The “Race to the Bottom” and how it makes us all poorer
The “Race to the Bottom” and how it makes us all poorer
Before Daniel Craig appeared in the 007 franchise and “delighted” us with the blandest James Bond ever, Pierce Brosnan played that iconic secret agent in four films during the ‘90s (actually, the last one was released in 2001, but it’s pretty much the same). All were great for Brosnan’s performance, plots showing the writers took note of Globalization’s effects, “Bond girls” who are smart and capable instead of being just trophies, and the villains; but the second movie, Tomorrow never dies, was just the best.
The movie’s villain is Elliot Carver, a mass media mogul whose power has got an almost worldwide reach; he’s a Lex-Luthor-esque villain, but his megalomania is very evident, he has fewer scruples, and unlike the villains of many 007 films, he’s frighteningly plausible. Many compare him with Rupert Murdock, but I think it’d be more appropriate to compare Carver with Göebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister and the one responsible for Hitler’s coming to power in the first place. In these times when there are global monopolies and the media play a role more preponderant than ever, it’s good to know there were people in the film industry who not only addressed these issues but also tried (and succeeded) to do so in a way that entertains and doesn’t look or sound like a mere documentary. When my family and I saw that movie for the first time, it struck really close to home because it was almost the same as what happens in countries like Argentina, Brazil and Chile.
In the USA, there are large media groups with huge influence on public opinion, but these groups are many and may have different political ideologies and interests, and at least there’s something that could more or less be called “a competition”; in Europe, there are Right-wing media, such as “El País” in Spain and some others in France and Great Britain (I don’t quite remember their names), but there are also some media more critical and a little more akin to the Left, such as “The Guardian” in Great Britain and “Le Monde” in France. But in Argentina, almost all the media are part of the Clarín Group or have some link with it, and something similar happens with the newspapers “O Globo” and “El Mercurio” in Brazil and Chile respectively; this creates a situation dangerously similar to what happened in Germany before and during Hitler’s government: the concentration of media in the hands of only one person or organization (Göebbels in the Germany of the '30s, the Clarín Group in Argentina since the '70s at least) allows manipulating public opinion as that person or organization pleases, so one same reader/viewer/radio-listener may believe in ideas opposing to each other without never thinking about it or questioning anything. And in my country, the Clarín Group collaborated with the Dictatorship of 1976-1983, their interests and political ideology coincide with those of transnational corporations (which are not exactly altruistic, as is already known), and they can make people accept things that would normally make a scandal in Europe and even the USA.
Whoever wrote the screenplay for Tomorrow Never Dies were true visionaries. The Internet may now play a more important role than it did two decades ago, but the chance of the media to be capable of doing something like that is still very, very real.
In conclusion… Watch that movie. Just watch it. You guys won’t regret it, I promise.
anyway, Disney buying out all of these other companies is terrifying and should be regulated, thanks
Liberalism by Mises, on Monopolies
The Boys is a dark disturbing super inappropriate for kids show on Amazon Prime based on a Garth Ennis comic that takes Alan Moore’s cynicism about superheroes to new and often horrifying extremes. It features a group of “heroes” that mirror DC’s Justice League but whose wholesome appearance is nothing but a marketing ploy by a big corporation that wants to sell merchandise and who are in fact horrible people drunk with power who don’t care about anyone else at all.
I know what you’re thinking. You assume I’m going to say that a big corporation would never do anything like that because business is good, right? Well, you’d be wrong. I think the crass corporate cynicism, the terrible behavior by the superheroes, and most of the choices characters make in the show are actually quite realistic – with one glaring exception.
Part of the plot of The Boys revolves around the Vought American corporation trying to get approval from an incredibly reluctant federal government to allow superheroes into the military and turn what is essentially a sports celebrity marketing agency into a fully fledged defense contractor. Out of all the fantastical and unrealistic aspects of the show, this is the one thing I think is complete nonsense.
And with that in mind, welcome to Out of Frame.
Okay, before we go any farther there will be some fairly mild spoilers for The Boys and a few other movies, TV shows, and comics. Don’t worry though. I’m not going to ruin anything.
So, why do I say it’s unrealistic that a major corporation like Vought American would want to become a defense contractor? Because there’s no chance that Vought would not have already been defense contractor. Their whole business model and the ability for their superheroes to cause massive damages to people and property with immunity from prosecution requires special privileges from the government.
To really understand this we’ve got to start with a lesser-known concept in economics called monopsony. This is related to but not to be confused with “monopoly”. And we all know what that is, right? Monopoly is when a single company has total market control over a given product or industry. One business, no competitors, lots of buyers. Monopsony is basically the opposite of that. One buyer, lots of potential suppliers.
In free market economies, significant private monopolies are actually pretty rare. When they do pop up it’s usually because they’ve managed to secure some kind of legal restriction against their potential competition. Lots of legally enforced monopolies stick around a long long time regardless of how bad a job they do delivering the goods and services they’re supposed to provide, because the government has prevented new competitors from entering the market. On the other hand, monopolies without government protection, also called “natural monopolies”, do crop up occasionally; but they’re usually short-lived, because the minute they raise prices too much or the quality of their product goes down competitors enter the market and profit by offering consumers better stuff at lower prices.
