Friday, June 18, 2010

Trade and Barter

Chicken for Checkups?"More than Enough" in Jonah Hex #56 by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Phil Windslade,
DC Comics (2010)

In the old west, people used to barter goods and services all the time. Witness here how Porivo offers Jonah a horse in exchange for one night of his services as a hired gun.

Had Jonah been a doctor instead of a bounty hunter and had Porivo been offering chickens instead of a horse, this would come pretty close to what certain officials want for our current health-care system.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Repulsor Technology for All

Tony Stark explains his plans for world domination.  I mean, world peaceInvincible Iron Man #27 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca, Marvel Comics (2010)

After a year of running from Norman Osborn while having his memory banks slowly exterminated, Tony Stark has been "rebooted." Now with Osborn gone and his mind restored, it's to rebuild Stark Industries. Only Tony no longer wants to focus on weapons manufacturing and distribution.

Instead, he is starting a new enterprise, Stark Resilient, which promises a business model focused on fostering international cooperation and ushering in an era of world peace. How does he arrive at this goal? Simple. By providing the world with an alternative energy source, his patented repulsor technology, Tony hopes to one eliminate Earth's dependence on fossil fuels.

A pretty decent plan. After all, as we discussed in an earlier post on alien technology and economic growth, the best way towards economic growth is the free and unfettered dissemination of information and technology. In this sense, Stark was doing a great disservice to the world by keeping this technology for himself. He could have powered more cars, produced more electricity, heated more homes, etc.

And yet we know exactly why he kept it secret, don't we? He was afraid that this technology would fall into the wrong hands, which would ultimately cause more harm than good. Hell, this is the entire premise of Iron Man 2. It's also what caused the Plutonian to go berserk in Mark Waid's Irredeemable.

Now he's come around. Whether this will have the intended consequences remains to be seen. Let's just hope more Russians don't start attacking speed racers.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Markets in Everything: Death Rays

Ever wonder what the quickest and most inexpensive way to become a supervillain is? Chris Sims over at Comics Alliance has a suggestion: buy a high-powered laser/death ray:

I'm not sure what purpose the Spyder III is meant to serve (other than the obvious fact that lasering is its own reward), but I do know that it's not your average laser pointer. Take a look at the safety warning that accompanies the product description:

Warning: Extremely dangerous is an understatement to the power of 1W of laser power. It will blind permanently and instantly and set fire quickly to skin and other body parts.

Instant blindness. Sets fire to skin. Looks like a lightsaber.

Guys. That is a portable Death Ray. And it costs less than $200. I don't think I'm overstating things when I say that this is going to revolutionize super-villainy.

Chris is absolutely right. The "Wicked Lasers" website cites a laser-powered home theater projector as one possible use for the Spyder III portable blue laser. But who are they kidding?

My only concern (aside from an increase in supervillain activity) is that an open market for villainous weapons like these might start providing too much competition for the real heinous and clandestine weapons manufacturers. This might, in turn, lead to even more violence.

Should this, then, be an externalities post?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ecocomics Week in Review 06/11/10

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.

Printed at

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Markets in Everything: Superpowers Edition

Max Damage learns of the superhero markets.Incorruptible #2 by Mark Waid and Jean Diaz, BOOM! Studios (2010)

The world of Mark Waid's Irredeemable and Incorruptible is a scary place. The Plutonian, Earth's former greatest superhero, continues to wreak havoc on major cities, killing millions of innocents in the process. The global economy has all but collapsed. Unemployment has hit something close to 30%. Riots flood the streets of the cities. Anyone still alive lives in constant panic that he or she will be hit next. The worst part: there is no escape. The Plutonian is basically Superman-- he can travel quickly through any of the four dimensions. He has super-hearing and x-ray vision. In short: no one is safe.

Well, maybe.

In Incorruptible #2, we learn that David Orjean, a corrupt biochemical engineer, claims to have developed a method to transform ordinary humans being into superhumans, with powers that could apparently rival that of the Plutonian's. What's more is that he's been making these claims for years, even before the Plutonian went rogue.

