Hollywood continues to collapse into mediocre tent pole franchises, but overall it has been a splendid year for movies. Here were some of my favorites, noting that I count by “the year I saw them” and especially for foreign films this will not correspond so well to “the year of release”:
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (boring for most people, big screen only I suspect)
The Raid: Redemption (better Indonesian martial arts you will not see)
Your Sister’s Sister (Straussian)
Circo, Mexican circus movie
Samsara (makes sense on a big screen only, I suspect)
Day Night Day Night (from five years ago, but a real stunner, underrated and a wonderful study of Nudge of top of everything else)
We looked through their schemes, and asked Jean-Jacques Dethier [TC: link is mine], a development economist at the World Bank (and a lifelong Bond fan), what he thought.
Plot: Gold tycoon Auric Goldfinger’s (Gert Frobe) plan is quite simple: He wants to attack the U.S. Bullion Depository in Fort Knox and detonate an atomic bomb, thus irradiating the gold stored there, rendering it worthless for decades. This will in turn increase the value of Goldfinger’s own gold and cause economic chaos in the Western world.
Plausibility: “This looks plausible to me,” says Dethier…
I must disagree. First, it requires an upward-sloping marginal cost curve for gold production, including the flow out of commodity uses. That’s actually plausible, but should death-risking criminal schemes rely on that? Second, if you are going to blow up some gold, don’t blow up the gold held as an endowment, blow up some gold which might go on the market. Third, couldn’t governments in response simply increase the capital gains rate on gold sales? In any case just setting off a dirty bomb probably would spike the gold price more than blowing up some gold. Or how about this criminal strategy?: hold on to the gold and perhaps in due time it will go up from $35 to the unthinkable level of $200 or $300 an ounce.
And there is yet another complication. At that time the U.S. was (sort of) on a gold standard! Admittedly ability to redeem was quite limited and held by foreigners who were themselves having their arms twisted not to redeem. Still, what if the price of gold doesn’t go up (denominated in terms of what? most of the major currencies are then fixed not floating) but the U.S. price level goes down? Why use bombs to try to manipulate the price which is about the hardest to budge in the direction which is hardest to get it to budge in? What if only quantities adjust? And so on. Wouldn’t an inflationary scheme have been easier to implement? I am not convinced Gert Frobe was a stellar macroeconomist.
I see this alternative scheme as potentially more effective, and Dethier seems to go along with it as well:
Plot: Before Bond foils him (and forces him into a high-stakes underground poker game), Le Schiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) is shorting airline stocks, while simultaneously planning to destroy a prototype luxury jetliner on its maiden voyage. That will then drive airline stocks down, allowing him to make millions.
If your productivity is especially high today, go over to Twitter and try #KrugmanBondFilms.
On Saturday the House Republican Study Committee released a radical but sensible position paper on copyright that called for limiting statutory damages (which are typically far higher than actual damages), expanding fair use exceptions, punishing false copyright claims and limiting terms. The position paper included good material on how to interpret copyright law such as:
Myth: The purpose of copyright is to compensate the creator of the content:
…according to the Constitution, the overriding purpose of the copyright system is to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.” In today’s terminology we may say that the purpose is to lead to maximum productivity and innovation.
This is a major distinction, because most legislative discussions on this topic, particularly during the extension of the copyright term, are not premised upon what is in the public good or what will promote the most productivity and innovation, but rather what the content creators “deserve” or are “entitled to” by virtue of their creation. This lexicon is appropriate in the realm of taxation and sometimes in the realm of trade protection, but it is inappropriate in the realm of patents and copyrights.
The paper also made a number of excellent points about how too much copyright can impede innovation and how rent seekers may come to dominate the process.
Mike Masnick and Cory Doctorow called the report “a watershed moment,” and there was lots of discussion on twitter and elsewhere about how this represented a Republican move towards recapturing youth and reasserting support for markets and innovation over business interests.
Alas, it was not to be. Within 24 hours the report was yanked. It doesn’t take much inside knowledge to guess what happened It does give me some pleasure, however, to say that you can still read the report courtesy of the Maryland Pirates.
