Economics 101 & Public Square

Markets, Movies, and Media

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It is a common stereotype that the media and entertainment business is not friendly to free markets.

I don’t want to comment on the beliefs of an entire industry made up of thousands of people, because I am sure there is a wide range of beliefs on all issues. There are media products that are hostile to markets, or at least ignorant of how they work, and there are some that are not.

Today I am going to look at some movies that have market-friendly themes. My colleague, Elise Amyx, has delved into this topic as well, and the fact that there are enough movies to make up multiple posts is a positive sign.

I cannot say which are intentional themes in these films and which may just be incidental to the story, but here are some thoughts on a few movies.

It’s A Wonderful Life

This has become a holiday classic. While the movie is set at Christmastime, most of the movie’s action has nothing to do with Christmas. Instead it has everything to do with a small businessman, George Bailey, stepping up to his responsibility and taking care of his family by running his family’s business.

In the process of taking care of his family, Bailey serves a large number of his neighbors and friends by offering them a good service at an affordable price. He provides the only competition to the less scrupulous “Old Man Potter” by doing the very thing a business needs to do: serving its customers well.

Market Lesson: Serve others well through the organization known as business.

The Incredibles

The Incredibles are a family of superheroes trying to adjust to the enforced anonymity imposed on them by lawsuits and government regulations. They damaged property while saving the world and were sued. As a result, they had to give up the superhero business. They all hate this new life, and ultimately, they get a chance to be heroes again.

This is a story of how not using your talents to the best of your ability is wrong, frustrating, and ultimately dangerous. God gives us talents to use, not to hide, and that is true in markets. We need creative, talented business people to serve the rest of us with their creativity, just as the cartoon world of the movie needed the Incredibles to serve them.

Market Lesson: Talent is only appreciated when it is used to its fullest potential, and government often prevents this.

Tucker

Tucker is the true story of Preston Tucker, a car engineer who tries to start a new firm that produces what he calls the “car of the future.” Tucker’s car has cutting-edge safety technology, including disc brakes and safety belts, some very innovative features for a 1948 automobile.

The movie takes certain liberties with the real story, but the depiction of big auto firms using a government agency to shut down the entrepreneurial competition provided by Preston Tucker is accurate. This movie addresses the evils and dangers of crony capitalism. In this case, people actually die by not having Tucker’s safer alternative available and, because of competitive pressures, available in all cars decades earlier.

Market Lesson: Big business is not necessarily pro-market. It will use government as its own personal tool to crush competition when it can.

White Christmas

This is another holiday classic that has, at its core, a pro-market theme. A retired general is now running an inn in Vermont, and it is failing. He does not run to the government for a bailout or spend time applying for a small business administration loan or seek out any other government aid. He is not keen on private aid either. Market actions save the inn as entertainers advertise it and play the venue to attract customers and patrons.

Market Lesson: If your business is in trouble, find a way to get customers – don’t run to the government.

Midnight In Paris

Midnight in paris

The main theme of this movie is the frustration that comes from not using one’s talent as one should.

The main character is a financially successful but frustrated Hollywood screenwriter who finds his true passion through a series of supernatural events that happen at midnight during a visit to Paris. In some sense it is similar to The Incredibles, also a story about denying one’s talents. The Incredibles is more about the societal impact of such behavior, while Midnight is about the personal impact.

Market Lesson: Not using your talents is as personally frustrating and wrong as denying customers the fruits of your talents.

What are some of your favorite films that teach market principles? Leave your comments here.

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