The political economy of Black Panther’s Wakanda

Black Panther is the hereditary leader of the African nation of Wakanda, a small, natural resource rich country, which lacks access to the sea. Historically the political leadership has tried to hide Wakanda‘s existence from other countries which has limited its economic integration with the rest of the world. In spite of its geographic endowments, notably the incredibly rare ore vibranium, Wakanda has attained unprecedented technological development. This chapter explores the political economy of Wakanda and its leader, Black Panther. After explaining the origins of Black Panther, the chapter turns to the economic puzzle of Wakanda by exploring the geographic and economic implications of isolation. This is followed by an investigation into the way Wakanda has avoided the resource curse that has plagued so many other countries. Next, a comparison is made between Wakanda and the nation of Botswana. While there are some telling similarities, the lack of democracy in Wakanda is a glaring difference. It will discuss how it has developed high levels of technology that help advance the Black Panther’s dictatorship. Finally, it will address the potential for democracy to emerge in Wakanda. Black Panther offers an opportunity to understand the role of political institutions in affecting the long-run economic, political, and technological development of a country.

That is a new paper from J. Robert Subrick.

Comments

"the lack of democracy in Wakanda is a glaring difference"

Benevolent dictatorships (or authoritarian technocracies) are a not so deeply hidden wish for many comic book writers.

And in related news, China has removed the "term-limits" on its presidency.

Comic books are the illiterate's fairy tales. "Once upon a rime, there was a king..." The difference is, they peaked in a time where their adaptation to the big screen can make companies lots of money.

"And in related news, China has removed the “term-limits” on its presidency."
By China, you mean Xi. Why not? What will America do?! What will America's leader do? Twit "I am with Xi"?

"a time when"

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You, sir, are poorly informed. While most are generally literature for young adults, they are hardly for illiterates. And they would be classed as fantasy/sci fi, not fairy tales. And <>? You are less than poorly informed, now you are putting forth your own fantasies, based on some alternate reality. Both American comics and Japanese manga are generally fierce promoters of individual responsibility.

Sorry, for some reason the posting cut out half of the pertinent text.
"Comic books are the illiterate’s fairy tales." You, sir, are poorly informed. While most are generally literature for young adults, they are hardly for illiterates. And they would be classed as fantasy/sci fi, not fairy tales. And "Benevolent dictatorships (or authoritarian technocracies) are a not so deeply hidden wish for many comic book writers."? You are less than poorly informed, you are putting forth your own fantasies, based on some alternate reality. Both American comics and Japanese manga are generally fierce promoters of individual responsibility.

"And “Benevolent dictatorships (or authoritarian technocracies) are a not so deeply hidden wish for many comic book writers.”? You are less than poorly informed, you are putting forth your own fantasies, based on some alternate reality. "

If it's my fantasy, how do you explain, Wakanda or Krypton or Asgard (comic book version) or Aquaman (King of Atlantis), etc.

Maybe, but isn't a contributing factor just the fact that kids aren't going to understand the finer points of proportional representation systems and this being a comic book, you don't have much room to explain it, so it's easier to construct fantasy worlds with kings and whatnot, because every kid knows what a king is?

"Benevolent dictatorships (or authoritarian technocracies) are a not so deeply hidden wish for many comic book writers."

Batman is quite an authoritarian. Enforcing law as he sees fit without due process or any sort of judicial or other review.

See also The Avengers and Justice League.

Am I the only one horrified by the political primitivism on display in Black Panther?

Wakanda....a dictatorship, where absolute rule is conferred upon the physically strongest member of an aristocratic line! A land of "blood-citizenship" (no immigration!) and entirely tribal in its political make-up! A high technology country dominated by atavistic displays of animism and spears. A land of tremendous resource wealth but utterly autarkic. It's a wonder they didn't have a civil war ever 5 minutes.

Director sez: "Oh sure, you African's can have umm....spaceships and nanotech...but...you know...you'll never have white people's advanced.... institutions ....Moohahahaha! "

Jeff R wrote "Kids aren't going to understand ... proportional representation". In that case we're all doomed and we might as well give up now.

“Both American comics and Japanese manga are generally fierce promoters of individual responsibility.”
They are ridiculous. Grow up, freak! Flying cape-wearing aliens are fantasy, not sci-fi.

