Writing Contest: 2nd Place
The Opportunity Costs of Family Man
I push the videotape in and it clicks with a thud and the arrows turn green as the
movie begins to play. I settle back on the sofa, letting my mind fade away from the
activity of the screen. In the back of my mind I think about the economics chapter I read
that morning and about the essay I will have to write later this night. My mind spins as I
try to sort out the concept of opportunity costs in my head. I turn to my dad as the
"What do opportunity costs have to do with the real value of life?" I say,
frowning. "Can't someone make a decision based on happiness anymore, without having
to think of exactly what the cost of their next best alternative would be? I know I don't
look at my choices in terms of how much more money I will earn or lose if I go one place
over another." I pause for a moment to think. "Well, at least not most of the time." My
dad turns away from the TV screen.
"Hannah, you can weigh your opportunity costs in different ways. Opportunity
costs are basically the costs and benefits of a certain action, as compared to your other
choices. For instance, when you decide if you want to watch a movie at home or go to a
theater, you might think of the extra cost of the theater, and then the extra benefit of the
larger screen and perhaps the friends who you might see the movie with. Then, you
weigh the options and subtract from your first choice the value of the second choice, so
from seeing the movie at home you would subtract the loss of companions and high
quality. You might not do this consciously, but it is a good practice to get yourself into.
Now quiet, here comes the movie."
A hush descends on the room as we watch the opening credits. "Family Man," I
mutter aloud as I read the title of the movie. "It doesn't sound very exciting," I tell my
dad. I'm never very happy with my father's choices in movies.
"Shhh, just watch it!" my dad replies tersely. I take a handful of popcorn and
watch as the plot begins to unfold. I soon see the movie is not so boring. The main
character, Jack Campbell, has the ideal capitalist life. He is president of a large company,
drives a Ferrari, is popular and daring, and altogether living the American dream.
"Where is the family? I thought this was about a family?" I whisper to my dad.
"The family part is coming, be patient and SILENT!" my dad responds. Sure enough, in
a few minutes, Jack Campbell's life takes a strange turn. He is given a magical "glimpse"
into what his life would have been like had he married his college girlfriend instead of
traveling to England to further his career. A glimmer of light shines in my head like a
bright piece of gold. This isn't strictly a business transaction, but it is still opportunity
costs at work. Jack's first choice was that the option of going to England was worth more
than the cost of possibly losing his lovely girlfriend. I focus back into the present story.
His life in this "glimpse" appears completely worthless. He lives in a small house in
suburban New Jersey, works as a tire salesman, has two kids to hassle with, and plays on
a bowling team for fun. Jack Campbell, of course, does not like this kind of life.
"Well given this choice, certainly the better opportunity is his former life!" I
whisper noisily to my dad.
Suddenly, however, a change comes along. Jack realizes that this life has its
challenges, but also amazing rewards. He finds himself suddenly doing things he can
respect himself for. He cares about other people and he falls in love with his children and
all over again with his wife. He realizes that suddenly his life has something that GDP
cannot measure. He has happiness.
"Oh, so I get it," I announce happily. "He is weighing his opportunity costs again
in this choice! He knows his other life would give him money, but he chooses the
companionship and joy of being a family man instead, because the value of his family has
risen above the value of his job as a rich business man!"
"Brilliant," my dad replies, turning the volume on the TV up a few notches.
"Now have some more popcorn."
The popcorn is already gone, I notice. The supply has diminished due to the
demands of my appetite. Instead of popcorn, I curl up hugging an afghan with a huge
smile on my face. Suddenly Economics doesn't seem so distant or even so harsh.
Opportunity costs become something that can be used for good, and not just for cold
money-hungry misers. As the credits scroll over the closing shot, my mind runs back to
the economics chapter with an amazing kind of economical peace.