Cookienomics: Lessons in Marginal Utility and Inflation

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If my life has a theme, it’s probably “Eat cookies, think about liberty/economics”

Last night I had a bit of a sugar-induced economic brainstorm while I was munching away on some of my favorite cookies. Allow me to start from the beginning.

A few months ago, while shopping for shoes at TJ Maxx, I came across some chocolate chip meringue cookies in a crinkly plastic bag, “Forgotten Cookies,” we call them in my house. They literally melt in your mouth, and because humidity has to be fairly low for them to be made, they’re a strictly Christmastime treat here in the Deep South. So, when I found this bag I was both excited and dubious. Would they be as delicious as my homemade treats? Would they be soggy and chewy and flavorless?

Delicious, they were; Melt-in-your-mouth, instant-sugar-rush, eyes-in-the-back-of-your-head, scrumptious. I ate the whole bag over about 24 hours, and couldn’t wait until the next week when I was back in that part of town again.

The next week they were there again, cappuccino flavored this time, and I fell into a lull of cookie-cushioned security. But the following week, they were no longer there. Heartbroken doesn’t even describe the feeling.  For a month I went without my newfound addiction.

Then yesterday, after an event-filled trip to the store, I found the motherload: a shelf-full of them, in a variety of flavors. Practically squealing with excitement, I promptly grabbed three bags.

I opened the first of them as soon as I got to the car; they were just as tasty as I remembered, and I immediately chowed down. By the time I had the 5th cookie in my mouth, I realized something: In my wealth of cookies, I was actually enjoying them less than I did those first two weeks.

The first thought in my economically-wired brain was “oh snap, diminishing marginal utility,” but then I realized that this could be better used as an allegory for inflation.

In the market of my tastebuds, cookies are an excellent form of currency, but as soon as I obtained a large amount of the treats, each one became less valuable individually. So too, when the amount of cash in the economy increases, each individual dollar becomes less valuable to those who accept it as currency.

So there you have a glimpse into my brain. We’re a weird bunch, we economists, but at least it can become a tasty venture.

  • Thymologist

    This may be so, but you are confusing diminishing marginal ordinal utility (a law) and diminishing marginal cardinal utility (possibly true, if we assume it is coherent). There is no economic reason why every cookie could not provide the same ‘amount’ of pleasure, even if there is a psychological/biological one.

    As for cookies as currency: this is just a confusing (and probably confused) analogy.

    I do applaud the attempt to make such concepts more palatable though. (If you’ll pardon the pun).