2006

Writing Contest: First Place

King of the Hill

Dion Roberts, St. Xavier High School, Cincinnati, OH (Teacher: James Jurgens)

One television show that demonstrates economics in the behavior of its characters is King of the Hill. In the episode “The Company Man”, the main character, Hank Hill, a propane salesman, receives pressure from his boss to make a sale to a new real estate seller from Boston named Holloway. His boss tells him that he needs to do anything that he can in order to make this very important sale, and gives him keys to an expensive Cadillac and a hundred-dollar bill to spend on the client. Hank, however, is very confident in his ability to make the sale without spending money and driving a fancy car. He believes in selling propane the old-fashioned way, with “a smile, a piece of pie, and a handshake.” However, Hank soon realizes that his client is much more stubborn than he would have imagined. He begins to wonder how important it is to make this sale, and he must make a marginal cost–benefit analysis in order to determine the extremity of his actions in attempting to get Holloway to buy his propane.

When Hank first discusses this sale with Holloway, he soon realizes that Holloway is not very interested in propane. Rather, he is much more interested in having a good time. Holloway comes to Hank’s home in Arlen, Texas, fully dressed as a cowboy, expecting to do business with a rowdy, boisterous, cowboy-type person. Holloway is upset when he meets Hank and finds out that Hank is not this type of person at all. He is especially upset when he finds out that Hank does not own a pair of boots. Holloway is not willing to talk about propane unless Hank wears boots, so Hank must decide whether or not to buy boots. He must analyze the costs and benefits of this decision. One of the costs of buying the boots is having blistered feet; he knows that he cannot wear boots without them hurting him because his toes are too wide. Also, it would involve him spending part of the hundred dollars, meaning that he would lose the pride of being able to make a sale the old-fashioned way. However, the benefits of buying the boots are an increased chance of making the sale, a better standing in the eyes of his boss, and keeping his rival salesman, M.F. Thatherton, from making the sale. In this case, he decides that the benefits of buying the boots outweigh the costs, and he decides to buy the boots to make Holloway happy.

However, Holloway is soon not satisfied with Hank’s purchase. He wants Hank to buy an entire cowboy outfit, with a hat, spurs, and a lasso. Once again, Hank must analyze the costs and benefits. If he buys the cowboy outfit, he must spend more of the money that his boss gave him, further proving his inability to make a sale the old-fashioned way. Buying such an outfit would also mean that he would have to wear it around, and therefore would have to face being made fun of by his friends. However, he once again decides that the benefits of an increased chance of making the sale and better standing with his boss outweigh these costs, and he buys the cowboy outfit.

Hank is once again forced to make a decision when he takes Holloway to a restaurant and Holloway decides to order the most expensive item on the menu, a seventy-two-ounce steak. Hank must decide whether or not to buy this expensive steak for Holloway. If he buys the steak for Holloway, he will go over the hundred-dollar allowance that his boss gave him, proving Hank’s inability to make a sale without spending money. Therefore, his pride is one of the costs of buying the steak. Also, he knows that Holloway will most likely not finish the steak, and therefore the food will go to waste. However, he still wants the benefit of a better chance of making the sale and a better standing in the eyes of his boss. He also finds that his rival, M.F. Thatherton, is in the same restaurant, and that if he does not buy the steak, Holloway will more than likely go and talk to Thatherton. He still wants the benefit of keeping his rival from making the sale. He decides that these benefits outweigh the costs and decides to buy the steak for Holloway.

Holloway continues to act very stubborn and still does not want to talk about propane unless he and Hank go to a gentleman’s club. Hank is now faced with another decision where he must weigh the costs and benefits. If he takes Holloway to the gentleman’s club, it will take even more money from his own pocket. Not only will he lose more pride, but, in the case of going to a gentleman’s club, he will sacrifice his morals as well. He will also sacrifice the love of his wife, Peggy, who will certainly be upset if he goes to a gentleman’s club. However, he still decides that the benefits that come with making the sale outweigh these costs, and decides to take Holloway to the club. While there, Holloway becomes rather intoxicated and suddenly wants to fight Hank. Now knowing the odd nature of his client, he realizes that if he does not fight back, Holloway will no longer be interested in buying. Once again, Hank must consider the costs and benefits of fighting Holloway. This decision has many more costs than the rest. If he fights, it is very likely that he or Holloway will get injured. It is also very possible that they will end up in jail for fighting in public. He will have completely sacrificed all of his pride and morals and not only his wife, but his entire family will be disappointed in him. Although he once again sees Thatherton at the gentleman’s club and knows that Thatherton will be willing to fight, he decides that the benefits that come with making the sale are not worth these rather great costs, and gives up on the sale.

Hank’s weighing of costs and benefits throughout the episode shows that he is thinking terms of economics. Just like in economics, there is a certain point at which costs outweigh benefits. In this episode, Hank makes a good decision in giving up on the sale when the benefits no longer outweigh the costs.