Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ecocomics Recession Watch: Amazing Unemployed Spider-Man Edition

"Brother, Can You Spare a Crime?" in Amazing Spider-Man #628
by Mark Waid, Tom Peyer and Todd Nauck and Lee Weeks, Marvel Comics (2010)

When we last left Peter Parker, he was fired from his job at city hall. Now, we catch a glimpse of the unemployed life, as Peter experiences difficulty keeping the roof over his head. As he mentions, there was a time when he could just secure a freelance job taking photos for The Daily Bugle. But in the midst of this recession, it seems that such gigs are harder to obtain than usual. Not to mention The DB was recently destroyed!

One minor nitpick here: I don't know where he pulled the "one million other New Yorkers" statistic. As of March 2010, there were about 400,000 unemployed living in NYC. Statewide, the number of unemployed residents was about 831,800. Granted, if Peter was talking about the entire state (which I doubt), then his estimate of one million would have been closer. Even still, rounding up by over 150,000 is a big deal.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Riddler's Brilliant Crime Fighting Strategy

Gotham City Sirens #10 by Paul Dini and Andres Guinaldo, DC Comics (2010)

Say what you will about the Riddler's constantly wavering loyalties and his psychological obsession with puzzles. The man still proves himself, time and time again, to be a brilliant strategist.

Whereas once he was one of Batman's greatest foes in the long list of rogues, the Riddler is now one of Gotham's more successful (and legitimate) private investigators. This means that whenever Batman is working a pretty rough case, the Riddler usually wiggles himself into it. It's a wonderful plot source, as this tends to drive a wedge into Batman's own detecting process. Is this a permanent change? Hard to say. However, it has been going on for quite some time and the only signs we have of the Riddler's return to villainy are minor.

It looks like he's in it for the long haul. But we have to ask ourselves the following question: how exactly does the Riddler stay successful?

We need a little bit of background first.

You see, Gotham City law enforcement is organized in a strange way. We actually went over this a little bit in our post on signalling and Batman's crime-fighting strategy, and also here in our post on the effect of superheroes on local law enforcement. Basically, we have a city that is a breeding ground for crime. And not ordinary crime. We're talking about a supervillain haven. Gotham City is polluted not only with ordinary muggers, burglars, robbers, murderers, rapists, mobsters, drug dealers, and thieves, but also with the nutjobs you've come to know and love.

This is why we have law enforcement. Unfortunately, the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) is simply ill-equipped to deal with all of these problems. They could barely handle the widespread criminal activity and systemic corruption before the appearance of any supervillains. Now they are completely overwhelmed and this is all coupled with the fact that the Gotham City budget keeps shorting the department. Less equipment. Less manpower.

This means that the GCPD has to prioritize. Obviously, catching The Joker before he sets off a bomb in Gotham Square is more important than patrolling the narrows to prevent ordinary muggings or drug deals. Yet, even with all police resources focused on supervillain threats, we still don't see results. The crime rate stays up, supervillains are still on the loose, and people are murdered every day.

The police are, simply put, not intelligent enough or equipped enough to handle destruction on such a grand scale.

Batman, of course, has the brains and resources to handle these supergeniuses. After all, he is one himself. And he is almost always the one who rounds up these villains and brings them back to Arkham. The police force--especially Commisioner James Gordon--can help, but it strikes me that this help is usually no more than offering minor clues.

If we were to adhere to the principles of comparative advantage here, then it would be clear that the GCPD should then let Batman handle the supervillains by himself (or with his cohort of Bat-friends), while the force exclusively focus on smaller crimes. However, this does not happen. In fact, the police keep going after the big guys alongside Batman. Inevitably, they get frustrated when he steps in on their game. It makes them look like they are incapable of performing their jobs and so department funding gets pulled all the more.

All of this is explored in Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker's wonderful Gotham Central.

Indeed, this is a strange system. One would think if the police department was being constantly overshadowed by Batman and overlooked by city hall, then this would provide more of an incentive to make low-level, easy arrests and build up stats. At the same time, the police department cannot officially support a vigilante doing its high-end work and I suppose it cannot project the appearance that it is weak on supervillainy either.

Where does the Riddler fit in? Well, apparently his success lies in the fact that he mostly takes on smaller cases. The same ones that are beneath Batman's pay grade and the same ones that the police ignore as they attempt to reign in Mr. Freeze.