Mencius Moldbug's utopia pretty much.

WACHINA FOREVER!

It has always been the case that the biggest cities and most prosperous countries have been on rivers and oceans to take advantage of trade. Very isolated regions have always fared poorly. Wakanda would have had to invent almost everything itself and could not benefit from comparative advantage. But it is a comic book after all.

? Nothing in the quoted abstract suggests that the author is aware that Wakanda is a fictional place. While fiction may bring us some interesting speculation on subjects like "the role of political institutions in affecting the long-run economic, political, and technological development of a country," surely it is asking too much that it help us "understand" them. Surely the answer to the question of how "Wakanda has avoided the re-source curse that has plagued so many other countries" is that that's what the authors of the fiction decided.

The point is, how much disbelief can we suspend?

I've read lots of economic critiques of Atlas Shrugged, albeit none scientific. There's also a paper on the economics of Star Trek.

Papers like these at least attempt to bring fantasy down to Earth. These stories are INTENDED by the authors to project their actual utopian visions.

I've encountered people who say "socialism is good because Star Trek is a socialistic future and it's good."

So that's one reason to critically analyze. Another is that this might be the only economics paper that some people read.

"“socialism is good because Star Trek is a socialistic future and it’s good.”"

And it never occurs to them that Star Trek is the future from the Pentagon's POV?

Do the role out the Pentagon in the credits somewhere?

"Do the role out the Pentagon in the credits somewhere?"

The entire series is about Star Fleet Command and various ships and bases. There's very little mention of civilian life or the civilian economy. Surely you noticed .....

+1

Star Fleet seems almost synonymous with the highest levels of Federation policy-making; they build their own ships, deliver resources, conduct diplomacy and trade deals, make policy on the hoof, and sometimes shoot up the neighbourhood when they feel like it. Are there no other institutions in the Federation save the Great White Fleet?

The subtle militarisation of the polis is everywhere. There is little talk of elections or politics.

"socialism is good because Star Trek is a socialistic future and it’s good.”

To be fair, it is the same logic of "socialism will make everything decay because I read Atlas Shruged" or "Stalin was bad (OK, he actually was) because he was Big Brother and Big Brother can watch everyone all the time and find any vesrige of opposition".

I agree it's the same logic. But if you do a "paper" about Star Trek or Wakanda in this case, trying to imagine how fiction (that is probably not coherent, that is, in real life, Wakanda could probably not be like that in total isolation) supports some political ideas, you give ammunition to support ideas without the intellectual work to actually support those ideas.

In any case, what I see as a difference is that Atlas Shruged is a realistic story, in the sense that the world inside the book is the same as ours. In Black Panther, the world there, Wakanda in particular, has some magic ore that gives them all the advantages. So it makes no sense trying to study if the economic system could be used in real life. I mean, unless you can develop a magic component that gives you that technology. So, it's nonsense. Although probably fun to read.

"Nothing in the quoted abstract suggests that the author is aware that Wakanda is a fictional place.
Maybe he is not.

I like attempts to ground fantasy in naturalistic explanations. You can talk to me about the naval strategy of the Galactic Empire, or the feudal surplus of Gondor. I'm cool with that.

But Wakanda strained disbelief on too many levels: too small in capacity, too isolated in trade, too remote in location, too primitive in political institutions. Even with magic vibranium.

It apparently lacks even basic internal consistency. On the other hand, it's based upon a comic book.

How isolated is this place supposed to be? Did they independently invent the wheel? When was all of this technology supposed to have been developed?

Being a superhero comic, there's room for technological diffusion among the Wakandas of various continuities. All Wakandas knew of the wheel shortly after it was known to any Wakanda. This being of course the best of all possible worlds.

I was surprised that an isolated country could become such a techno-marvel. Even Tony Stark was relying upon the ability to call upon a modern economy of billions of people to build his Mark II.

Seeing that they were a country of millions of people made it a little easier to accept, enough that I could just decide to let the suspension of disbelief ride.

The climax of the movie showed why they really really need to invent Constitutional Democracy. Having that kind of military under control of whoever wins ritual combat was a disaster waiting to happen until it inevitably did happen.

True, but apparently there were some de facto checks and balances. Every dictator has to fear betrayal by powerful underlings close to him.

There's a lot of really ridiculous stuff in the Wikipedia pages of comic characters for obvious reasons, but I think his takes the cake.

