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“Bang for Buck” and Regular vs. Instant Grits

The movie “My Cousin Vinny” has a fan club of lawyers and judges who love to quote the movie and use it as an example of effective cross-examination. As the daughter of a trial lawyer, it’s no surprise that my family watched the movie over and over again. It remains one of my favorite movies.

While it is popular among lawyers, I have yet to hear anyone use it to discuss economics. I’m here today to change that for you.

If you haven’t seen it, here is the brief summary: Vinny is a New York lawyer who has never tried a case before. He’s representing his cousin in a murder case down in the South.

One of the many great scenes of the movie is when Vinny and his girlfriend go in for breakfast at the local diner. There are three things on the menu: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. When their breakfast arrives, it is grits, eggs, and bacon. Vinny and his girlfriend (played by Marisa Tomei--she won an Oscar for her performance in this movie) are from New York and have never heard of grits. Not surprisingly, they are very nervous about trying them….

Grits then come up at a critical juncture of the trial. Vinny accuses the witness of making instant grits because they only take a few minutes to make. The quick reply from the witness is “No self-respectin’ Southerner uses instant grits. I take pride in my grits.” Everyone on the jury nodes their head in agreement.

So, what does this have to do with economics?

It relates to perfect substitutes. A concept I introduce in this post he