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Freakonomics Radio

552. Freakonomics Radio Presents: The Economics of Everyday Things

Thu Aug 03 2023
EconomicsMascotsCashmereFossil Hunting


This episode covers a range of topics including the economics of everyday things, the success and impact of sports mascots like the Philly Fanatic and Gritty, the cashmere industry in Mongolia and China, and the business and impact of fossil hunting. It explores the challenges faced by herders, designers, performers, and scientists in these industries. The episode also delves into the financial aspects of merchandising, mascot creation, and fossil sales.


Mascots can be highly lucrative

The Philly Fanatic and Gritty have generated millions of dollars in merchandise sales and media exposure.

Cashmere production is complex

Mongolia and China dominate the cashmere industry, but overgrazing and climate change pose challenges.

Fossil hunting is a costly and competitive business

Excavating and preparing fossils for sale can take years and cost millions of dollars.

Commercial fossil hunting impacts scientific research

The commercial market for dinosaurs has led to a decline in academic research and the loss of valuable specimens.


  1. The Economics of Everyday Things
  2. The Philly Fanatic and Bonnie Erickson
  3. Gritty and the Business of Mascots
  4. The Cashmere Industry in Mongolia and China
  5. Challenges and Impact of the Cashmere Industry
  6. The Business of Fossil Hunting
  7. The Impact of Fossil Hunting

The Economics of Everyday Things

00:05 - 08:00

  • Freakonomics Radio is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, along with other shows like No Stupid Questions and People I Mostly Admire.
  • The Economics of Everyday Things is a short weekly show that explores everyday things that often go unnoticed and unexplained.

The Philly Fanatic and Bonnie Erickson

07:33 - 15:56

  • The Philly Fanatic, a popular sports mascot, has sold millions of dollars worth of merchandise and brings families to baseball games.
  • Dave Raymond, the original performer of the Philly Fanatic costume, played a crucial role in its success.
  • Bonnie Erickson, designer of the Philly Fanatic, aimed to encourage younger people to become baseball fans with her creation.
  • The Phillies bought the costume but not the rights to the character, resulting in Bonnie Erickson receiving a significant cut from merchandising sales.
  • Bonnie Erickson received a hefty cut of the merchandising sales for the Phillie Phanatic
  • The Yankees commissioned Bonnie Erickson to make a mascot named Dandy, but George Steinbrenner hated it
  • Dave Raymond, the original performer of the Phillie Phanatic, started his own mascot firm and created over 130 mascots

Gritty and the Business of Mascots

15:30 - 24:00

  • Gritty, created by Dave Raymond for the Philadelphia Flyers, gained $160 million worth of media exposure in its first month alone
  • Designing a character like Gritty can cost between $80,300 and $100,000 plus ongoing expenses
  • Performers need to be physically fit and able to communicate non-verbally through movement and dance to succeed as mascots
  • NBA mascots can earn starting salaries of $85,000 to $100,000 with incentive pay
  • The Phillies have been sued multiple times for fanatic misbehavior resulting in settlements totaling nearly $3 million
  • After 35 years, copyright owners have the opportunity to renegotiate mascot rights

The Cashmere Industry in Mongolia and China

23:34 - 32:09

  • Mongolia and China are the two largest producers of cashmere, accounting for 90% of the world's supply.
  • Cashmere is harvested from goats in Mongolia every spring, with an average goat producing 250 grams of raw cashmere per year.
  • The price of cashmere is determined by its color and quality, with one goat yielding around $10 worth of cashmere.
  • Mongolian herders face financial challenges due to inflation and high expenses, making it difficult to make ends meet.
  • Traders from China collect bags of cashmere from Mongolian herders and sell it to mills at a higher price.
  • 80% of Mongolian cashmere ends up in China for full-scale milling operations.
  • The production process reduces the size of cashmere by about 50%, requiring multiple goats to make a single article of clothing.
  • High-quality cashmere feels plush and creamy, while low-quality cashmere feels dry and thin.
  • Cashmere has transitioned from being a luxury item to mass-produced goods in recent years.

Challenges and Impact of the Cashmere Industry

31:45 - 39:01

  • Mass production of cashmere has led to lower quality sweaters being sold at lower prices.
  • Some brands use less material or lower quality fibers to keep prices down.
  • Overgrazing caused by the booming demand for cashmere has contributed to the degradation of Mongolia's grasslands.
  • Mongolian officials have implemented livestock taxes to combat these issues.
  • In northern China, goat herding operations are confined to farms to prevent overgrazing.
  • Climate change poses a threat to Mongolia's dry lands and cashmere garment factories are under pressure to adapt sustainability standards.
  • The increase in demand, overgrazing, and climate change have affected the quality of cashmere fiber in Inner Mongolia.
  • Cashmere is not just a material but also part of Mongolia's identity, posing challenges in terms of environmental, social, and economic impact.

The Business of Fossil Hunting

38:45 - 46:39

  • A T-Rex skeleton named Stan was sold at an auction for nearly $32 million.
  • Most T-Rex fossils are found in the Hell Creek Formation in Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas.
  • Fossils found on public land cannot be sold and must go into a public trust for science and education purposes.
  • Fossils found on public land must go into a public trust and be cataloged in a field report.
  • On private land, fossil hunting is a free-for-all and fossils can be sold on the open market.
  • Peter Larson, president of Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, started selling small fossils in the 70s and eventually found multiple T-Rex skeletons.
  • Larson gets permission from private landowners to search for fossils and cuts them in on any future discoveries.
  • Fossil scouting involves searching for bone fragments over craggy terrain, which can take months without finding anything.
  • Excavating a dinosaur fossil and preparing it for sale can take two to three years and cost over a million dollars.
  • The value of a fossil depends on factors like size, condition, and completeness. No fully intact T-Rex skeleton has ever been found.
  • In 1990, Larson's team uncovered the most complete T-Rex skeleton named Sue, which was later seized due to being found on Indian Reservation land. It was sold for $8.4 million to the Field Museum in Chicago.
  • Clayton Phipps, known as the dinosaur cowboy, became interested in fossils after Jurassic Park and eventually quit his job as a cowboy to become a fossil hunter.
  • Phipps discovered the remains of a young T-Rex and Triceratops entangled in what appeared to be a deadly brawl but struggled to find buyers for nearly two decades.
  • In 2020, Phipps sold his prized fossil to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences for $6 million after accounting for expenses.

The Impact of Fossil Hunting

46:20 - 47:12

  • After paying off the landowner and accounting for expenses, Phipps says the deal didn't make him as rich as he'd hoped.
  • Larson didn't see a penny from that sale. In the years leading up to the auction, he had a dispute with his brother over the ownership of their company.
  • Larson's company now makes extremely accurate plastic casts of Stan. Those casts have become his bread and butter.
  • Barson says he has sold around 100 casts to museums all over the world. There are even a few stands floating around in private homes.
  • Nathan Merevold has granted around $500,000 per year to paleontologists, resulting in at least 10 T-Rex discoveries on public land for academic research.
  • The commercial market for dinosaurs has had a devastating impact on scientific research. More than 60% of all known T-Rex fossils have been found by commercial fossil hunters.
  • Commercial fossil hunters argue that exposed fossils will eventually succumb to the elements and that farmers and ranchers should be paid for their assets.
  • Paleontologist Thomas Carr hopes to return next year to look for a full skeleton of a rare juvenile T-Rex.