For decades I had thought this will require the death of George Lucas and a greedy heir, but apparently not. Disney has bought Lucasfilm and so we can expect more episodes. Episode 7 might come as soon as 2015.
There is plenty of social science in this unexpected indie hit, which depicts the musical career of Sixto Rodriguez. Rodriguez had two very good albums in the early 1970s but faded into obscurity after failing to gain commercial traction. Unbeknown to the artist, he had become an enduring national celebrity in South Africa. His fans there had no idea he had been working in Detroit as a construction demolitionist (this is before the modern internet, although eventually the internet helped his daughter discover his fame in South Africa, through a fan’s web site). Here is Cass Sunstein on the movie and its portrayal of social and cultural dynamics.
The music is quite appealing — imagine a mix of Donovan, Motown, and low-tech psychedelia, the latter a’la Love. If you are looking to hear or download one song, I recommend the iconic “I Wonder.”
To my ear it sounds naive but charming, but to the South Africans it was revelatory and cool. Furthermore here was a non-Black coming out of Motown (Mexican ancestry but born in the United States), yet with much of the anti-establishment feel of a black artist of the time. The movie never touches on this racial angle as possibly relevant to his popularity; did the South Africans require a non-black version of a black idol? And what does he now symbolize, given that white rule has ended? When they show Rodriguez’s post-apartheid concerts in South Africa, there is not a black face to be seen, as if he has become a nostalgia act in a slightly unsettling manner with the anti-establishment gloss now drained away.
The full story has not yet been told, not even on the American side. From watching the movie, the viewer receives the feeling that Rodriguez fell into a hole circa 1973. The reality is that he was touring Australia as late as 1981 (more here) and even put out a live album from that country in the same year. Music aficionados will know all about the close cultural connections between Australia and South Africa at that time; did Rodriguez really have no idea of his South African following? And what kind of connections was he keeping with the commercial world of music?
I would gladly read a book about how failing artists string out their careers by playing in niche markets or writing for them. For instance Harry Nilsson released some of his late albums in the UK, Australia, and Japan only. Erwin Nyiregyhzai kept giving periodic piano recitals in Japan, well after his prodigy years were over and he supposedly was “lost” and thus before his “rediscovery.” What is a rediscovery anyway?
Here is Rodriguez’s eBook guide to happiness. For pointers I thank Cass Sunstein and also Angus.
According to GeekoSystem:
Clark Kent is quitting his job as a reporter for the Daily Planet, because he has too much journalistic integrity to work there any more. However, everybody has to make a living, even superheroes, and so, Superman will be running his own blog.
Hit tip: Maxwell.
At MRUniversity we just released over 30 new videos on leading thinkers on development. We cover Amartya Sen (who gets three), Bela Belassa, Karl Polanyi, Adam Smith, Paul Romer, William Easterly and many others. In terms of the course these videos are optional, they are for dipping into as per one’s interest. In these videos, we sometimes provide a second perspective on issues we discuss in greater detail in forthcoming topic videos.
On Monday we will be releasing a new section of the Development Economics course, Food and Agricultural Productivity.
From Brad Allen:
I was watching the Dark Knight on a bus yesterday evening (I’m not sure how familiar you are with the movie) – there was a scene that I thought was pretty interesting to think through, and was curious how you might go about it.
There is a scene where the Joker kills a mob boss, and then gives his 3 subordinates one half broken pool cue – and basically tells them that to live, the other two have to die. You don’t see what happens, but what do you think happens? Is it advantageous to pick up the pool cue, or would that signal the other two to attack you first? Would you try to back out and let the other two fight? Or would that incent them to come after you? OR does everyone do nothing, until a last second dash like bicycle sprints?
Obviously, I’ve had fun thinking about this. Do you have any guesses?
