count and make sure…not even close!””
Homer’s curve is less than steep. There must be an easier solution! Perhaps it requires thinking to oneself, “What would Homer do?” Then, do the polar opposite.
Homer: “Look at this Marge, $58 and all of it profit. I’m the smartest businessman in the world.”
Marge: “Its food bill today was $300”
Homer: “Marge, please, don’t humiliate me in front of the money”
Many will remember this episode as the one where the Simpsons have a elephant living in their backyard, and with which Homer has the less-than-brilliant idea to sell elephant rides at $2. After only one day, Marge wisely pointed out that the food bill for the elephant was $300 – more than the day’s total revenue. After realizing this, Homer upped the price to $500/per ride. Consequently, his customers decided to go elsewhere.
Economics 101: If a company continues to lose money, it will eventually go out of business. Marge’s explanation of the cost of food was enough to pull the plug on this business (that likely did not have a business plan anyway). This principle can be applied to an individual’s finances – if you spend more than you make, you’ll eventually be in debt. The longer you keep spending, the more you’ll be in debt.
Innovation, Marketing and Adapting to a Changing Marketplace
“Oh they have Internet on computers now?”
Part of staying relevant, is staying on par with the development and adoption of new technology. For many businesses in the last decade, this has included developing an online portal through which goods and services may be purchased. For others, it may simply offer information and a way to contact businesses. In today’s world, this may mean an immersion to sites like Twitter, where individuals can interact with businesses and each other in new and unconventional ways.
“How is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home winemaking course, and I forgot how to drive?”
With learning new technology comes learning new skills. They may be one and the same, but in all circumstances, businesses, as well as their employees, continually need to evolve. For the former this may be necessary for growth; for the latter this is necessary to remain employed. The fact of the matter is that individuals across the board ought to always be on the lookout for ways to make themselves more competitive than others through their skill set. For prospective workers, an employer will likely be interested in hiring someone who can take on multiple responsibilities and is well-rounded.
Financial Solvency and Living Below Your Means
If not at home, the Simpson patriarch can often be found at Moe’s Tavern, drinking with his buddies. In fact, it seems that Homer is at the pub daily or almost daily. This begs the question: “Is this affordable for the head of a single-income family with four dependents?”
Of course the more Homer blows as a percentage of of his paychecks on Duff, the less he would have to spend on necessities for the family, such as: housing, food, clothing, a retirement fund, insurance and so forth. This is not rocket science, but if this type of behavior became the norm, frustrating intra-marital discussions (intervention) would likely be inevitable. Homer is unabashedly blue collar, and does not likely have the means to a life he is illustrated to be living.
“Bart, with $10,000, we’d be millionaires.”
Obviously not knowing the value of money can set oneself up for financial insolvency. Of course, this is not surprising to hear from the man who drinks daily, finds donuts rewarding, and steals from his own children’s’ piggy banks…
In a recent and timely episode, titled, ‘No Loan Again’, the Simpsons are facing foreclosure. Not surprisingly, Homer’s understanding of a Home Equity Line of Credit is far from comprehensive, and is the primary source of his financial woes:
“It’s a secret thing called a home equity loan. I get all this cash…and the house gets stuck with the bills!”
And, later when discussing the foreclosure with his mortgage broker:
“When you gave me that money, you said I wouldn’t have to repay it ’til the future. This isn’t the future. It’s the lousy, stinking now!”
All good things come to an end. And Homer’s feelings are not uncommon, especially with the credit and real estate markets where they are at. While it may be too late for others, this illustration of mindless spending can serve as a reminder, that debt does not magically go away, and tomorrow will one day come – as will the debt collectors.
Homer Economicus: Using The Simpsons to Teach Economics” Joshua Hall, WVU, Journal of Private Enterprise. 165-177. April 2005