Friday, April 2, 2010

The Funniest Sketch I Ever Wrote in My Macroeconomics Class

Although you wouldn't know it from my regularity on this blog, or by the number of sketches I bring to RvD meetings, I've been writing more than I have in years. Except that it's essays for my MBA program, so usually I can't use them for sketch comedy. But one week we were given this assignment...
"You are having a discussion with a friend that suggests that we should “save” the U.S. auto industry and the middle class jobs that it employs. As a student of economics you realize that there are pros and cons to such actions aimed at saving this industry. What would be some of your pro and con arguments?"
"Aha!" I thought. A two-person scene. "At last I can write a sketch for my homework assignment!"

And then I wrote this...
Author's note: The question of whether the government should save the U.S. auto industry and what happens if it fails is a highly complex issue. The Greg and Tim characters in this story both represent my own conflicting but honest opinions, pushed to polar opposites.
GREG – a college friend of Tim
TIM – a college friend of Greg
STRANGER – a 20-something café customer

(Lights up on two friends, GREG and TIM, sitting at a table in a café. We join them mid-conversation. GREG spits a large mouthful of tea in TIM’s face.)

I am so sorry, Tim! Please forgive me!

(GREG attempts to clean off Tim’s face and glasses with a paper napkin as TIM stares back with an odd combination of surprise, stoicism, and amusement.)

GREG (cont’d)
I just hadn’t expected you to say something so naïve. I would have once agreed with you, but I’m in a Macroeconomics class now, and I forgot how stupid I used to be.

Stupid? All I said was that the government should do everything possible to save the U.S. auto industry and the middle class jobs that it employs.

(GREG spits a second round of tea in Tim’s face.)

I’m so sorry! I was even expecting it that time. It’s just that as a student of economics, I realize that there are pros and cons to such actions aimed at saving that industry.

Cons? Keeping people gainfully employed has a downside? Do you want the problem in Detroit to get worse? If the Big Three fail, it not only effects the nearly 240,000 people employed directly by Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, but will indirectly have a catastrophic effect on the hundreds of thousands who depend on them to buy their supplies. Furthermore, those individuals who lose their jobs will have less money to spend at other retailers. (Center For Automotive Research, 2008) People will be desperate and crime will go up.

There’s no doubt that if the Big Three fail it will have a major negative impact on the U.S. economy. In fact it’s hard for me to realistically imagine a more wide-ranging catastrophic event. However, the industry has been falling apart for years, and while throwing government money at the problem can help things in the short run, I don’t think we’re looking at a permanent fix. If foreign auto companies can make cars better and cheaper, those are the ones people will buy. How much of an investment in government money is it worth to keep trying to find a way to get an edge on the competition? Also, it’s important to remember that we’re not talking about all 240,000 of those jobs disappearing. Foreign companies employ about 113,000 workers directly, and that number will go up if Detroit fails, since they will need to hire more workers to build the cars that the additional demand on foreign automobiles that would result. (Rampell, 2008)

(TIM spits a mouthful of tea in Greg’s face.)

I apologize.

I had it coming.

I just wish I could be as optimistic as you. How many times have we seen U.S. companies outsource jobs to other countries to take advantage of lower wages? Why wouldn’t Japan do the same thing, especially if the domestic U.S. suppliers they used to use are now closed because of the closing of the Big Three. (Rampell, 2008)

But they won’t close altogether. There will be a huge shock to the system initially, and some suppliers, maybe even many, will fail. But it won’t be long before foreign companies start filling that void, and business to the suppliers will start to increase again. In the meantime, seeds will be planted for new industries that we can’t even imagine.

New industries, yes. Like green technologies. As the world becomes more aware of global climate change, there is already an increased demand in green products. One of the major polluters is the automobile. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Yes, you think that green automobiles could be the big thing that saves us.

You got it. And there are already reasons for genuine hope. For the last four years, the U.S. has seen a significant increase in light vehicle exports. (Klier, 2008)

You may be right about our light vehicle exports, but I hope you’re not banking on Detroit to find the edge on green automobiles. Japan is already leading that one. They’re an oil-poor country and were researching energy efficiency long before the world became concerned with climate change. They’ve been researching it for years, and their hard work is already paying off. (Rowley, 2008) It’s a race the U.S. is going to lose. The question is only whether we let the companies lose on their own, or delay their loss by giving them more money from our taxes.

The U.S. has always had the edge on know-how, creativity, and ingenuity. We’ll figure something out.

Then why haven’t we figured it out for so many years? That industry has been falling apart for 20+ years. Let’s just pull the plug and move on!

(A STRANGER walks up and spits coffee all over Tim and Greg.)

I'm so sorry. This tea is horrible.

Hey, no problem.

No worries, these things happen.

(As the STRANGER exits, she spits another mouthful of tea on a couple sitting at another table and promptly apologizes.)

It's easy for someone who doesn’t work in the industry to tell that entire industry to "move on." Pulling the plug will ruin lives—the lives of real people who actually exist. They’re not just statistics to be looked at coldly on paper. What is the purpose of government if not to organize and protect its citizens? Causing or allowing people to suffer today in the pursuit of bigger profits tomorrow is amoral.

Maybe there’s a way we can let nature take its course AND protect the people who are going to be hit catastrophically by this? Maybe those billions of dollars spent attempting to bailout a sinking ship could have been reserved to directly improve the quality of life for the individuals who will lose their jobs when they ultimately fail.

I don’t know. Maybe. (TIM tries to sip his tea but it’s empty.) Hey, I’m out of tea. Can I have some of yours?


What kind of tea is this? It smells good.

(As TIM sips the tea, GREG reads the label.)

Japanese Sencha Green Tea. Grown and packaged in Tallahassee, Florida.

(TIM spits a mouthful of tea in Greg’s face. Blackout.)

Rampell, C. (2008). How many jobs depend on the Big Three. Message posted to New York Times Online blog, Economix. Archived at

Rowley, I. (2008). Japan's New Green Car Push. BusinessWeek Online, 16. Retrieved January 31, 2010 from Business Source Elite database.

Klier, T. (2008). U.S. auto exports on the rise. Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Retrieved January 31, 2010 from

Center For Automotive Research. (2008). Car research memorandum: the impact on the U.S. economy of a major contraction of the Detroit Three automakers. Retrieved January 31, 2010 from

(see me after class)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

D Minus!??? Whunck?