Noah Smith writes:
Addendum: I seem to be the only person talking about Desire Modification as a transformational technology. Greg Egan and Vernor Vinge have written books in which this technology plays a central role. In my “spare time” I’m writing a couple of sci-fi short stories based on the idea. It’s a really big deal, and I’ll write a post about it soon.
I enjoyed this movie, although I didn’t think it lived up to its most enthusiastic reviews. It is striking how much economics the film contains. The implicit macro model of the crash emphasizes the credit channel, rather than the monetary channel. Repeated cuts to nominal wages fail to work because credit/liquidity is a complementary factor of production. There is another implicit model of lender asymmetry, namely that your old lenders may try to drive you under, to get the collateral, and competition from new, less informed lenders cannot step in to fill the gap. The fixed costs of bankruptcy are high. The male protagonist in the movie is a Caplanian pro-natalist, and a satire of such at the same time. Habits are formed, and then unformed, and possibly will be formed again. The wealthy are not so different from the rest of us. Someone didn’t read Aristotle, or for that matter Markowitz and Tobin.
The story is interesting throughout, I liked this bit:
Adrienne Staples, mayor of the South Wairarapa District Council, recalls that being her first reaction when told in early February that a supposedly famous filmmaker had bought farmland in her zone.
It was not a particularly easy day for Ms. Staples. An avid horsewoman, she was trying to impregnate a mare with semen being flown to Wellington from a Spanish stallion on the South Island. She drove across the Rimutaka Range, twice, to get the semen; juggled calls from the press; and offered to bake Mr. Cameron a cake, because, after all, this is rural New Zealand.
The years to 2090 show remarkable technological progress in transportation and health care delivery and artificial intelligence. Labor-saving innovation eliminates even the job of Peter O’Toole. Before departing on an interstellar mission, have each crew member read Richard Epstein’s Simple Rules for a Complex World. Do not bring anyone who was brought up in a barn. Not all animals are cute. It is possible to signal that you have a really important message to be heeded. When making a project shutdown decision, it is long-run marginal variable cost which matters. Rates of capital depreciation are sometimes lower than you think.
There is no movie with the word “Estonia” in its title.
That is from Alexander Theroux’s new and interesting Estonia: A Ramble Through the Periphery. Here is from one Amazon review:
It is one of the most hateful books I’ve ever read. There is even an entire chapter called “Why I hate Estonia”, and almost every sentence starts with “I hate…” Here’s how that chapter starts: “I hate the pointless cold. I hated the fact that most people are sour but consider that normal. I hated the ungrammatical ’5,2 litre’ alcohol content comma, when it should be a period ’5.2′ liter!”
The author is badly uninformed about the region.
Most of the reviews are one star, but so far I am enjoying the book, and for that matter the reviews. I can’t vouch for all of the information. Here is another recent controversy about Estonia.
Free porn is killing the professional industry reports Louis Theroux in the Guardian.
Fees for scenes, not surprisingly, have taken a hit. “Some girls get $600 [£390] for a scene now,” the retired performer JJ Michaels tells me. “It might be $900-$1,000 for a big-name girl. It used to get up to $3,000.” For guys, rates can be $150 or lower [25 cents for every dollar a woman earns, AT]
Musicians have adjusted to declining music sales by increasing the number of live shows and porn stars are doing something similar:
It’s an open secret in the porn world that many female performers are supplementing their income by “hooking on the side”…For many female performers nowadays, the movies are merely a sideline, a kind of advertising for their real business of prostitution.
Many porn stars are now ZMP workers says Theroux:
“The way it is now, within five years I don’t see how there could be a professional porn actor,” Michaels tells me. It’s not easy to sympathise with the porn companies, which made so much money for so long by embracing a tawdry business and a dysfunctional work-pool. But it is worth sparing a thought for the legions of performers, qualified for nothing much more than having sex on camera, who have no money saved, and no future.
A pay what you want model worked for Radiohead but will probably not work for porn:
…it is difficult to see how a business selling hardcore movies and even internet clips is sustainable when most people simply don’t want to pay if they don’t have to. To many people, when it comes to porn, not paying for content seems the more moral thing to do.