On the afternoon of Oct. 15, the world suddenly became spellbound -- focusing its attention on a shiny, oversized tinfoil popover that supposedly contained a six-year-old named Falcon Heene -- the so-called Balloon Boy. I estimate that the time Americans in the workforce spent watching Balloon Boy coverage on TV and the Internet cost $2.8 billion in lost productivity. Should Heene's bad dad pay for this?
Before examining this, let's talk about what the Balloon Boy caper cost society. This idea came to me by way of Canada's Macleans, which interviewed me about this last week. It occurred to me that one way to measure the cost would be to estimate the lost economic output from people who stopped working and started watching.