Friday, May 31, 2019

ABC's of Summer Learning

It’s essential to keep learning all summer long to avoid falling into the trap of summer brain drain and to keep learning energy going. Luckily, summer learning opportunities are all around!  Here’s an alphabet-friendly guide to summer learning.


  • APPS: Educational apps are great to reinforce skills. Want more learning? Have kids write reviews of the apps. (Check out Duolingo for learning languages!)
  • ACTION!: Exercise increases blood flow to the brain. So get moving! Ride a bike, play ball, take a swim! Being active is keeps neural connections strong and in learning mode all summer!


  • BOARD (Not BORED!) GAMES: Board games are learning tools to help kids develop thinking abilities such as strategy, planning, and action-consequence relationships. Plus, they’re great for teaching patience. 
  • BOWLING: Many bowling centers offer free games to kids over the summer. Or try bowling at home! Watch YouTube videos on the physics of bowling in advance.


  • COOKING: Following a recipe helps kids practice their nonfiction skills, and measuring reinforces fractions, volume, and mass.
  • CRAFTS: Do summer-themed crafts, such as building popsicle stick cabins, making paper fans and airplanes, or finger-painting. Crafts keep kids focused for long periods and are great for motor skill development as well as for planning skills.


  • DESCRIBE: Go for a walk and take turns describing an object without using the words “very” or “really.” Use all your senses. Work in literary tools such as alliteration and similes.
  • DESIGN: Allow kids to redecorate a small space or even a whole room. Start with a graph of their plans and make a budget.


  • ENGINEERING: Try a simple engineering challenge, such as building a bridge from marshmallows and toothpicks.
  • EAT: Healthy eating and healthy brains go hand in hand.  Visit the produce section of a store or farmer’s market and allow kids to choose new vegetables to try!


  • FILM: Many movie theaters offer summer discounts for kids. Look for movies that have a connection to books, then discuss the differences.
  • FIRSTS: Summer is an opportunity to learn a practical skill, like changing a car tire, or rowing a canoe.  It’s also the first opportunity many students have to experience learning outside the classroom, like viewing constellations, or growing their own food.

  • GOOGLE: Going on a summer vacation? Have kids use Google Maps to plan a hike, use Google Search to find hotels, and use Google images to look up far away places. 
  • GARDENING: Gardening teaches kids about spatial planning, design, and the needs of plants. A “garden” can be just a small pot! 


  • HIKING: Hiking offers lots to observe and talk about, and you don’t even have to be in the great outdoors! Look for recommended urban hikes in your area.
  • HABITS: Keep up with school-time habits such as bedtimes, mealtimes, and wake-up times. Use an agenda or wall calendar to keep track of activities.


  • ICE CREAM: Make your own ice cream! Find an online recipe. You can even do it without an ice cream machine!
  • ILLUSTRATE: Make artwork to accompany a story you’ve read, or to tell the story of a summer adventure you’ve had.

  • JOURNALING: Invite kids to keep a travel journal, a reading journal, or daily activities journal. Start with a trip to the store to get a journal. (Can be a simple spiral-bound notebook.)
  • JEWELRY: Make your own jewelry! Many kits are available, or you can make some with paper mache. 
  • KRYPTONITE: Everyone has an area of weakness. (Superheroes are no exception). Summer is the perfect time to focus on weak academic areas, whether it’s reading, math, French, or saving the world.
  • KINDNESS: Building character matters. Plan an act of kindness with your kids, then carry it out. The world needs more kindness.

  • LIBRARIES: Your local library system probably offers a summer program that goes way beyond books. Check it out and participate!
  • LAUGH: Laughter is good for the body and soul. Read joke books, then try your hand at writing your own jokes.
  • MINECRAFT: Google “learning with Minecraft” to find out how to turn your kid’s obsession into a rich educational experience.
  • MUSEUMS: Learn more about the history or culture of your area—many small towns have cultural centers that can make for fun afternoon adventures. Make the experience meaningful by talking about the how/why/where of whatever you’re learning about.

