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Ben Franklin’s Turkey

Nov 17, 2011 • Behavioral Economics, Economic Debates, Economic History, Economic Thinkers, Macroeconomic Measurement, Thinking Economically • 121 Views    No Comments

The bald eagle is our national bird but, according to Ben Franklin, the turkey should have been. In a letter to his daughter, he explains why.

“True original natives,” turkeys are American birds. “…Though a little vain and silly, [the turkey is] a bird of courage…” that does the right thing…” By contrast, the bald eagle has “bad moral character…[and] looks “flashy” but steals instead of working hard for his food.”

In a wonderful New Yorker article, discussing Franklin’s letter, Adam Gopnik explains how the turkey relates to hard work, honesty, respect for education and all that we need for a healthy economy. He even connects the bird to globalization through the turkey curry and tacos that we make with our Thanksgiving leftovers.

I recommend looking at the original Franklin letter. You can get a good picture of his insight.

The Economic Lesson

The turkey also takes us to food inflation. At $49.20, a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 will cost us 13% more than last year. The biggest increase? The price of a turkey went up 22%.

By contrast, the CPI, from December to December rose 3.5%. For food, it was up 4.7%.

An Economic Question: Thinking of rising commodity prices, draw a supply/demand graph showing why turkeys are more expensive.

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