" During these preparations, T'Challa invented a potent mystical-scientific hybrid art called "shadow physics" and was able to use it to craft shadow weapons and to track vibranium on a quantum level."

God help you if you are wrong about the location of vibranium by a planck length

+1. Good grief, yes. I was appalled at how unstable Wakandan institutions were in conjunction with the power of the state. Had no Killmonger-style maniac never seized the throne before?

And a few million people seems way too small to support all the ancillary industries an advanced civilisation requires. Even countries the size of the US and China would struggle to be autarkic as Wakanda. Autarky is much, much easier with poverty than wealth.

The economy of Iron Sky makes an interesting comparison. An isolated group of Nazis surviving in a colony of the dark side of the moon develops enormous nuclear powered spacecraft, while never developing cellular phones or even modern computer technology. Someone should do an Iron Sky vs. Black Panther film, because that would be fun.

I guess I need to read that.

Someone should do an Iron Sky vs. Black Panther film, because that would be fun

I'd pay to see that.

Especially if the Wakandans had Disney level special effects and the Space Nazis had Finns playing a joke, and then they played the thing straight. I can see the digitized papermache Nazi Moonbase being assaulted...

I did not see the movie.

What are the economic uses of vibranium?

Anyhow, individual liberty is so 20th century.

It's so 19th century. Communism is so 20th century.

Still, what are the uses of vibranium besides flavor-enhancing Tide pods?

Well in Avengers Rise of Ultron I saw yesterday, it can be converted to energy to power a machine to raise a town thousands of feet in the air and can create a super-powered creature through a cloning process.

Captain America also has a shield that cannot be penetrated so it would have obvious military uses, creating invincible tanks for instance.

It's magic unobtanium plot metal.

Basically, anything the writer wants to explain in Wakandan society.....vibranium did it.

In the comic books, vibranium is a metal that can absorb almost any level of shock, so as an armor it is nearly impenetrable. It also mutated the flora and fauna in Wakanda, most notably the "heart-shaped herb" that the Black Panthers eat to gain their super strength.

In the movies, it does that, but also is a power source.

So, like that other African superherb, khat?

Khat!
You got some? Fresh?

Better than Vibranium!

It is a miracle material, an unlimited energy source and a benevolent mutagen.

It also has an effect on local flora and fauna, and I suspect that Wakandans in general have superior health, strength and intelligence just from everyday contact with the material. Black Panther himself goes beyond that from consuming part of a plant that mutated from the Vibranium.

As a question to the group and to Tyler, which fictional utopia has the most realistic political economy?

Based on the podcast interview with Andrew Weir, Artemis might be a good candidate there. I certainly enjoyed thinking about the world more than the story itself.

Artemis isn't really a utopia. It's a small city state fighting off a mob takeover.

Pala.

Thank you Thiago, yes... absolutely Pala.

I should really revisit Island now I have more economic and spiritual understanding. It was amazing a decade ago when I was just an egg, now it could actually really hold some secrets to apply in the real world.

After exams :)

Why does a tribe of mountain dwelling vegetarians have fishermen?

Ha! THat was my first thought too. Charitably, when he said they were vegetarians, he was talking specifically about his children, so maybe other members of his tribe were meat eaters.

I thought "vegetarians" was a joke. In any event, I laughed.

And that was about the only time I laughed.

Did anyone else notice how less jokey this movie was compared to the rest of the MCU oeuvre?

Speaking of mindless researching.

"Black Panther offers an opportunity to understand the role of political institutions in affecting the long-run economic, political, and technological development of a country."

No, it's fantasy.

It is telling of Africa's general political and economic failure when their best and now most celeberated country comes from a comic book. Also it's not a illustration or working out of complex political ideals ala Thomas Moore's Utopia, but rather a childish ideas made without even a basic research into contemporary economics and politics. Essentially it comes from the same school of thought that produced AIDS government conspiracies, bizarre slaughtering of this historical record on Egypt , or secert African civilizations with rocket ships before honkeys showed up. So no real economic, rather than say literary, analysis is possible.

Singapore!

Yeah...but Singapore is almost an Anti-Wakanda

No mineral wealth or endowments of any kind but a strategic harbour. Strong institutions. Ferocious traders. Global cosmopolitans. Alliance-builders. Small(er). Tertiary not primary industry. I suppose they are at least fairly ethnically homogenous and hard-to-emigrate to, but there the comparison ends.

