Nom Nom Nom” is said to have originated with the Cookie Monster. *nom nom nom* It has become a preferred way to express voracious eating. Today the meme has spread to everyday conversation. Jen – “How’s that sandwich?” Mark – “Nom nom nom!” Jen – “I need to get some more noms.” It is almost certain that the word economics was coined without *nom nom nom* in mind. But if it was not intentional, it was foresighted to put NOM right in the middle of “economics,” as the concept of noming is so central to economics.

1. Demand – OM NOM NOM

One starting point for understanding economics is that everybody wants stuff. Economists study consumption, or noming.

Our first character, Gustav von Om Nom, loves noms. If you do not love cookies as much as Gustav, there must be something you really want. *iPhonomnomnom*demand

Gustav loves cookies, but first few cookies are really good and after too many cookies they become a bit less appealing. See Decreasing Marginal Utility Graph.

Gustav can buy more cookies if the price of cookies is lower. If the price of a cookie is too high, it’s not worth it. He could use his limited amount of lunch money to buy other things (ex. cheesecake).

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2. Scarcity – “More noms plz.”

At any moment in time, there is a limited amount of cookies in existence. Economists study what to do given the fact that there is a finite amount of noms to go around.  Many of the problems humans face can be explained in terms of “scarce resources.”


“allocation of scarce resources” –What is the best use of the limited amount of noms we have?

There will always be a finite amount of stuff, but in the last 150 years the total size of the human economy has grown. Pretty incredible ->

GDP per capita is a rough measure of how much stuff the average person is producing (and therefore consuming) in a year.

The “economic pie” is a term for how much stuff there is to go around in a society. The economic pie has grown significantly in the past few centuries. So a lot of people have more healthcare, shoes, and most importantly cookies.

Economic Pie


3. Supply – Fresh out the kitchen

Chef Kitteh bakes cookies, but she can’t do it for free.  She has to buy inputs like flour and sugar and invest in capital like ovens and baking pans. 


4. Prices – Communication between cust(n)omers and suppliers

Gustav can communicate to Chef Kitteh how many cookies to make using price signals.  When we overlay the supply and demand curves, they cross at a certain point. The price at the point where they cross is important because consumers will demand the same amount that producers will supply at that price.


If Chef Kitteh can sell a cookie for $1 but it only cost her 50 cents to make, she makes a profit of 50 cents.  If Gustav values a cookie at $2 but only has to pay $1, he benefits by a dollar.  Surplus was generated and now everyone is better off.

The surplus in the graph to the right is the triangle space above the supply curve and below the demand curve.

Stay tuned for more economnomnomics. Contact us to let us know what you think and what you might want to see more of.



Gains from Exchange

North Island

This simplified example illustrates the gains from voluntary exchange or trade:

North Island is a good place to make crepes. It is not impossible to make Nuttella ™ , but the geography makes it very difficult, so most people have to eat just crepes every day.

South Island

South Island is a good place to make Nutella. It is not impossible to make crepes, but if people in the South used all their labor and capital to produce one food, they could make much more Nutella than crepes.

The opportunity cost of making crepes is the number of jars of Nutella they could have made with those same resources.

The South has a comparative advantage in making Nutella over making crepes. Therefore, most people in the South can only eat Nutella.



Each island can increase its total output by specializing, however they would prefer to consume these two foods in a more equal proportion. They will both be better off if they trade.

Crepes AND Nutella






If you are reading this on a computer, you are experiencing the gains from trade.  If you did not build this computer yourself from what you could hunt or gather in nature by yourself, you  traded for it.



Food trade is an important part of economic history.  Europeans literally sailed across the world to spice up their dinners, and they stumbled across the Americas in the process.  Here are some good resources to learn more:

How the Spice Trade Changed the World

Lecture Slides from Oregon State

Adam Smith, who is considered one of the founders of economic thought, argued against the European “mercantilism” ideology.  Mercantilists believed that a country should export more than it imports because that would bring in gold.  Smith criticized government polices that were restricting trade in order to maintain a “favorable balance of trade.”  He advocated for free trade laws allowing countries to export the goods they have an advantage in making and import what is relatively more expensive for them to make.