It's actually a pretty brilliant strategy. It allows the Riddler to simultaneously earn a "fat check" while establishing his reputation in the community as a legitimate problem-solver. Of course, he doesn't want to be stuck with the reputation of being a guy who takes on easy cases. So every so often, he throws in a hard one, wherein he steps on Batman's own detection process. In effect, the Riddler is edging out the GCPD from law enforcement completely (although he claims that his strategy helps him establish credibility--I just don't see it).

Good for the cops? Absolutely not. Good for society? Who knows. Good for the Riddler? Absolutely.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Externalities: Week of 4/26/10

Superheroes fight crime and save lives. But by doing so they impose certain costs on people not directly involved. These are superhero externalities.

Rather than
do a separate "externalities" post for each disaster, I thought I might try sharing all of the best ones from the week in a single post.

Here we go:

Uncanny X-Men #523 by Matt Fraction and Terry Dodson, Marvel Comics (2010)

Cable and Hope are on the run from Bastion, a "super-sentinel from the future hellbent on exterminating all mutants." Bastion's goons have tracked the pair of heroes to a little motel and have begun to surround the joint.

The only way out? Heavy destruction of city and personal property, of course.

Wolverine: Weapon X #12 by Jason Aaron and Ron Garney, Marvel Comics (2010)

Hate waiting for the subway? Bet you would hate it even more if the A train was regularly delayed by underground superhuman battles.

Here we have Captain America attempting to escape an army of Deathloks, powerful Terminator-like cyborgs sent back in time from the future to eliminate the superheroes that would one day pose a threat to their reign. The chase leads Cap down into a subway station, where a group of innocent bystanders are trying to get home from work.


Ultimate Avengers #6 by Mark Millar and Carlos Pacheco, Marvel Comics (2010)

Ultimate Captain America is not faring much better. Currently, he is using his ship to teleport around the world in search of the evil Red Skull. Too bad his flight skills are getting in the way.

This is, of course, a Mark Millar comic, so there is no shortage of pointless destruction. What's particularly fascinating here is how little Captain America seems to care about this blatant destruction and potential harm of others individuals.

Anything to get the job done, I suppose.

Amazing Spider-Man #628 by Roger Stern and Lee Weeks, Marvel Comics (2010)
Click to See More

Ah, a classic maneuver. During an airborne chase/battle, Spider-Man and Captain Universe crash through the window of a health club, damaging not only the window, but some expensive equipment. And they're not even members!

Interestingly enough, Spider-Man actually recognizes that innocent people might be getting hurt during the battle. Following this episode at the health club, he leads Captain Universe to an abandoned field so that the two could continue fighting, while only imposing minimal damage to third parties. It's nice to see that Spider-Man has a sense about these things, as opposed to, say, Ultimate Captain America.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 #34 by Brad Meltzer and Georges Jeanty,
Dark Horse Comics (2010)

I saved the best for last. If you're a Buffy fanatic and have not yet heard the identity of Twilight, then you should turn away from this post immediately because here comes the MASSIVE SPOILER. I'm serious.

OK, it's Angel. Buffy and Angel have been reunited at last. The first thing they do, obviously, is have some sex. Sounds innocent enough. Hell, they've done it before and the only result was an evil Angel.

Here's the problem. Buffy has recently been granted extra superhuman powers, which she was able to harness from recently fallen slayers. Meanwhile, Angel is, um, pretty powerful too. Apparently, when two especially powerful beings like Buffy and Angel get it on, the universe reacts. And not in a good way.

Remember the infamous love scene between Superman and Wonder Woman in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Strikes Again? This is even worse. To balance out the enormous surge of power, the universe has to kill off a bunch of life or energy or something. Honestly, I'm not exactly clear yet what's going on. But Giles was not subtle in saying that Buffy's happiness is uncontroversially bad for the world. Tidal waves. Volcanic eruptions. The works.

That's right. Buffy and Angel want to be happy. The only cost is on the rest of the world. I'd say that's a pretty big externality.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ecocomics Week in Review 4/23/10

Part of our job at Ecocomics is to inform readers of the latest ecocomics news stories. With that in mind, we present to you, straight from the editor's desk of THE DAILY BOGGLE, the WEEK IN REVIEW, a summary of the week's most important events.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Prisoner's Dilemma

Cooperate or Defect?"The Question: Pipeline" in Detective Comics #863 by Greg Rucka and Cully Hamner, DC Comics (2010)

The Question and the Huntress are kidnapped by a sinister organization of international human traffickers. They are each tortured in separate rooms and urged to reveal their plan to the captors. If each holds firm, the criminals learn nothing (though both might still be held and tortured). If one squeals, she might be released. If both squeal, the captors learn everything (and both will likely get killed).