We know that there's a market for superheroes. Given the opportunity, many people would elect to have a procedure done that would allow them to fly or teleport or whatever. Even in the black market, Orjean would still attract some pretty good business.

One problem: Orjean has no success record. Apparently instead of successfully delivering on his promise of superpowers, he severely cripples his subjects. Oops.

This raises some interesting questions.

First, why do people continue to buy his product when there is a documented failure rate.? Even in dire circumstances like, say, a godlike villain destroying the world, I'd still be skeptical. I understand that desperation causes people to do some silly things. But come on! The probability of successfully procuring superpowers from Orjean is somewhere close to 0. Moreover, the utility of having such powers is uncertain! There are plenty of superpowered people in the world. An entire superhero team, in fact. All of them are in hiding from the Plutonian: the most powerful being on earth. Even with powers, does anyone really think they're going to be safe? Not to mention, Orjean doesn't even tell you what the powers are going to be. Talk about asymmetric information.

The more interesting question is whether we could live in a world with (successful) superpower markets. Clearly, black markets would have many unintended negative consequences. If people could go purchase superpowers from a crazy engineer, then there is a strong potential for abuse. We'd see much more supervillainy!

However, suppose we legalize the buying and selling of superpowers. If heavily regulated (extensive background checks on potential customers, heavy taxation, etc.), what would be the outcome?

Turns out there are books that tangentially deal with this issue. Warren Ellis' No Hero, for instance, tells the tale of a government-sponsored agency with access to technology that gives humans superpowers. These human candidates are screened, prepared, and then trained for a career in superheroics. And they've been policing the world for years.

Of course, this is just a government agency. What if the market for superpowers were privatized? What if there was competition, innovation, and the incentive to produce really terrific superheroes?

Unfortunately, the world of No Hero isn't a bright one and Ellis isn't shy about declaring the dangers of this sort of technology. Superheroes, apparently, shouldn't be created and traded like commodities.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Arguing Against the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics

I'm extremely late to this, but a friend linked me to this post by Matt Yglesias from all the way back in 2006 on what he called the "Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics." Here is an excerpt:

As you may know, the Green Lantern Corps is a sort of interstellar peacekeeping force set up by the Guardians of Oa to maintain the peace and defend justice. It recruits members from all sorts of different species and equips them with the most powerful weapon in the universe, the power ring.

The ring is a bit goofy. Basically, it lets its bearer generate streams of green energy that can take on all kinds of shapes. The important point is that, when fully charged what the ring can do is limited only by the stipulation that it create green stuff and by the user's combination of will and imagination. Consequently, the main criterion for becoming a Green Lantern is that you need to be a person capable of "overcoming fear" which allows you to unleash the ring's full capacities. It used to be the case that the rings wouldn't function against yellow objects, but this is now understood to be a consequence of the "Parallax fear anomaly" which, along with all the ring's other limits, can be overcome with sufficient willpower.

Suffice it to say that I think all this makes an okay premise for a comic book. But a lot of people seem to think that American military might is like one of these power rings. They seem to think that, roughly speaking, we can accomplish absolutely anything in the world through the application of sufficient military force. The only thing limiting us is a lack of willpower.

I don't take issue the assertion that neoconservatives of the Bush era naively believed that the United States could solve the world's problems by exercising military power. Nor do I disagree that this isn't the best way of approaching international relations.

No, I'm merely surprised that Yglesias is using the Green Lantern as a point of comparison. According to him, the power ring is the American military. It can only be wielded properly by someone with sufficient abilities to overcome fear. Completing the analogy, this would mean that Hal Jordan (or whoever you favorite Green Lantern is) is really George W. Bush, commander of the American military. The Guardians of Oa, then, are basically the people who elected Bush & Co., believing he possessed the requisite skills to command an army.