David Ricardo formulated the theory of comparative advantage 200 years ago. In my little example, that is the idea that one island can produce Nutella more efficiently than the other island, so they have a relative advantage.

Around the same time, Thomas Malthus gave his gloomy prediction that, as the human population grows, we will run out of land to grow noms, and then people will starve (if they are not killed by war or disease first).

The human population has since increased far beyond Malthus’s wildest dreams. We are able to do that because:
1. The earth does not grow along with the economy and population.  Since there is only so much land to grow food on, we increase our output through new technology that allows us to get more noms out of our limited resources.
2. Increased specialization and exchange. Ex. People in Kansas can get oranges from Florida in exchange for wheat.

International food trade policy remains an important topic of debate today.


Non-Zero-Sum Games

To understand non-zero-sum games, it is helpful to give an example of the opposite: a zero-sum game.

Here’s a fun game: “stealing your older brother’s ice cream”

The little brother is unhappy because he has no ice cream, so he has a utility score of -1. “Utility” is a term economists sometimes use to roughly measure happiness.

The older brother is happy because he has ice cream, so he has a utility score of 1.

Together, their collective welfare is equal to 0.

After a change in the allocation of goods, their total welfare has not increased, it is still zero.

In a zero-sum game, the total amount of wealth remains the same and it is just a question of how you divide up a fixed pie, or ice cream cone.







In a NON-zero-sum game, the choices people make actually affect the total wealth in the system.  I will illustrate this with the crepes-Nutella environment in the Gains from Exchange chapter.

Let’s say that, due to sea weather conditions, each island can only send one boat on the first day of every month, and they will not know if the other island sent a shipment of food until that boat arrives two days later.  So, on the first day of each month, both islands have two strategies to chose from: { send, don’t send }.

Economists sometimes present these games using a payoff matrix:

North Island
Send Don’t Send
South Send 6, 6 2, 7
Don’t Send 7, 2 3, 3

The pair of numbers {x, y} in each box represent what the {South, North} would earn for each decision set.

If neither chose to send, they both are stuck with boring food.
3+ 3 = 6

If North island sends food and South island does not, the South will be better off but the North will have less noms than before.
7+ 2 = 9

If both chose to send, they will both get to enjoy delicious crepes with Nutella, resulting in an increase in total welfare.
6 + 6 = 12

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Donuts and Convex Preferences

When I recently brought home donuts, my roommates decided we should fry them.  Yes, donuts have already been fried.  Double-fried donuts.  Om Nom Nom.

(You can click on these pics to enlarge them.) In the first picture: donuts going into the deep frier. In the third picture, you can see a healthy dinner of baked salmon and sweet potato with sauteed asparagus.

This illustrates our “convex preferences.”

Our household prefers more food to less food. So, we would rather have 20 pounds of food in the fridge than 15, because 20 > 15.

However, our happiness is not just a function of the pounds of food in our house. We would not want ONLY donuts, even though we like them. We prefer to consume food in combinations. For example, a salmon dinner followed by a double-fried donut.

So, we would chose 15 lbs of a mix of foods instead of 20 lbs of just donuts.

The principle of convex preferences is an important part of the theory of consumer behavior. The math is explained nicely by wikipedia.



When making cookies, it’s difficult to not eat all the cookie dough before cooking it. However, if you exert will power, preheat the oven, and exercise patience, you will get perfect warm cookies that are worth the wait.

For both individuals and societies, waiting is an important part of becoming wealthy. If you can afford to wait and make smart investments, you can trade consuming something today for consuming even more in the future.

You can invest money in a new business so that they have the start-up capital they need to become a profitable company. They will pay the amount of the loan back with interest because it cost you something to not spend the money right away.

Another way to invest is to buy something and then sell it for a higher price. Typically we don’t do this with noms because they depreciate quickly (a.k.a. get nasty in the back of the fridge)… but it happens all the time in the stock market.

Another method of investment is to buy commodities, such as gold or oil. The value of gold goes up and down, but less suddenly than most stocks. Savy gold investors are able to use sites such as BullionVault to monitor the value of their investment, and to trade online. Buy low. Sell high.