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The Economics of Doing What You Love

DESCRIPTIONWolfers finishing the 2008 Stockholm Marathon

Marketplace, the economics program on American Public Media, is running a fun series this week — asking economists to reflect on how thinking like an economist can shape your personal decisions. While the pieces are pretty light, it’s also a neat opportunity to teach some simple economics. Yesterday, it was my turn, and so I focused my economic lens on my marathon training. And thinking like an economist means thinking in terms of opportunity cost.
When I analyze the opportunity cost of running, it turns out to be surprisingly expensive:

As I spend my hours slugging out the miles, I’m forced to confront my choices. Instead of sweating it out on the trails, I could take on extra teaching and earn a few extra bucks. And so going running costs me good money. By my calculations, my 16-week training program comes at an opportunity cost of several thousand dollars. A quicker runner would have a smaller opportunity cost. It’s only because I’m both slow and an economist that I fret that the world’s cheapest sport is actually incredibly expensive.

But despite this cost, running is still worth it. Why? There are many other choices that non-economists make that come with an even worse cost-benefit ratio. The true advantage of thinking like an economist is that it can help you make better decisions:

To an economist, the choice is still a no-brainer. We think you should only do what you love, and pay for it by doing what you are good at.
By sticking to economics, I make time for running. Rather than spend hundreds of dollars worth of time cleaning my house each Sunday, I hire a cleaner who does a better job at a better price. When a friend asks me to help them move, I write them a check to pay professional movers instead. It’s just more efficient. And while it can be hard to forgo extra income for a long run, it is even harder to justify wasting that time on Facebook. And with the time that saves, I’m pulling on my shoes to head out for another run.

You can listen to the full commentary here.