  • NATURE: Take a nature hike, stopping along the path to look at plants and animals. Take photos. Practice description skills. Ask engaging questions, “why do you think that tree is dead?” “What kind of animal might have left that footprint?”
  • NIGHTTIME FUN: Read books about space or the history of constellations, then observe the starry night sky.
  • ORGANIZATION: Organization is helpful all year long. Head to a dollar store to grab inexpensive containers and help kids organize their stuff. Let them come up with the plan on how to sort/classify their items.
  • OUTDOOR GAMES: Create your own Olympic events (like ring toss or an obstacle course) using household materials.

  • PUZZLES: Puzzles are great downtime activities that keep the brain challenged and help hone skills like persistence and problem solving. Try Sudoku, Crosswords, search-a-words, and/or jigsaws.
  • POSTERS: Make a poster. Use hands-on stuff (markers, paint, stamp-and-inkpads, stickers) or design on a computer. Ideas: book posters, travel posters about somewhere you’ve visited or would like to, or an advertising poster.
  • QUIET TIME: Schedule time for rest, reading, and relaxation, even for older kids. Brains need time to recover and process things.
  • QUILT: Make a book “quilt” by creating small, square pictures about each book, then gluing them onto a larger sheet of poster board. 

  • READ: Drop everything and READ! Reading is one of the best things you can do with kids in the summer. Model reading yourself as well. Kids want to emulate the adults around them.
  • ROLLER COASTERS: A trip to an amusement park offers the chance to talk about physics and engineering. Google “roller coaster STEM” for help.

  • SALAD: Encourage healthy eating by allowing kids to select different kinds of lettuce, tomatoes, and other veggies at the local store or farmer’s market. Have them help prepare the salad. 
  • SIDEWALK CHALK: Encourage kids to write poems and illustrate them, or challenge them to draw an interesting shape.

  • TRAVEL: Visit your local tourist bureau and become a tourist in your own backyard. Visit a local park that you’ve never been to.
  • TALENT SHOW: Have kids sing, dance, or perform in some other way as they put on their own talent show.
  • UNIVERSITY: For teens heading off to university in the fall, summer is the best time to prepare for what comes next. It’s also a time for summer jobs, and as the last summer of high school, it’s a major life milestone—it’s important to take advantage of this opportunity.
  • UMBRELLA WALKS: Walk outside on a rainy day and ask kids what they see, smell, hear, and feel. Then write a rainy-day sensory poem.

  • VOCABULARY: Vocabulary is linked to school success—the greater a child’s vocabulary, the greater their reading comprehension skills are. The best way to develop vocabulary? Reading. Write down new words and definitions in a special notebook.
  • VIDEOS: Share a thought-provoking video with kids. Ask questions that don’t have one right answer. (Hint – check out for free entertaining and educational videos, along with great discussion questions!)
  • WRITE: Despite the prevalence of keyboards, penmanship and handwriting are still very important! Personal handwriting style is always developing, so it’s critical to maintain skills. Journaling and writing in a scrapbook are great ways to improve penmanship over the summer and keep vocabulary skills sharp!
  • WORKBOOKS: Today’s workbooks have come a long way in challenging kids to think creatively. 

  • X MARKS THE SPOT: Organize a fun scavenger hunt or a pirate-theme day and have some fun. Make crafts and invite neighborhood friends. It doesn’t have to be a holiday or a birthday to celebrate the summer! It’s a great way to break up summer boredom.
  • XBOX WRITING: If you have a die-hard gamer, challenge him or her to write an instruction manual or guide for a favorite game.
  • YARD SALE: This activity will teach kids lessons about organization. Kids can gather up clothing, books, and toys that they no longer use, and sort what they’ve gathered into categories. Money and customer service are two more skills they can practice!
  • YESTERDAY AND TODAY: Begin each day with a simple activity: Ask kids to write about what they did yesterday and what they want to do today.

  • ZOO: Read a book about a favorite animal, then pay it a visit at your local zoo (many offer free family days during the summer).
  • ZITI: Make a necklace using this tube-shaped pasta and yarn. Or take the kids into the kitchen and teach them to cook baked ziti.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

econlife - The Rise and Fall of the Subway Five Dollar Footlong by Elaine Schwartz

The Subway footlong might never have been a foot long.

Six years ago, an Australian teenager posted on Facebook a picture of his 11-inch Subway Footlong. Feeling cheated (I guess), two New Jersey guys sued, others followed, and we wound up with a class action suit. Subway indicated the problem was frozen bread that had to be consistently stretched. They also said the slogan was an ad, not a promise.