The paper does not cite any of the literature on Wakanda's economy produced by its own Ivory League economists. I am disappointed that Tyler did not condemn this attempt to silence the Wakanadians' own voices. He is not as woke as I thought he was.

There are no economists in Wakanda! It is an utopia.

They sneaked into utopia by dressing up as scientists.

I am sure an advanced civilization can tell real scientists and social scientists apart. Ours almost can do it!!

The more advanced the civilization, the more advanced the bullshitters.

So there is no hope left. No paradise on Earth.

Tenured ?

Does it show?

This is a joke, right? The man spent 26 pages explaining the NON-EXISTENT country of Wakanda, because of a movie AND a comic book. OMG, some people REALLY need to get a life, or take their own.

To be fair, it was more because the movie. I mean the comic book has existed for a long time.

James Cameron should have taken an Econ course before making Avatar because the idea that space-faring humans couldn’t think of any thing to trade for Unobtanium was so ridiculous that it ruined an otherwise good movie.

Good point, due to the relative scarcity and comparative advantage within a country, it can always trade beneficially with a poorer country, though you will note that the Wakanda version of unobtanium is not unlike China's stockpiling of rare earth metals a few years ago on not economic grounds but national security grounds (they wanted the West to beg for the minerals).

Bonus trivia: this is the 64th comment and there's 64 squares on the chess board, coincidence? Yes, it just so happened and it happens all the time with me.

Clearly the smurfs were not willing to trade, and it seemed like pretty easy going for awhile.

However the magic of unobttanium and ftl space travel you would think Earth would not be so awful, or that it could afford cheap neuro surgery for trained soldiers.

"...or that it could afford cheap neuro surgery for trained soldiers."

Or maybe troops smart enough to fly above the trees on a bombing mission?

Heehee.....because otherwise Avatar would have ended 2 hours earlier with all the blues addicted to the sky-mans' firewater and herded onto reservations.

As it is, we are left to assume the defeated human ground forces simply divert a large asteroid into Pandora and harvest the unobtanium from the broken shell of the world....

Vibranium = cobalt

Wakanda = Congo

[The world's major producers of cobalt are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, mainland China, Zambia, Russia and Australia]

Cobalt is found in beer, as an anti-foaming agent. With sometimes disastrous consequences. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dow_Breweries

Bonus trivia: I saw Black Panther in a Manila theater, and had to agree with the critic who said killing off the villain was a mistake. He was a good villain, and should have been allowed to live for the sequel. I also am reminded however this same critic said Wakanda was a rebuttal to Trump's views on blacks, which is comical since Wakanda is fiction. Finally, the "snow tribe" that is depicted in Wakanda is comically racist in the sounds they make, like a gorilla. The sight of grown black men making gorilla sounds looked a bit over the jump-the-shark top.

"this same critic said Wakanda was a rebuttal to Trump’s views on blacks, which is comical since Wakanda is fiction"

What are Trump's views on blacks, actually?

He just loves them so!

The Marvel movies have been killing off the best villains. Only a handful of villains have survived any of the movies, and they've all been treated as "normal" criminals. There was even a bit about it in the "All Hail the King" one shot.

If Vibranium was so valuable it of necessity must either:
1. Be extremely rare or
2. Be extremely difficult to extract or process ( which is a form of scarcity)
The best Hollywoood Marxist "Labor theory of value" explanation for the value of precious metals was presented in "Treasure of Sierra Madre" where Walter Huston explained to Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt why gold was so valuable ('ain't good for nothin' exept jewelry or teeth") in Tampico flophouse.

Thus for it to be exploited rare and therefore to keep it would require armed force, a state to assure it's exclusive access. Today, look at the gold producing areas of Brazil, Latin America and Africa. Artisan exploitation of mines and rivers usually involves avoiding gov't enforcement of monopoly of extraction and highly exploitative condititons of the labor force involved.
(South Africa).

For a Waganda to exist on this planet a "strong state" would be needed to enforce exploitation and defend monopoly access.

The model in the African Diaspora would be Haiti's "Kingdom of the North" under Christophe, in the name of national defense forced Haitian newly freed slaves to work on the plantations of their former master to be exploited by the new Haitian ruling class.

