Mankiw asks all the right questions:
So I wonder: If a person down on his luck prefers the cash to the opportunity to watch Leno live, why would Leno object? Is it altruism that is really motivating Leno here? Is he really sure that the unemployed person in Detroit would be better off with an evening of laughs than $800 in his pocket? Or does Leno want to play to a live audience of unemployed workers so he will seem altruistic to his television audience?This is exactly the sort of thing that attracted me to economics. Most people who haven't studied econ assume it is all about macroeconomic issues like GDP, unemployment, and tedious things like determining what exactly is the appropriate basket of goods that should constitute Consumer Price Index--after all, that's what you read on the front page of all the dailies.
I've always loved what economics reveals about people's true intentions. Economics says to ignore what people say and pay attention to what they do. I don't begrudge Jay his sentiments, but I'm with Mankiw on this one.
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