The Political Economy of the Hunger Games (outsourced)

April 2nd, 2012 at 10:36 am

Last Friday’s interlude was outsourced to the youthful KM, who posted something that had something to do with the Hunger Games—(or not—following the origination is a little like the financing of CDOs).

This generated a probing question from a commenter: “Is there such a thing as “economics of dictatorships”?  The model in the book is an interesting one– a centralized administrative state with a dozen vassals, each of which produce, essentially, one commodity.

The vassals are all kept impoverished and the central state is undeniably wealthy. Effectively, the vassals are prison camps. And the central state is a police state– watching everyone, everywhere, and imprisoning the majority of the populace.

Assuming that the central state provides all of the guards/soldiers/administrators and that the vassal states make just enough for the wealth of the central state and to keep the other vassals just above starvation, can that work economically?”

So I asked KM to take a stab at the answer and here’s her interesting response:

Others around the blogosphere have taken on this topic, for example, Mattew Yglesias writing for Slate.  Using the theories in Why Nations Fail, he argues that a state like Panem, with its concentrated wealth sustained by near-slave labor, could exist in real life.  This is because Panem operates an extractive economy, exploiting cheap labor to yield a relatively high production of goods [Why Nations Fail divides the political economy of nations into ‘extractive’ vs ‘inclusive’—JB]. 

This makes perfect sense in the case of natural resource extraction, but it’s not so clear how well this theory applies in the case of producing advanced technologies like computers or weapons.  For me, the question remains how sustainable such a political economy can really be, since there’s no economic incentive to innovate.  How are the advanced technologies we see in the Hunger Games even possible? 

The answers to those questions are at least hinted at in the novels, where we get a glimpse of how the Districts differ from one another in terms of both the goods they produce and their relative prosperity.  We also see in the novels (and the film) that the Capitol provides food aid, though for a price.  Finally, I would argue that Panem isn’t so much one nation as one hegemon (the Capitol) sustained by the exploitation of the rest of the world’s resources.  Now that doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

[OK—I guess I’ve got to read these books.  I hear the movie’s better if you’ve read them.–JB]

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5 comments in reply to "The Political Economy of the Hunger Games (outsourced)"

  1. bakho says:

    If you want to see an extractive exploitative economy in action, take a trip to the coal mining areas of West Virginia. It was much worse in the days of the company stores and conditions that sparked the mine wars in 1921.

    The HungerGame books operate on the common success formula. Create a compelling character who attracts sympathy from the reader. Torture the character and have them resist and overcome the evil.

    IMHO- these books take the torture of the main character over the top. The author takes all the hopeful relationships of the main character and destroys them all one by one.

    I preferred the Golden Compass but they probably won’t make the sequel because in the books, they kill God.

  2. Phil Perspective says:

    Would it really work in real life? Just look at North Korea.

  3. George Martin says:

    Your recent post is the first I’ve ever seen that mentions the non-consumer use of oil. I have long pondered, in light of peak oil, etc., what is going to happen to plastics and chemical industries when oil really gets scarce?

    Just about everything we use (oh, and fertilizers, too) comes from oil. When the price, and eventually availability, get really difficult, what does the economy do?

    I suspect future generations are going to be very upset with us for driving away all the oil in gas-sucking big cars and SUVs.