In an initial settlement, Subway promised that they would implement new measures that guaranteed accuracy. They also agreed to pay a $520,000 legal tab and $500 to each of the ten people leading the suit. Explaining the small settlement the attorney said, “It was difficult to prove monetary damages, because everybody ate the evidence.”

But it didn’t end here. The litigation continued when yet another attorney who had nothing to do with the case said it was ridiculous. He explained that because only the lawyers made money, the decision should be thrown out. It was.

But so too was the footlong.

The Rise and Fall of the Footlong

In 2004, a Florida Subway franchisee figured out that a five dollar footlong would boost business. It was catchy, simple, cheap, and perfectly timed for a recession. At first local, by 2008, as the recession spread, the five dollar footlong did also.

Now though one store owner says the footlong costs him more than $4 to produce. In 2004 the margins were big. But, with $5.00 in 2004 the same as $7.00 today, inflation has sliced out the profit.

Our Bottom Line: Fast Food Competition

Subway’s biggest problem could be the competition. In 2019, everyone gives a discount, deli meat is no longer called healthy, and the name has become normal. Add all of that together and you get a monopolistically competitive firm that is less able to use the Five Dollar Footlong to differentiate itself.

Below, moving to the right on the market structure scale, firms become larger and more powerful. Meanwhile market entry and exit become increasingly difficult.

In a monopolistically competitive market, many firms compete for lots of customers, although firms sell similar sandwiches, they are able to achieve a bit of a “monopoly” by being different.

For Subway it was the footlong.

My sources and more: Thanks to the Planet Money Indicator podcast for alerting me to the demise of the footlong. Vox though had the whole story and Reuters, the end of the court case.

Please note that our featured image is from Subway and several sentences from today’s post were in a past econlife.

Ideal for the classroom, reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

econlife - Why It’s Tough to Plan Congestion Pricing by Elaine Schwartz

It might cost me $11.52 to drive south of 60th Street in Manhattan. And that’s after paying $12.50 at the Lincoln Tunnel and a Jersey Turnpike toll.

That extra $11.52 (I’m not sure how they got that amount) would be the congestion pricing fee. Now that the New York State legislature said yes to the plan, NYC will become the first U.S. city to use downtown congestion pricing.

Here an economist might say that the law of demand kicks in. When price rises–it’s free now–the quantity people are willing and able to purchase decreases. So, if you charge to drive in a certain area like below 60th Street in Manhattan, then you wind up with fewer cars.


It’s not quite that simple. Today, let’s look at the details. Then, we can consider the externalities.

Congestion Pricing Plans

The NYS legislative just said yes to congestion pricing and a commission to figure it out. All they know is that there will be a charge and the revenue will go to mass transit.


Because the average speed in midtown Manhattan is between 4.5 and 9 MPH, congestion pricing advocates want cars to move faster. With fewer cars, air quality could improve. Space also could be used differently when fewer cars occupy the streets and we don’t need as many parking spaces. It all could add up to a more efficient, less aggravating, and healthier city.

How Much and Who

The basic concept involves charging a fee to people who drive in the “cordoned” area. The question though is how much and who. You could have one amount or it could be variable, depending on traffic volume. It could apply to all vehicles or depend on the type. After all, people drive commercial, passenger, and emergency vehicles. They ride on motorcycles and mopeds. They take taxis, Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing options. There are horses leading small carriages.

We also have different categories of drivers to consider. There are the disabled. You have low income households.


We know the targeted area is below 60th street. But we have to consider the vehicles that want to move from lower Manhattan to above 60th Street. On the east and west sides of the city you have the FDR Drive and the West Side Highway. Along those roadways, there could be no charge. But what about the exits? How to monitor who enters midtown? Also, you have drivers who live in the priced area that need to move their cars from one parking space to another because of alternate side of the street parking rules.


The fee could apply only during businesses hours. From there, we could ask about weekends and evenings. Do holidays count? Or, it could relate to the number of vehicles.


If we look way back to 1975, Singapore had people purchase paper decals for its congestion pricing plan. When the Hong Kong system started, drivers were to install an Electronic Number Plate under a vehicle. Then, electronic loops under streets read the plates so drivers could be charged. For Manhattan, planners object to EZPass transponders because they require gantries. It appears they hope someone will invent an app or a GPS device that simplifies the revenue side.