In the east under Boyer the peasants were able to win an right to cultivate land as small farmers.
Christophe's regime although constructing world class wonders like La Citadel and Sans-Souci palace the regime was ruthless and was overthrow and Christophe shot himself with a silver bullet. ('Emperor Jones' with Paul Robeson has a fictional depiction of Christophe presented)

Thus this movie is more reactionary than "Birth of a Nation" and "Hidden Figures".

It's a comic book.

So was "V for Vendetta", Alan Moore's commentary on the Thatcher administration of the UK. As the advert says, you can lern a lot from a dummy.

Really? You learned from the Watchmen?

"Why the Economics is not STEM" in one link.

This post proves that Xi has just watched Black Panther. :)

A bit weird to talk about the resource curse - obviously that's only a factor for countries engaged in international trade, which Wakanda is not.

As for the plausibility of Wakanda's ridiculous level of technological advancement despite its small size and isolation, my head canon is that the core issue is vibranium making it much, much easier to generate and use electrical power. So the Wakandans discovered reliable electric power generation, along with the concept of technological progress, when they (and everyone else on the planet) were basically still at the caveman stage, and have been very slowly advancing ever since. And of course along the way they keep discovering new ways that vibranium gives them big advantages over outsiders. It's all a bit hand-wavey since it's justifying a fictional scenario that wasn't exactly built with a priority on plausibility, but it works as well for me as any of the rest of Marvel's worldbuilding.

Hmm, on looking at the actual paper it seems to about the comics version rather than the movie version of Wakanda, which has some major differences.

I think the author under appreciates some other features of Wakanda. In the Marvel Universe, Vibrainium also is known to enhance the effects of magic. Ingesting the heart shaped herb doesn’t just give one super soldier powers, it is deadly to people who are not prepared for it, and it connects those who are survive ingestion to the astral plane where they can connect with all kinds of mystical nonsense including the panther god. So while wakanda and its rulers appear isolated from the rest of the physical world on earth, they are actually exchanging ideas with and learning things from other beings from all over the astral plane. In the comics, T’Challa abdicates the throne of Wakanda which goes to his sister, but he takes on an even more powerful position of authority as King of the Dead. So I dont think we can really say what David Hume would think of that. Maybe, “What’s more likely, the wholesale suspension of the natural order of things, or that an African king should tell a lie?”

Damn it; the economists didn't factor magic into their estimation of Solow growth models! When is macro going to accurately reflect the real world?

"Next, a comparison is made between Wakanda and the nation of Botswana. While there are some telling similarities, the lack of democracy in Wakanda is a glaring difference."

Is Wakanda also run by De Beers Group of Companies?

Wakanda remembers me of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates - a tribal monarchy made rich because of a precious resource.

+1

Wakanda has incredible technological development, seems to have a population in the millions and yet is ruled by a monarch who seems to rule without much of a bureaucracy or connection to the country. Notably, this incredibly developed literate country appears to have no media to speak of. There are also relatively few spectators at the king's coronation ceremony and no evidence it is of any interest to the greater population - no reporters, no television or any similiar technology, not even a sketch artist. The change of kings also happens without any repercussions outside the palace - the population isn't informed of the change in any obvious way, and neither the Black Panther faction nor the usurper faction even appeal to the people for support or legitimacy. The only conclusion is that most people in Wakanda don't care about the characters we are seeing on screen. The Wakandans off screen presumably live their own technologically assisted happy fulfilling lives, and let a small group of inbred pseudo-aristocrats play at being royalty and interact with the outside world. As long as the pseudo-royals don't bother anyone I guess they are tolerated but is there any evidence they have much actual political power?

No Wakandan ever leaves without permission (or covert surveillance). Or blabs "the secret" to the outside world. Did I mention they are all marked at birth by the state?

Think North Korea, with better standard of living.

Botswana is not a democracy. Having elections doesn't make you a democracy.

The Economist's Democracy Index rates it #28 (behind Portugal & Chile, ahead of France). US is ranked #21.

(Citation: http://pages.eiu.com/rs/753-RIQ-438/images/Democracy_Index_2017.pdf)

To assert that STEM graduates are less likely to question and change the status quo than Liberal Arts graduates is to ignore the last century of history where most change is driven by technology.

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