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"The Rationality of Literal Tide Pod Consumption"

Ryan Murphy, SMU (published in Journal of Bioeconomics, July 2019):

At the conclusion of 2017, to the dismay of journalists, pundits, and academics, large numbers of adolescents began consuming Tide Pods, a form of laundry detergent that is candy-like in appearance. This paper argues that purposeful consumption of laundry detergent may in fact be individually rational for adolescents, although with negative externalities. The consumption of Tide Pods may allow adolescents to successfully signal status in accordance with the Handicap Principle, which explains the beauty of a peacock’s tail and the practice of stotting by gazelles in the wild. The Handicap Principle is also a common explanation of adolescents’ willingness to engage in dangerous activities such as drug use. Public policy implications of this theoretic argument would include discouraging Tide Pod consumption, although this would follow from the negative externalities associated with positional goods, as opposed to paternalistic concern for the health of adolescents.

A good use of this paper would be to counterexample all the crabbed strawmen of economists' assumption of the rational man.

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