Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hate You Forever

The National Bureau of Economic Research may say that the Great Recession officially ended in the middle of 2009, but we all know the labor market still has a long way to go. The market for supervillains, in particular, has been insecure for years. Indeed, many up-and-coming individuals just dripping with malice and cruelty, as qualified as they may be, are having trouble securing positions in name-brand villain societies.

Good news for them: Dr. King Oblivion, PhD has written a book dedicated to those considering a career in supervillainy. It's called Hate You Forever: How to Channel Your Rage Into Effective Supervillainy. Here is a description:

Looking for a way out of the rat race? Tired of your ho-hum workaday life? Have an inexplicable love of turning human beings into inanimate objects? Then professional supervillainy, with tips from the experienced veterans at the International Society of Supervillains, might just be for you!

This guide is your personal look inside the tricks of the evil trade, from defining your nefarious goals, acquiring your treacherous credentials and creating your evil persona to building your army of henchmen, selecting your equipment and base of operations and carrying out your dastardly master plans. So get those laughing lungs ready, recruit, and do some bad out there!

The book even contains a section on financial planning--something supervillains definitely need to be aware of if they are to succeed in the current economic climate.

HT: DaveExMachina

Ecocomic Recession Watch: ASM Edition

Peter Parker waits to receive unemployment benefitsAmazing Spider-Man #625 by Joe Kelly and Max Fiumara, Marvel Comics (2010)

It's been a while since we took a look at the effects of the economic recession in the Marvel Universe. The latest casualty? Peter Parker. It would appear that Pete has finally lost his job, despite previously surviving The DB's financial hardships (and later its literal destruction at the hands of Electro). Though he was quickly able to obtain new employment at City Hall through the ever-so-generous Mayor J. Jonah Jameson, Pete is finally out of work with not so much as a freelance gig to keep him above the federal poverty line.

OK, so this has very little to do with the recession. In actuality, some of Peter's latest (and quite frankly ethically dubious) actions have prompted Jameson to fire him in an very public manner. Now he joins the ranks of the other 9.7% of Americans forced to suffer through long unemployment lines and persistent insecurity.

And those guys don't have to buy web fluid.

Update: Some loyal readers pointed out that fact that Peter Parker shouldn't even be eligible to collect unemployment benefits, since he was clearly fired for gross misconduct (as opposed to being laid off or let go through no fault of his own). So what I meant to say was that he joins the ranks of the rest of the unemployed--not necessarily those waiting in unemployment lines.

Captain America, War, and the Great Depression

Captain America #603 by Ed Brubaker and Luke Ross, Marvel Comics (2010)

It's been a wild ride in the Captain America series. Steve Rogers died via magic bullet, traveled through time, faced off against the Red Skull, then finally came back to life with the help of Bucky. Now that all that's over with, the series take a turn and focuses on more pressing matters.

I refer, of course, to evil super-soldier clones and their political agendas.

In Captain America #603, "Bad Cap," created in the 1950s while the original Cap was in suspended animation, travels by bus from New York to Idaho and ponders the state of the economy along the way. He notices rows of empty houses and long unemployment lines and begins recalling the days of the Great Depression.

He then wonders why the Depression ended-- as the war brought "a wave of industry to America"--while current conflicts abroad make little to no difference on unemployment.

This is a strange thought. Though he doesn't explicitly state in his internal monologue that World War II caused the end of the Great Depression, he is strongly implying it. In fact, he is implying that the wartime spending and increased factory production helped reduce the unemployment rate domestically. Indeed, unemployment in the U.S. quickly fell below 10% after the war began and eventually all but faded.

This is in line with the major view shared by Keynesian economists and historians alike. That is, that massive military and infrastructure spending during the war increased the labor force, increased production, helped boost aggregate demand, and pulled the economy back from collapse. Paul Krugman referred to the war as a "large public works project." In this sense, many see the war--and fiscal expansion--as having been the primary cause of the end of the Great Depression

Of course, this is a subject of much debate. Many attribute the reduction in unemployment during WWII more to the draft than war spending. There are also arguments citing other factors (aside from fiscal policy) that accelerated GDP growth and economic recovery. These debates about the effects of war spending on the Depression aren't exactly new--and many have been resurfacing given the parallels with the current Great Recession.

For instance, in a piece written for the Wall Street Journal last year, economist Robert Barro argued that the fiscal multiplier during World War II was actually less than we thought. According to him, the multiplier was something closet to 0.8, meaning that gross domestic product (GDP) rose by less than the increase in government expenditures (whereas if the multiplier was a flat 1.0, each unit of government spending would have led to a unit increase in GDP):

The other way to put this is that the war lowered components of GDP aside from military purchases. The main declines were in private investment, nonmilitary parts of government purchases, and net exports -- personal consumer expenditure changed little. Wartime production siphoned off resources from other economic uses -- there was a dampener, rather than a multiplier.