“Natural monopsonies” are a lot less common. There are very few situations in which there’s just one person or organization looking to buy a product or service. Can you imagine there being just one single buyer for food, clothes, home construction, cars, bicycles, electric skateboards? What about bass guitars, pianos? Can you imagine a world where literally one company buys all the cellphones or internet service and nobody else is interested? No, of course not. We all want that stuff. For the vast majority of goods and services there are hundreds of millions, even billions, of potential buyers around the world and millions of entrepreneurs looking to profit by offering to give us what we want at prices were willing to pay. But there’s one glaring massive exception: government.
Governments at all levels routinely act as monopsony buyers of all kinds of things: police services, public education, water and power utilities. But nowhere is monopsony more prevalent than in the development and production of soldiers and weapons of mass destruction. From catapults and crossbows to surface-to-air missiles, from mustard gas to the atom bomb, governments all over the world have spent a massive amount of money and resources looking for more ruthless and effective ways to kill people.
So, getting back to The Boys let’s be real for a second. No, there’s absolutely no chance that the federal government would oppose the use of super-powered people in the military. If we want to inject some more reality into the show, Vought American should probably be a creation of the government, like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Bechtel, Halliburton, and a ton of other major corporations – nearly all of which only exists because they have enormous military contracts. Even inside the narrative of the show, local governments are paying Vought American for the privilege of having one of their superheroes in their cities. So clearly government contracts are already a part of Vought’s business model to some degree. But the idea that they wouldn’t be part of the Defense Department is absurd. Also to be fair, in the original Garth Ennis comics, Vought American is a military contractor and, like the other companies I mentioned, had been since World War II.
And look, tons of other comics, movies, and TV shows get it. There are plenty of government-created superheroes and villains. It’s really common in Marvel comics, from Captain America, Red Skull, and Hydra to Wolverine. In fact, the whole Weapon-X program created over 30 different super-powered characters: Deadpool, X-23, Marrow, Sabretooth. Plus there are a ton of defense contractors in that universe like Howard Stark or Hammer Industries. DC has the DEO, ARGUS, Amanda Waller and her Suicide Squad. They have the Watchmen. Plus we’ve seen the military and corporations working together to create more powerful instruments of death in all kinds of other shows and movies, from The Rocketeer to The Manhattan Project, The Aviator, and Stranger Things.
What a lot of people probably don’t realize is that as crazy as some of these stories are, real-life governments have been trying to create super soldiers and super weapons for as long as there have been wars. During World War II, the Nazis came up with some truly insane ideas, from their leviathan-sized, siege mortar tank dubbed “Thor” and the “Amerika Rakete” long-range missile, to their “Mammoth” transport plane with its 200-foot wingspan that looks a lot like Red Skull’s automated bomber in The First Avenger. And I really can’t think of anything more appropriate for a group of super-villains than the Nazis’ “Sun Gun” proposal, which would have involved building a gigantic reflector in orbit around the earth so they could focus the power of the sun on enemy targets.
Not to be outdone, communist scientists in the USSR like Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov and Vladimir Demikhov experimented with creating human-monkey hybrids and transplanting heads from one dog to another. And Stalin’s genetics director for the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Trofim Lysenko, was a true madman whose ideas on farming would go on to cause numerous famines in both Russia and China. As a side note, Lysenko had tremendous political power and a cult following, and with Stalin’s approval thousands of biologists and geneticists were in prison and executed for criticizing his theories.
Most of these doomsday devices and mad-science projects were never completed. A ton of them weren’t even possible to begin with. And the US isn’t off the hook here either. Always in search of better weapons and more effective soldiers, our government has put together some pretty shocking experiments as well. Like MK ULTRA subproject 68, which sounds like a lunatic conspiracy theory, but was actually a real-life CIA program conducted through their Office of Scientific Intelligence with the help of the US Army’s Biological Warfare Laboratories. It was run by a prominent Scottish psychiatrist named Donald Ewen Cameron. He experimented on live human subjects with hypnosis, electroshock, and drugs like LSD, hoping to improve subjects brain power and perception, to slow or increase their rate of aging, to enhance subjects ability to withstand torture, and even to brainwash people and install new behavioral patterns. Of course, MK ULTRA didn’t end up creating Captain America. Instead, Cameron’s program developed a form of torture called “psychic driving”, which involves drugging victims with LSD and blasting them with looped audio messages thousands of times in order to break down their personalities, and presumably to reshape them into something else. At least one subject from those experiments, Frank Olson, was ultimately driven to suicide. What’s even crazier, we wouldn’t know about any of this at all were it not for an investigation by the Church Committee and a Freedom of Information Act request in 1977 that uncovered 20,000 documents about the program. Unfortunately, by then most of the records had already been destroyed by CIA Director Richard Helms. But turning creepy reality back into art, the MK ULTRA program also generated a ton of ideas for movies like Grant Heslov’s The Men Who Stare at Goats and Max Landis’ American Ultra.
