David R. Henderson  

Favorite Economics Dialogues in Movies

Social Science and Public Poli... Idolatry in a Free Society...

Here's one of mine, from Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. It's about one of the most important things economics deals with--incentives. Lisa (played by Grace Kelly) and Jeff (played by Jimmy Stewart), are listening to a man in another apartment play one of his songs on a piano:

LISA: Where does a man get the inspiration for a song like that?
JEFF: From his landlord -- once a month.

What are some of your favorites?

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (30 to date)
Ben Rast writes:

Even if you're not a card-carrying Objectivist, you've got to include Howard Roark's speech from
"The Fountainhead."

TMS writes:

From Ghostbusters:

"Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities, we didn't have to produce anything! You've never been out of college! You don't know what it's like out there! I've worked in the private sector. They expect results."

TMS writes:

"Isn't that the idea? To build a better mouse trap?"

"Not if you're a mouse."

From Tucker: The Man and His Dream

TMS writes:

From the film Metropolitan:

Charlie Black: Fourierism was tried in the late nineteenth century... and it failed. Wasn't Brook Farm Fourierist? It failed.

Tom Townsend: That's debatable.

Charlie Black: Whether Brook Farm failed?

Tom Townsend: That it ceased to exist, I'll grant you, but whether or not it failed cannot be definitively said.

Charlie Black: Well, for me, ceasing to exist is — is failure. I mean, that's pretty definitive.

Tom Townsend: Well, everyone ceases to exist. Doesn't mean everyone's a failure.

Yancey Ward writes:

From Trading Places

Randolph Duke: We are 'commodities brokers', William. Now, what are commodities? Commodities are agricultural products... like coffee that you had for breakfast... wheat, which is used to make bread... pork bellies, which is used to make bacon, which you might find in a 'bacon and lettuce and tomato' sandwich. And then there are other commodities, like frozen orange juice... and GOLD. Though, of course, gold doesn't grow on trees like oranges.

Clear so far?

Billy Ray: Yeah.

Randolph Duke: Good, William! Now, some of our clients are speculating that the price of gold will rise in the future. And we have other clients who are speculating that the price of gold will fall. They place their orders with us, and we buy or sell their gold for them.

Mortimer Duke: Tell him the good part.

Randolph Duke: The good part, William, is that, no matter whether our clients make money or lose money, Duke & Duke get the commissions.

Mortimer Duke: Well? What do you think, Valentine?

Billy Ray: Sounds to me like you guys a couple of bookies.

Randolph Duke: I told you he'd understand.

The Sheep Nazi writes:

Mrs Nazi likes this one, from Lauren Bacall: if goodness is its own reward, shouldn't we get a little something for being naughty?

David R. Henderson writes:

Yancey Ward,
I love the look on Eddie Murphy's face when he looks at the camera after they tell him about orange juice as if he's never heard of orange juice.

layman writes:

this link describes the dialogue from the 2008 film WANTED. I guess it deals more with the economics of politics/power.


Brad Evans writes:

I'll nominate the whole of two old British movies:

The Man in the White Suit, with Alec Guinness, and

I'm All Right, Jack, with Peter Sellers

These would be in the microeconomics category.

Randy writes:

From TV series Firefly, Bushwacked episode;

Jayne: "You saved his gorram life, he still takes the cargo. Hwoon dahn."
Mal: "He had to.... Couldn't let us profit. Wouldn't be civilized."

Steve Horwitz writes:

I use the exchange between Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman where they are negotiating her price for the week to teach consumer and producer surplus:

Vivian: Full week, nights and days. It's gonna cost ya. 4000.

Edward: 2000.

Vivian: 3000!

Edward: Done!

Vivian: I would have stayed for 2000 you know.

Edward: I would have paid 4000.

beamish writes:

Grapes of Wrath:

I don't like nobody drawin' a bead
on me.

Then what are you doin' this kind a
thing for--against your own people?

For three dollars a day, that's what
I'm doin' it for. I got two little
kids. I got a wife and my wife's
mother. Them people got to eat. Fust
and on'y thing I got to think about
is my own folks. What happens to
other folks is their lookout.

But this is *my land*, son. Don't
you understand?

(putting his goggles back on)
*Used* to be your land. B'longs to
the comp'ny now.

Richard A. writes:

GRANDFATHER: What's to stop progress nowadays?"

CABAL: "War!"

PASSWORTHY: "First, there isn't going to be a war, and second, war doesn't stop progress. It stimulates progress."

CABAL, ironically: "Yes, war can be a highly stimulating thing. But you can overdo a stimulant.

From "Things to Come"(1936)
The above dialog starts at about 6:00

Ian Dunois writes:

I am surprised no one quoted Other People's Money yet.
"And lest we forget, that's the only reason any of you became stockholders in the first place. You want to make money! You don't care if they manufacture wire and cable, fried chicken, or grow tangerines! You want to make money! I'm the only friend you've got. I'm making you money. Take the money. Invest it somewhere else. Maybe, maybe you'll get lucky and it'll be used productively. And if it is, you'll create new jobs and provide a service for the economy and, God forbid, even make a few bucks for yourselves" - Lawrence Garfield

Sam Wilson writes:

Come on folks... how can this one be the 15th comment?