A notable paper written in 1992 by economic historian, Christina Romer, entitled "What Ended the Great Depression?" argued that fiscal stimulus played a relatively minor role and that recovery mainly stemmed from monetary expansion--that is, gold inflows into the United States during the 1930s led to lower interest rates, which encouraged more investment and eventually increased aggregate demand.

Regarding World War II's effect on the economy, Romer wrote:

That monetary developments were very important, whereas fiscal policy was of little consequence even as late as 1942, suggests an interesting twist on the usual view that World War II caused, or at least accelerated, the recovery from the Great Depression. Since the economy was essentially back to its trend level before the fiscal stimulus started in earnest, it would be difficult to argue that the changes in government spending caused by the war were a major factor in the recovery. [...] Thus, World War II may indeed have helped to end the Great Depression in the United States, but its expansionary benefits worked initially through monetary developments rather than through fiscal policy.

Does all this mean proponents of fiscal expansion are wrong today? Well, no. In fact, according to a speech Romer delivered in March 2009, the idea that monetary expansion played such a large role does not necessarily negate fiscal policy as an effective recession-fighting tool:

I wrote a paper in 1992 that said that fiscal policy was not the key engine of recovery in the Depression. From this, some have concluded that I do not believe fiscal policy can work today or could have worked in the 1930s. Nothing could be farther than the truth. My argument paralleled E. Cary Brown’s famous conclusion that in the Great Depression, fiscal policy failed to generate recovery “not because it does not work, but because it was not tried.”

In response to those "small multiplier" arguments, Krugman likes to point out that there was rationing during the war (i.e. governments tried to curb consumer spending to conserve resources).

I won't say where I personally fall in the debate, though I will say that I'm surprised Bad Cap seems to take the Keynesian position so strongly. You might recall that he has recently grown angry with what he views as a significant departure from America's fundamental values. He refers to current politicians and policy-makers as "hippies" and "commies," presumably for pushing legislation predicated on government spending and taxation. The same sort of spending that he seems to think worked before! Well, at least for unemployment. He even joins the radical right-wing militia group, the Watchdogs, in an attempt to "reclaim" America and uphold the values of "real Americans."

Bad Cap repeats the claim that America's integrity has fallen since the time of his childhood, but he doesn't seem to be sure how. Perhaps he is a strong believer in wartime Keynesianism, but is skeptical of spending government money on social welfare. I wonder what he thinks of the 1960s and Medicare. Had America already lost its values by then?

Either way, he's been through a lot, what with the super-soldiering, being an evil clone, and the mental instability thing. Maybe he just, you know, changed his mind?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Artificial Evolution Achieved, Used to Kill Mutants and Not Cure Cancer

Dark Reign: The List - Wolverine #1, cover by Esaad Ribic

A recent appearance of "The World" in the Dark Reign- The List: Wolverine reminded me of some misgivings I've had since "The World" was introduced in Grant Morrison's New X-Men run.

To explain, "The World" is a dome structure created by the Weapon Plus Program (the original program Weapon X is derived from) to achieve artificial evolution. Within the confines the The World's dome, Weapon Plus scientists are able to move time forward at an extremely accelerated rate. Based on this, the scientists in Weapon X are able to artificially manipulate the course of evolution and directly change the course of how organisms develop. They can selectively breed individuals to create new strains of DNA as they see fit. These are the kind of things that can be achieved when you are a secret evil organization with no concerns about morality.

Now I just think it's interesting that with all this technology at their disposal, Weapon Plus decided to create a mutant-killing superhero team as their goal. This seems somewhat natural since mutant extinction is the entire goal of the program. Weapon Plus wants to create super-soldiers and murder mutants. But this seems somewhat short-sighted since artificial evolution has billions of uses. They could examine disease resistances, the origin of genetic disorders and traits, and cure every ailment that humanity has ever suffered.

But what does Weapon Plus actually use artificial evolution to do? Why, the decide to make an anti-mutant superhero team which will eventually murder mutants live on a reality TV show. Thank you writer Grant Morrison. At least the fine people at Weapon Plus decide they will use their discovery to make money (the action figure rights alone to a real life superhero team would be incredibly lucrative).

