Imagine starting an exam, only to discover you are very familiar with the subject area–crying babies on planes. From taking law school exams, I’m used to completely unlikely situations, such as the ownership regarding:
a clock that is caught by a stranger (crossing the private property via a popular trail between the road and his college) after its owner accidentally knocks it off a ledge while writing his will, leaving the clock to his favorite niece–who then signs it in the presence two of witnesses, one being his niece and the other his best friend with a business interest in the clock, plus his lawyer, and promptly dies (I hate it when that happens).
So this particular exam scenario got my attention quickly.
Crying babies and loud children are among the common complaints of frequent flyers; indeed, I can say from personal experience that a screaming infant can make for a long flight. Describe the reciprocal nature of the externality. How does the private market internalize the externality? To what extent does the possibility of an upgrade to first class help mitigate the externality? What is the role of reasonable expectations in deciding on a policy? What is the parent’s responsibility? What is the responsibility of the other flyers?
Since this is a sample exam question, economics students should know what an externality is (well, if they want an A. Or a B.) But for the non-economists around us, an externality is “a secondary or unintended consequence <pollution and other externalities of manufacturing>.” They can be negative or positive. If you enjoy the sound of crying babies on planes, then their presence on your flight is a positive externality. This is a lawyer’s explanation of it, so please check out this economist’s explanation if you want to know more.
But definitely read through the comments on his post. They are really interesting, especially one suggesting the possibility of crying babies makes your ticket cheaper.
I joked earlier that if you enjoy crying babies on planes, it is a positive externality. Hopefully no one actually enjoys babies being miserable, but Dr. Carden mentions:
Being around other people’s kids on planes reminds me of my own, so a little bit of crying is not necessarily a bad thing (do note that this relationship is not linear or strictly positive). Fewer babies on planes would make people who don’t like loud kids better off, but at the expense of those who are worse off because they are around fewer cute kids.
It reminded me of an old story. The setting changes each time I’ve heard it, but it always a situation where a group of men haven’t seen their children in a while. The wild, wild west, or men coming home from war. They are in church and a baby starts crying. The pastor stops his sermon and demands the mother and child leave. “Wait!” yells one of the men, “please, let the baby stay!” The men all stood silently, listening to the child cry, thinking about their children back at home.
Personally? They do keep me from sleeping, but I mind them much less than the 5+ year old children who are allowed to throw things, yell, and play their iPads at full volume on red-eyes. The babies can’t help it, and their poor ears are popping. Once, I flew with my 3-yr old cousin who covered her ears and cried, “My ears broke!”
What are your thoughts on this? And for legal gurus in the crowd, feel free to solve my fake exam question, or (even better) explain why it is a terrible exam question.
Edit: More babies on a plane. Are crying babies like factories? (?!)
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