Sure, the Guardians of Oa award power rings to only those members they consider having surpassed a certain threshold of bravery, fearlessness, and willpower. But having the "guts" to engage in international military conflict isn't exactly what the Guardians had in mind. In my view, the power rings are not awarded to individuals with enough fearlessness to use them, but with enough fearlessness not to.

No one would be afraid of using a power ring haphazardly. It's a power ring. It's awesome. Who wouldn't want the opportunity to shoot things with it and fly around in space? Any fool can put on a ring and blast away to his or her heart's desire. The idea is, however, that when faced with a crisis, the fearful people would be more willing to use the power ring in vastly excessive and inappropriate ways. This would more likely distrub the peace, rather than preserve it.

This is why the Guardians gave the ring to Hal, someone who they thought possessed the ability to use the ring only when absolutely necessary. In this context, "willpower" does not mean overcoming your fear of using power offensively. It means overcoming your fear of abusing the power. It means having restraint.

As evidence of this, consider what happens to Hal after the destruction of Coast City. He attempted to use the power ring solely for personal gain (i.e. to rebuild the city), an action the Guardians condemned. In response to this, he attacks Oa in a forceful, but ultimately futile attempt to gain control of the Central Battery, which eventually allowed him to be taken over by Parallax, a demonic and parasitic fear agent.

What we see here is that Hal's hubris, which was in fact brought on by fear (not courage), weakened him enough to be possessed and subsequently resulted in the death of several of his fellow Green Lantern corp. The lesson is that fear is associated with the abuse of power, whereas true courage and willpower is associated with caution, thoughtfulness and restraint.

To further amplify this, take a look at who the Guardians chose as Hal's replacement: Kyle Rayner. Recall that rather than being a fighter pilot like Jordan, Rayner was actually a struggling graphic artist living in Los Angeles. Not exactly the image one conjures when thinking of a traditionally brave, fearless person, right? Yet, the Guardians were shrewd this time. Though this was never apparent, my guess is they wanted to avoid a repeat of the Hal situation. So, they gave a power ring to someone with a gift for creativity; someone who they viewed would think critically about the most effective ways of using this new found power.

I'd be interested to hear what Yglesias (and of course you guys) thinks about all of this.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Externalities: Week of 06/07/10

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

#3) Subways

Wolverine: Weapon X #13 by Jason Aaron and Ron Garney, Marvel Comics (2010)

Logan has a bad habit of driving people's heads into subway cars. Even if they are terminator-like assassins from the future sent to the present day to wipe out all superhero threats.

Perhaps this isn't an exteranlity at all. It might be completely intentional. Maybe Logan just has a thing against subways.


#2) The Golden Gate Bridge

X-Force #27 by Craig Kyle, Christ Yost and Mike Choi, Marvel Comics (2010)

With the "Second Coming" story arc/crossover in full swing, the external damage keeps on coming. See that orb in the first panel? That is a spherical portal located at the center of a large, impenetrable dome encapsulating all of San Francisco, including Utopia (the X-Men's new island home). That dome apparently causes lots of damage to the city. Oh yeah, and the Nimrods--super sentinels from the future sent by Bastion to kill the X-Men--are doing their fair share as well.


#1) The Grand Canyon

Irredeemable #14 by Mark Waid and Diego Barreto, BOOM! Studios (2010)

Aha! Somewhere in the corners of the universe (apparently, over at BOOM Studios), superheroes are cognizant of the effects that their weekly battles have on innocent bystanders, private and public property, and the environment. Here, we have former members of the Paradigm, Earth's premier superhero squad, preparing for a battle with the renegade Plutonian, who spent the last few months systemically destroying city after city. To prepare for the battle, the team sets up camp at the Grand Canyon, an area with currently no bystanders, cars, buildings, sidewalks, subways, or mailboxes that they might accidentally blow up with plasma lasers.

Smart move, guys.


Feel free to send us your favorite externalities of the week. We'll throw them up on next week's post and credit your name.