David R. Henderson  

Rousu on The Hunger Games

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The Hunger Games also does a good job of showing the poverty that results from this form of government control. An economy is not well-served when government violates people's right to sort themselves into the work they can best accomplish. Panem's government does this, and, as a result, its people are poor.
This is from the December Econlib Feature Article "Economic Lessons for Children from The Hunger Games."

Another excerpt:

Not everyone suffers equally, however. The third realistic depiction of communism in The Hunger Games is that the privileged class lives better than most. In Panem, those living in The Capitol enjoy political connections and can oppress those in the other districts. They are rich--far richer than others in their country--and almost certainly use the government to fund their lifestyles. This is partially consistent with real-world communist countries, where the nomenklatura, the class of people holding positions of authority within the communist party, lived much better than the average person. In real-world communist countries, the nomenklatura sometimes lived better because they received products that nobody else received: military officers, for example, received cars.Other reasons that they lived better included receiving first priority to obtain products without waiting in lines--often because they would trade favors with other members of the nomenklatura--and better health care and education. That said, The Hunger Games seems to have exaggerated the wealth of the nomenklatura, as they were not necessarily rich by U.S. standards. As discussed in Henderson, McNab, and Rózsás (2005), the "luxury" vacation spots visited by the nomenklatura were no more luxurious than a Holiday Inn.

The whole thing is worth reading.




COMMENTS (4 to date)
Brad writes:

There is probably no better illustration of this, nomenklatura, than present day N. Korea. Join the Worker's Party, live in Pyongyang and life is (relatively) good. Life outside the capital is awful or worse.

Late in The Hunger Games, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) asks rhetorically why he and the government put on the games. He answers his own question, that the games are an execution to demonstrate state power over the districts and the people, while allowing the masses to be distracted by the game theme, and suggesting that one can always hope, because there is one survivor. Hope further reduces any desire to resist.

Restated, a few die each year so that many more will not die in revolt. The government is being kind to demonstrate with just a few lives what it would do to vast numbers of people if it were provoked.

Reality is approaching this in the US. Increasingly, police bring overwhelming force to serve warrants and investigate regulatory offenses. They shoot people holding knives or even toy guns. Police don't hesitate to shoot family dogs, even the neighbor's dog when investigating a complaint. I have not read about any compensation to a family for shooting its dog.

Our institutions regard all this as a humane policy. It is better to shoot a few dogs and people than the many more the state is willing to shoot if there were not immediate and unquestioned compliance.

Mark V Anderson writes:

Oh come on, please don't use a fictional place to prove a point. I enjoyed the Hunger Games books and movies as a revolution to knock off the bad guys. But the economics in that society make no sense. The author can make any society as rich or poor as he/she wishes, regardless of how real societies evolve. Do I really need to point this out?

Jon Murphy writes:

@Mark,

Fiction can often be a useful tool for describing society (see my writing on Mass Effect here, here, and here or check out Josh Hall's Homer Economicus.

I've not read the Hunger Games nor seen the movies, so I don't know to what extent your claim that the economics makes no sense is true. But Matthew Rousu uses real-world examples of the lessons he pulls from the books, so the descriptions in the books can't be too far off.

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