This is a gantry:

Our Bottom Line: Externalities

As economists, we could say it is all about externalities. Defined as the impact on an uninvolved third party, an externality can be negative or positive. People want congestion pricing because too much traffic creates negative externalities. You know what they are. We waste huge time, the air is more polluted, the noise is irritating. Congestion slows business and diminishes pleasure.

As you might be thinking, the gargantuan number of details that compose a congestion pricing plan will surely lead to a slew of new externalities. Who you are and what you do will determine whether the impact is positive or negative or both.

However, I can be sure that my hour’s drive to and through NYC will certainly change.

My sources and more: With NYC’s congestion pricing almost a done deal, the articles are everywhere. Politico, WSJ, Medium, the NY Times, Curbed, AMNewYork, and City Lab are some possibilities.

Ideal for the classroom, reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Friday, May 17, 2019

econlife - How Shopping For Yogurt is Like Buying a Car by Elaine Schwartz

We could say that the wholesome trend in food was led by yogurt. FAGE was the first Greek yogurt sold in the U.S. Then there was Chobani, Danone, and General Mills.

Less than a minute, this 2011 ad for Fage is wonderful:

Now startups have added to the yogurt lineup. Made from plants, their options give us a whole new chapter of choices. We can select Tempt Original Hemp Yogurt or Forager Creamy Dairy-free Cashewgurt. There is almond yogurt and soy yogurt. And during January, Chobani launched nine coconut-based yogurts.

According to WSJ, there are a whopping 306 yogurt varieties at a typical supermarket. But here we have a paradox. There is so much more to buy.

Yet people are purchasing less:

Sales are up for the newer market entries like Icelandic, a thicker kind of yogurt known as skyr (pronounced skeer). However, they remain a tiny slice of the entire market:

Where are we going? To how assortment size affects what we buy.

The Riddle of Choice Fatigue

For a long time (as reported in a past econlife) marketing scholars, behavioral economists, and psychologists have concluded that too many decisions can impact our subsequent behavior. Called choice fatigue, we get tired out from too many options. Consequently, we buy less or select an easier alternative.

But now, researchers point out that it isn’t that simple.

In fact, we have a “decision-making timeline” that can determine whether we experience choice overload. When we start to make a purchase, elaborate assortments entice many of us. However, once we actually have to choose among them, we might back off and buy nothing.

In one experiment with jelly beans and another with chocolate, Stanford researchers observed more buying with the first option than with the second one:

1. First decide whether or not to buy something. Then choose from a big assortment.
2. First choose from a big assortment. Then decide whether or not to buy something.

The results indicated that people want to make a purchase when they see they have many choices. However, they are less likely to buy the item if initially they have to choose from many possibilities. At first the benefits loom larger (#1). But then, the cost of choosing could be daunting (#2).

Our Bottom Line: Demand

Choice fatigue provides some insight about the demand side of markets. Too many decisions can be exhausting. Increasing cost (defined economically as sacrifice), they can make us buy less.

However, choice can also be appealing when it requires no effort.

So, returning to where we began, the yogurt section of the supermarket can indeed attract us. Then though, we see how many decisions we have to make.

Like buying a car, we wish we had a default deal rather than debating each option.

My sources and more: This WSJ article reminded me that we haven’t looked at choice fatigue in awhile. Slate summarizes some of the past research that got a second look in this Stanford paper. And thanks to Fortune for more yogurt facts, Mental Floss for Fage info, and foodrepublic for differentiating between Greek yogurt and skyr.

Our featured image is from Our choice fatigue discussion was previously published in a past econlife.

Ideal for the classroom, reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

econlife - The Market Value of a College Sports Program by Elaine Schwartz

When it comes to “adjusted tempo,” the NCAA Division 1 champs were ranked last. Yes, at No. 353, the Virginia Cavaliers gave their fans the slowest moving games.

Where are we going? To how we value a college basketball program.

College Sports Program Valuation

Although college basketball teams are never bought and sold, one assistant finance professor decided to figure out their market value. Annually, Dr. Ryan Brewer includes data about revenue, capital structures, attendance figures. He quantifies risk, future projections, team performance, and adds in the coach’s salary. There is lots more but you get the picture.