The real-life programs we know about today our more technologically based, like DARPA’s Neural Engineering System Design initiative or the US Army’s plan to develop a Tactical Light Operator Suit or “TALOS”. And here’s the thing, the way that they develop this technology is not by waiting for private companies to randomly invent horrifying weapons. Because that doesn’t actually happen. What does happen is that the military offers multi-million dollar contracts to private companies that develop these things for them. Any private company like Vought American tried to do what these governments did on their own would go out of business very quickly. If not because they went broke from a lack of buyers and endless R&D failures, because they’d be convicted of reckless endangerment of the public, kidnapping, torture, possibly war crimes and all their executives would be in jail.
But governments are different. In addition to being the monopsony buyer of WMDs, they have one other unique trait that allows them to endlessly fund these kinds of projects: unlimited money. It’s either taxpayers paying for all of this stuff or governments printing money and creating inflation to cover their bills. And there’s very little transparency around any of it. So we don’t know if all that money is being spent wisely at all. But probably not. Historically speaking, the US government has a terrible track record of making smart investments. But I mean, when you’re not spending your own money and nobody knows what you’re buying anyway, there’s no real incentive to get it right. Politicians, military leaders, and bureaucrats are all willing to pay a ton of money to anybody that promises to help them come up with more effective methods of killing because, well, governments have a monopoly on waging war, and they’re the only groups buying the tools.
So, in the same way that market entrepreneurs will try to profit by creating value for regular consumers political entrepreneurs try to profit by finding ways to capture taxpayers’ money. Economists generally call this behavior “rent seeking”. Hundreds of billions of dollars get funneled to private companies every year through the Department of Defense. And unlike companies operating in the private sector where their products have to create value for voluntary buyers in order to succeed, success or failure for companies like Vought comes down to how politically well-connected they are. That’s why I’d argue that nominally private companies like Vought American actually only exist as a creation of government. They would never be able to operate the way they’re presented in The Boys. There’s no qualified immunity for private citizens. Companies that make stealth bombers and RPGs don’t find private buyers. To run that kind of business Vought would have to have always been a military contractor.
And that’s really the point here. Vought Americans products, like "Compound V”, would have gotten their start as government research programs. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not you think all of this military technology is good or bad, but there is no other buyer for that kind of product. There’s no other entity in society that can protect the company like Vought from being held accountable for the damages they and their superheroes routinely cause except government. And there’s no one else with an unlimited supply of money to pay for it all. All those incentives combined can add up to some totally unchecked, awful behavior. We’ve seen it play out again and again in real life. The Boys shows plenty of that, but it also flips the reality of how it actually happens on its head.
Fortunately, knowing how we end up with unaccountable mad scientists and big corporations cooking up devastating weapons also means we have a shot at stopping it from happening in the future. In the end, war is the root of all of these problems. So one obvious place to start is by supporting peace in international relations as much as possible. One way we can do that is by encouraging more trade and cross-cultural interaction around the world. Another thing we can do is require more oversight and transparency in government spending. The more power politicians have to play with taxpayers money without any way to hold them accountable the more they’ll use it in ways most of us don’t want. Lastly, as a culture I hope we’ll all get better at appreciating the difference between genuine entrepreneurship and political rent-seeking. Private companies should be creating value by making goods and services that benefit voluntary consumers who pay with their own money. Most are doing exactly that, and it’s a very good thing. But some companies have grown to be the biggest in the world by seeking political favoritism. And it’s important to be extremely cautious about that kind of business model. And it’s even more important to be cautious of empowering government to spend billions in secret creating the means for those kinds of businesses to exist in the first place.
If you’re thinking about checking out The Boys and you aren’t squeamish, I would recommend the show. But remember, not everything you see on TV is realistic…and I’m not talking about the superheroes.
Another downside to gun manufacturers being owned by conglomerates is the death of innovation. A parent company will kill a subsidiary’s fledgling product that competes with another subsidiary’s new product. It’s generally believed this is what led Remington to end the .30 RAR, which showed promise, after DPMS announced the GII rifle.
John Sherman, an Ohio senator, spurred the 1890 antitrust act that was the first legislation against monopolies.
‘Our business treats you like family.’
Okay I may not always get along with my family, but the end of the day they would not aim to pay me s*** wages which would make sure I could not afford to live on my own while offering no benefits whatsoever. Then overworking me, understaffing us, not updating equipment to keep it safe, I’m pretty sure my family would never do that to me. So I think that’s just a slogan that you try to embed in people’s brains so we try to associate you with something good when you’re not.
There is no such thing as a Noble Corporation, conglomerate, or Monopoly. Don’t ever believe that b*******. You don’t get to become that big and that rich because you did the right thing. It’s because you did the wrong thing subtly enough.
I can’t wait until Disney and Amazon own everything but each other and then have to have an epic anime battle to see who the alpha mega-company really is.
The Streaming Industry will Collapse. Here’s why.