Ultimaton, one of the super-soldiers artificially evolved by Weapon Plus, art by Chris Bachalo

Furthermore, The Dark Reign: The List one-shot seems to suggest that since the X-Men last busted up the plans of Weapon Plus, "The World" has been sitting by unutilized by any forces. That's right, not only has mankind achieved artificial evolution, they forgot they achieved it. Apparently an artificial biosphere has been sitting somewhere in the continental United States for the last 5 years and no-one thought to check up on it. Somewhere there is a scientific discovery with boundless possibilities for the future and it is being treated like a broken refridgerator.

Bravo Weapon Plus. Bravo. Someone needs to manage their assets a wee bit better.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Madison Avenue VILLAINY!

Cover to the Captain America: Secret Empire Trade Paperback, art by Sal Buscema

While paging through the Captain America: Secret Empire trade paperback, I noticed an interesting plot point.

The main focus of the story involves an underground organization called the Secret Empire trying to discredit Captain America as America's #1 hero and replace him with their candidate, Moonstone.

So how does the Secret Empire go about discrediting Cap? They use a Madison Avenue advertising firm. And they choose correctly. The fictional ad firm belonging to Quentin Harderman frames Cap for murder and theft and makes Moonstone a hero for beating the tar out of Cap. And throughout the book, the Madison Avenue suits are only too happy to assist the Secret Empire in taking over America (and eventually, THE WORLD)! In fact, when the frame is revealed to different characters in the story (namely The Falcon, Professor Xavier, and Nick Fury) no one is surprised that Madison Avenue Ad Executives would stoop so low.

So this has me thinking: what evils does advertising have in store for us in the future? Is the marketing of the iPhone and the Snuggee some sort of harbinger for the doom to come?

Is Madison Avenue working against us right now?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Ecocomics in the Christian Science Monitor

Dear Ecocomics Fans,

First of all, we wanted to apologize for not posting so much over the past week. This is a busy time for us, but we assure you we will get back to posting on a more frequent basis soon.

Second, posts from this blog will henceforth be featured in the "Money" section of the Christian Science Monitor, along with many other amazing economics blogs. What does this mean for you? Just about nothing. Posts will appear both at this address and over at the Monitor's domain. So if you're already following us here or subscribing to our RSS feed, then you can (and should) keep coming back here.

Anyway, we wanted to thank all of you for reading, especially the lot of you who continue to comment on our posts, both engaging us intellectually and tickling our funny bones.

Finally, in light of the occasion, we thought it would be fun to finally reveal what we look like. I present to you, Shadowbanker and Mark!

Left to Right: Mark, Shadowbanker. Please do not share this with any supervillains.

Superhero Pre-Nups Completely Unnecessary

Cover to X-Men #30, art by Andy Kubert

In the wake of Valentine's Day, I've been thinking about marriage. And not just how rewarding marriage can be. There's that of course. But there's also the fact that sustaining a marriage is a lot of work. Marriage can be rough. You commit to one individual for the rest of your life. Probably. Well, 50% of you do.

Anyway, there's a lot that goes into marriage. You combine assests, pay the taxes of a married couple and unite yourselves emotionally, physically and economically. But marriage is even more complicated for the superheroic couple. Besides the fact that a superheroic marriage will be tested by unique concerns like alien invasion and the possibilty of having an affair with a demonically possessed spouse, superheroes have unique economic concerns when they are married.

This can be easily seen if a superhero couple contemplates divorce. If they seperate, how will assets be divided? Does one person get to keep the teleporting dog and the other get to keep the mansion on the blue side of the moon? Does the divorced couple get joint custody of the Fantasti-Car? Who gets to keep the Kryptonian crystal Fortress of Solitude?

These are important concerns. Important enough that you would think that a pre-nuptial agreement should be an essential part of any superhero marriage. But you'd be wrong.

That's because very few superhero marriages ever end in divorce. Disintegration yes, divorce no. Think about the average superhero marriage and realize that if you have super powers and a lover, you never need to worry about hiring a lawyer. Think about Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts. Did Pepper need to divorce her hubby to start making out with Tony Stark? Nope. The Spymaster took care of that when he made Happy fall to his death.

Emma Frost, art by Greg Horn

What about Scott Summers and Jean Grey? Did Scott need to go through years of litigation to decide who was going to get the Blackbird jet or deal with alimony payments because of his psychic affair with Emma Frost? Nope, Magneto took care of that for him when he murdered Jean Grey. Now Scott is free to engage in all sorts of debauchery with the White Queen.

So relax heroes. If your marriage is becoming difficult, relax. You won't have to wait long before some villain comes along and kills your annoying spouse. Take your time, start a profile on and wait for the sweet freedom of superhero singles life. And if your spouse simply refuses to go away, just make a deal with the devil and make her go away. If Spider-Man can do it, so can you.

Cover to Amazing Spider-Man #545