552. Freakonomics Radio Presents: The Economics of Everyday Things
This episode covers a range of topics including the economics of everyday things, the success of sports mascots like the Philly Fanatic, the production and challenges of cashmere in Mongolia and China, and the commercialization of T-Rex fossils. It explores the impact of mass production, overgrazing, and climate change on cashmere quality, as well as the controversies surrounding the sale and ownership of valuable dinosaur fossils.
Sports mascots like the Philly Fanatic can generate millions of dollars in merchandise sales and bring families to games.
Cashmere Production Challenges
Mongolian herders face financial difficulties due to inflation and high expenses, while overgrazing and climate change contribute to the degradation of grasslands and decrease in cashmere quality.
Commercialization of Fossils
The commercial market for dinosaur fossils has had a negative impact on scientific research, with most T-Rex fossils being found by commercial fossil hunters. Legal battles and disputes over ownership are common in the fossil trade.
- The Economics of Everyday Things
- The Philly Fanatic and Bonnie Erickson
- Dave Raymond and Gritty
- Cashmere Production in Mongolia and China
- Challenges in Cashmere Production
- T-Rex Fossils and Commercialization
- The Impact of Commercial 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 and Gritty
07:33 - 15:56
- Dave Raymond, the original performer of the Phillie Phanatic, started his own mascot firm and created over 130 mascots.
- Gritty, created by Dave Raymond for the Philadelphia Flyers, gained $160 million worth of media exposure in its first month.
- Designing a character like Gritty can cost between $80,300 and $100,000 as a base fee.
- Performers need to be physically fit and able to communicate non-verbally through movement and dance.
- NBA mascots can earn starting salaries of $85,000 to $100,000 with incentive pay.
Cashmere Production in Mongolia and China
15:30 - 24:00
- 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.
- Mass production has made cashmere more accessible to consumers.
Challenges in Cashmere Production
23:34 - 32:09
- 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 grave 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 resulted in a decrease in the quality of cashmere fiber.
- Cashmere is not just a material but also part of Mongolia's identity, posing challenges in terms of environmental, social, and economic impact.
T-Rex Fossils and Commercialization
31:45 - 39:01
- 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 the United States, which is publicly owned land protected by law.
- 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, the most complete T-Rex skeleton named Sue was discovered but legal battles ensued as it was found on Indian Reservation land. It was eventually 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 came out. He sold his first big find for about a year's wages and later discovered an entangled T-Rex and Triceratops fossil.
- Selling fossils can be difficult as finding buyers is challenging. Phipps spent nearly two decades trying to sell his prized fossil before finally securing a buyer in 2020.
The Impact of Commercial Fossil Hunting
38:45 - 46:39
- 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.