Sound familiar? Good--it's the Prisoner's Dilemma. If they were both behaving rationally, each would obviously squeal on the other for the chance of release. However, the optimal outcome would be if both say nothing.

See here for more superhero applications of it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Somewhat "For Profit" Model: Secret Six

A while ago, I spoke about the questionable actions of Marvel's Mercenary character, Deadpool, in terms of his actual profession. You see, Deadpool is ostensibly a mercenary who performs contract jobs for profit. But recently he's been fighting monkeys and trying to be like Spider-Man (somewhat unsuccessfully I may add) instead of mercenarying. Yes I just coined that word.

So rather than deal with his somewhat problematic life views, I thought I would discuss a mercenary group that actually does mercenary work for profit. Kind of, sometimes, maybe. The Secret Six.

Cover art from Secret Six #1, art by Cliff Chiang

Secret Six is a group composed of several quasi-villains (at the moment: Catman, Deadshot, Bane, Ragdoll, Black Alice, and a Banshee) who accept all those dirty jobs that pop up in the DC universe and do what they need to. Kind of like the A-Team with less morals and more dismemberment. Anywho, the Secret Six started off pretty well by accepting a paying job to protect (quite literally) a "get out of hell free" card which would save an individual from eternal damnation if they held the card in their possession. This worked out fairly well, until they decided to destroy the card because it was too dangerous to be in the possession of the vile individuals who sought it (including the vile individual who was paying them to get it).

Then the Six were hired to protect an experimental prison, until they eventually felt the prison was immoral and decided to free the captives. One of the few jobs I can remember them actually completing was breaking a murderer out of jail, but only so the father of one of the killer's victims could have personal revenge. The Secret Six start out well when the go on a mercenary mission. They try to actually perform mercenary tasks for profit. And they usually almost complete their assignments. But then, at the final moment, one of the Six usually has a pang of conscience and brings whatever evil plan they are being paid to complete crashing down.

And why do I bring this up you may ask? Well, I bring this up because, like Deadpool, the Secret Six are very poor at doing what they are paid to do. Are they vicious? Yes. Are they organized? Somewhat? Are they entertaining? Assuredly. Do they actually complete any job they set out to? Nope. Morals stand in their way. And this makes the Secret Six a compelling read and makes the characters themselves somewhat sympathetic in an anti-hero sort of way. But this also makes the organization of Secret Six a very poor for-profit model.

If I were a character in the DC universe and I was thinking of employing a mercenary team for a dastardly deed, I'm afraid I would need to look elsewhere for help. In fact, I think I would need to file a grievance with the Better Business Bureau regarding Secret Six.

This is of course assuming that there is a Better Business Bureau in the DC Universe. And assuming that said bureau polices the quality of villainous mercenaries. But you get the idea.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Following Up: Captain America and Unemployment

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

Two weeks ago, we did a post concerning Bad Cap's views on Keynesian economics. Recall that Bad Cap thinks that infrastructure and military spending during World War II helped to bring new industry to America, provide people with jobs, and eventually all but extinguish the unemployment rate in America. Our discussion mostly focused on the inconsistencies between these beliefs and those that Bad Cap now possesses. We detailed a few arguments on whether fiscal policy during World War II actually helped to put an end to the Great Depression, or whether it was really other factors (monetary policy, for instance).

But let's go back to Bad Cap's actual question. He asks himself why the United States' current conflicts abroad seemingly have no effect on unemployment today, whereas World War II helped drastically reduce unemployment in the 1940s.

Well, first of all, the U.S. was already involved in the Iraq War and Afghanistan before the Great Recession actually hit. The 1920s was a relatively quiet decade for America with respect to international conflicts. Remember Harding, Coolidge and Hoover? Isolationist foreign policy? Post-WWI "Return to normalcy?" When World War II hit, America had significantly increased its spending to prepare our troops for war.

Second, there is the issue of the draft. There are certainly debates regarding the extent of the impact of conscription on unemployment, but there was indeed an impact. American citizens went to war who would have otherwise been unemployed. There is no draft today, so this effect is smaller.

Third, today's warfare is less labor intensive and the same level of military activity requires fewer personnel.