At $64,040,000, Virginia’s program valuation was ranked No. 36. The second place team, Texas Tech, was No. 62 with a program valued at $40,290,000.

Big Ten Basketball

Meanwhile, when we look at the Big Ten schools, again we are not necessarily in the Top Ten for program valuation:


Perhaps though we can get more insight from our numbers when we compare them to college football programs. At the top, the Longhorns have a $1.1 billion program value. Meanwhile, the highest valued college basketball program would be close to #20 on the football list:

Our Bottom Line: Valuation

We could say that what you measure is what you care about.

For athletic teams, the possibilities range from traditional statistics about wins and losses to the Moneyball stats that Michael Lewis memorialized. From there, we can add Dr. Brewer’s market value totals and Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo and efficiency algorithms.

Whichever we select, all can remind us that we have a vast array of economic statistics from which to choose. The tough part is deciding which we value the most…

For the country and our sports teams.

My sources and more: Yesterday’s WSJ grabbed my attention when it asked, “How Much Is Your College-Basketball Team Worth?” From there I discovered that everyone refers to Ryan Brewer’s (Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus) ranking and research. I also peeked at the adjusted tempo ratings at and this sports column. Then, if you are interested in football program valuations, do go here.

Ideal for the classroom, reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

econlife - Six Handy Facts to Know on Tax Day – (Yeah, we know, Tax day has come and gone, but this is still interesting stuff!) by Elaine Schwartz

There is a way to “un-pay” your taxes.

Take the federal fuel tax. Used to maintain our transportation infrastructure, the fuel tax that we pay when we get gas can be refunded. You just have to ask by filling out IRS Form 4136.

The catch? You need to be a farmer or an aircraft museum or some other listed exemption category.

Since today is Tax Day, let’s continue with some other tax facts.

Handy Tax Facts

1.  The connection between rates and revenue.

Even when top marginal rates soared, still, revenue as a proportion of GDP was pretty constant:

2. The best tax act.

If you believe the best tax is a simple tax, then 1986 is your year.

Before the Tax Reform Act of 1986 was passed, the person who earned $23,000 of taxable income paid 7 different rates:

For a top earner, at 25 different rates, the list was much longer.

Then the 1986 Act transformed the system. Officially there were just 15% and 28% brackets. Even with a 33% rate for some tax payers, it all became magically simple.

3. Who the most Income tax revenue comes from.

Since 1980, we have a flip. Now the top 1% pays a much larger percent of all tax revenue while the bottom 95% has a relatively smaller share:

4. The average worker’s tax bite.

This average worker is single, no children, and has a pre-tax income of $57,407:

5. The states with the highest rates.

Because the 2017 Tax Act has a $10,000 state tax deduction cap, the state tax has become lethal for more affluent residents of the higher tax states like California, N.J., and N.Y.:

6. How the U.S. compares to Europe and the 34 OECD countries.

Below, the higher the number and darker the color, the higher the top marginal tax rate:

Looking at the OECD countries, the U.S. depends more on individual income tax revenue and not at all on a VAT (Value Added Tax):

Our Bottom Line: Taxation Approaches

When analyzing tax policy, three words can be helpful. We can ask if the tax approach is progressive, regressive, or proportional.

Progressive: Progressive taxes take a higher percent from those who are more affluent. With its increasingly higher marginal tax rates our income tax is the perfect example.

Regressive: By contrast, a regressive tax is more costly for those who earn less. Here, a sales tax is the perfect example. Imagine a $25 purchase at a gasoline station. If the tax is $5, it will be 5% for someone who earns $100. However, for the people who earn $200, it takes 2.5% of their income. The higher percent for the less affluent make the tax regressive.

Proportional taxation: With the third basic tax approach, everyone pays the same percent. If you think of the U.S. Medicare tax, all of us pay the same percent from our paychecks. That total could be 2.9% or we might split it with our employer

My sources and more: Described as “business friendly,” the Tax Foundation has all of the tax facts you could want to know. You might though want to visit the Brookings affiliated Tax Policy Center for the left side of center offset. From there, for the world view, I suggest the OECD.

Ideal for the classroom, reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.