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Is the Economy Spongeworthy?

Friday, 19 Nov 2010 | 12:45 PM ET

For a show about nothing, "Seinfeld" really taught us a lot about life. Well, a couple of armchair scholars say it also taught us a lot about the economy — from the "Soup Nazi" to Elaine's "spongeworthy" test.

Source: Sony Pictures Television

"It's the simplicity of 'Seinfeld' that makes it so appropriate for use in economics courses," say three economics professors who not only use the NBC show to teach, but they turned it into a Web site, yadayadayadaecon.com, to make the lessons available to other professors.

The "Soup Nazi," for example, offers lessons in the economic concepts of barriers to entry and monopoly power, since the scowling martinet cook seems to have a lock on the tasty soup market. Elaine stumbling on his stash of soup recipes shows how quickly a monopoly can be broken.

No more monopoly for you, Soup Nazi. Next!

The "spongeworthy" episode from season 7, where Elaine learns that her favorite birth-control sponge is being pulled off the market, causing her to hoard her stash and use them only with those she deems "spongeworthy," offers lessons in expectations, shifts in demand, opportunity cost, scarcity and tradeoffs.

You could easily extrapolate those lessons on supply and demand to the current economic situation, where consumers are starting to spend again, but they're nonetheless guarding their wallets like Elaine with her sponges.

We're still in an uphill climb in this economy recovery — and only the spongeworthy will survive.

Now, as the great George Costanza once said:

"Shhhhhhh! I gotta focus. I'm shifting into soup mode."

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  • Cindy Perman is a writer at CNBC.com, covering jobs, real estate, retirement and personal finance.

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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