To see this, let's look at the spending. Indeed, the second world war was expensive--economist Joseph Stiglitz estimated the cost to be approximately $5 trillion in 2007 dollars (adjusted for inflation). Current military operations are expensive too. As Stiglitz writes:

The cost of direct US military operations - not even including long-term costs such as taking care of wounded veterans - already exceeds the cost of the 12-year war in Vietnam and is more than double the cost of the Korean War.

And, even in the best case scenario, these costs are projected to be almost ten times the cost of the first Gulf War, almost a third more than the cost of the Vietnam War, and twice that of the First World War.

However, as he put it, WWII saw 16.3 million U.S. troops in a campaign for four years. It required the total mobilization and virtually all of the country's resources fully committed to fighting. Total cost of the war was less than $100,000 per troop in 2007 dollars. The Iraq war, according to his estimates in 2008, have cost around $400,00 per troop.

Where is all of this going? Tough to say. In fact, the defense spending budget in recent years has been pretty confusing. In 2008, for instance, President Bush requested from the Department of Defense $481.4 billion for discretionary military spending, which goes to "ensure a high state of military readiness and ground force strength; to enhance the combat capabilities of the United States Armed Forces; to continue the development of capabilities that will maintain traditional U.S. superiority against potential threats; and to continue the Department’s strong support for service members and their families." However, the actual spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan apparently come through "emergency supplemental requests"--the request being about $193 billion in 2008. And there is more. Nuclear weapons research, intelligence gathering, State Department operations in war zones, and allocations towards the "Global War on Terror" technically do not fall in the DoD budget.

And then, of course, there is Stiglitz's famous three trillion dollar total cost estimate. All this is to say that we are spending a considerable amount of money on defense and military of some sort (if you total all the various sources of expenditures), but we are not seeing the same sort of total mobilization we saw in World War II. As mentioned above, much spending today goes towards development of sophisticated technology, nuclear research, etc. These are sorts of things that aren't likely to reduce unemployment in the same way as it may have during a war of full commitment such as World War II.

I'd be interested (as I'm sure Bad Cap would) if anyone could find a more specific breakdown of current military costs.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Ecocomics Week In Review 04/02/10

Part of our job at Ecocomics is to inform readers of the latest ecocomics news stories. With that in mind, we present to you, straight from the editor's desk of THE DAILY BOGGLE, the WEEK IN REVIEW, a summary of the week's most important events.


Image created at

Externalities: Wolverine and Women Edition

Superheroes fight crime and save lives. But by doing so they impose certain costs on people not directly involved. These are superhero externalities.

Wolverine ponders the dangers of getting involved in a new relationshipWolverine: Weapon X #10 by Jason Aaron and C.P. Smith, Marvel Comics (2010)

Ah, the classic superhero externality. Wolverine has chosen a life dedicated to fighting crime and putting himself at danger for the greater good. Unfortunately, this means that every individual who elects to be involved with him on a personal or intimate level is automatically put in danger as well. This is precisely why superheroes wear masks.

You can see here that Wolverine's proposed solution is simply to not get involved. He implicitly values his obligation to fight crime more than his desire for romantic attachments. Mentors and friends have advised--some even ordered--that he always keep an arm's length. The goal is to minimize any externalities on innocent parties not part of the superhero/supervillain game.

Consider the case of smoking. Smoking imposes a cost on society in the form of second-hand smoke risks. As a response, legislation was put into place to prohibit smoking in bars, restaurants, etc. in various cities. This way, smokers are free to smoke their cigarettes, although they pay the cost of having to wait outside in the cold instead of being comfortable in their bar seats.

From Wolverine's point-of-view, he is basically imposing the same sort of legislation on himself. He is forcing himself to stand outside in the cold so as to not poison innocents with his second-hand smoke. Had he not done this, I'm betting Scott Summers, acting as the de facto government, would have ordered it.

But what happens in a situation like in Wolverine: Weapon X #11? In this case, he is not after the girl, but the girl (Melita Garner) is after him. And she won't take no for an answer. What we have here is someone who would rather Wolverine not smoke cigarettes at all (i.e., not fight crime), but would rather be together at all times with him smoking than force him to do it outside.

Bureaucracy in the Afterlife

Tommy Taylor applies for membership to the afterlifeThe Unwritten #11 by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, Vertigo (2010)

Apparently, they keep pretty tight records even in the afterlife. I mean, look at all the hoops Tommy has to jump through in order to get through the gates. What about when he applies for insurance? Do you think the afterlife has competing plans?

I can't imagine what the DMV must be like.