"The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good.

Greed is right.

Greed works.

Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.

Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind."

-Gordon Gekko, Wall Street

tms writes:

"Don't you understand? Don't you see? Potter isn't selling. Potter is buying."

From It's a Wonderful Life

brandco writes:

From the Treasure of the Sierra Madre:

Howard: Say, answer me this one, will you? Why is gold worth some twenty bucks an ounce?

Flophouse Bum: I don't know. Because it's scarce.

Howard: A thousand men, say, go searchin' for gold. After six months, one of them's lucky: one out of a thousand. His find represents not only his own labor, but that of nine hundred and ninety-nine others to boot. That's six thousand months, five hundred years, scramblin' over a mountain, goin' hungry and thirsty. An ounce of gold, mister, is worth what it is because of the human labor that went into the findin' and the gettin' of it.

Flophouse Bum: I never thought of it just like that.

Howard: Well, there's no other explanation, mister. Gold itself ain't good for nothing except making jewelry with and gold teeth.

-This is a great explanation of Marx's labor theory of value.
The author of the book that the film was based on, B. Traven, was anti-capitalist anarchist.

Patrick R. Sullivan writes:

I agree with Ian, the Danny Devito speech in 'Other People's Money' is easily the best economic analysis in any movie I've seen. What makes it astonishing is that it follows
Gregory Peck's interested sophistry

Then Larry the Liquidator
demolishes Peck

Ian Dunois writes:

I also love to use Rocky for examples in discussions such as on specialization.

Adrian: Why do you wanna fight?
Rocky: Because I can't sing or dance.

David R. Henderson writes:

I'm glad two people mentioned Other People's Money. The play is even better.

Mike writes:

Office Space

Peter Gibbons: Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you'd do if you had a million dollars and you didn't have to work. And invariably what you'd say was supposed to be your career. So, if you wanted to fix old cars then you're supposed to be an auto mechanic.

Samir: So what did you say?

Peter Gibbons: I never had an answer. I guess that's why I'm working at Initech.

Michael Bolton: No, you're working at Initech because that question is bullshit to begin with. If everyone listened to her, there'd be no janitors, because no one would clean shit up if they had a million dollars.

Mike writes:

Glengarry Glen Ross:

We're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize?

Second prize is a set of steak knives.

Third prize is you're fired.

Dave writes:

I don't even have to name these 2 movies:

First movie

"Fine but I would like to buy your cafe"

"Its not for sale"

"You haven't heard my offer"

"Its not for sale at any price"

"What do you want for Sam"

"I don't buy or sell human beings"

"That's too bad. That's _______'s leading commodity"

2nd movie

"Oh Paw... what are those papers?"

"Bonds. They're all we've saved. All we have left."

"But what kind of bonds, Paw"

"Why Confederate bonds of course, darling"

"Confederate bonds. What good are they to anybody?"

"I'll not have you talking like that, K.S."

Rosa writes:

This speech from an old movie called Home Town Story (more remembered for Marilyn Monroe's appearance in it than anything else).

In the speech the owner of a company that makes electric motors lectures a crusading newspaper editor about the profits that customers make.

Troy Camplin writes:

I love Rear Window, but Jeff is a cynic. I cannot tell you how many poems I wrote before the first one was published. I have been paid for only one short story. And I wrote 5 full length plays before my 15 minute play, Almost Ithaciad, was performed -- a little over a month ago.

I wish my work was paying the bills. My inspiration, at least, hasn't been economic, no matter how much I wish someone could accuse me of that.

Nick_L writes:

Colonel Smithers: Gentlemen, Mr. Goldfiinger has gold bullion on deposit in Zurich, Amsterdam, Caracas, Hong Kong... worth 20 million pounds. Most of it came from this country.
James Bond: Why move it?
Colonel Smithers: Because the price of gold varies from country to country. If you buy it here at 30 dollars an ounce, you can sell it in, say, Pakistan for 110 dollars and triple your money... provided, of course, you have the facilities for melting it down.

Monte writes:

Butch Cassidy: You know, it could be worse. You get a lot more for your money in Bolivia, I checked on it.

Sundance Kid: What could they have here that you could possibly want to buy?

kray writes:

On a more serious note...

From Schindler's List

Schindler: I didn't do enough.
Stern: You did so much.
Schindler: This car. Goeth would've bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people, right there, ten more I could've got. This pin -- two people. This is gold. Two more people.

Dan Weber writes:

It's not much dialogue, but in the recent Star Trek the young Vulcans are being trained in all matter of math and science, which includes economics. One of them recites the definition of a public good as "non-rivalrous and non-excludable" (possibly in the reverse order).

B.B. writes:

Try Ben Stein as a history teacher in Ferris Bueller's Perfect Day. Stein tries teaching supply side economics to high school students, explaining how the Smoot-Hawley tariffs helped create the Great Depression. Stein was on the set was asked to do an improv for the role.

His lecture is portrayed as the epitome of boredom, and the students are shown drooling and nodding off.

Not everyone finds economics interesting.

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