Friday, May 29, 2009

Alien Technology and Economic Growth: Lessons from Solow

(Guest Post from Metropolis)

From:  Tales to Astonish #62 by Lee and Ditko.  Reprinted from
Ever wonder why people in comics aren't teleporting to work, watching TV through a personal projection device while walking down the street, or attending seminars hosted by an android via group-telepathy?

Instead, the worlds in our favorite comics still have potholes, poverty, and petroleum-powered cars. In fact, aside from the occasional reality-bending crisis involving metahumans, it’s hard to distinguish our world from theirs in terms of technological progress or standards of living. This begs the question of what happens to all the alien wreckage after the Justice League fends off another alien invasion, or to the abandoned spaceships when interplanetary thugs with a grudge against Superman land on Earth. Do men in black immediately cart them off to secret government facilities and weaponize them? If so, then these governments are doing a great disservice to their people. The fastest way to achieve economic growth is through the free and unfettered dissemination of knowledge. Governments should encourage the private sector to develop commercial uses for all the space junk that winds up on earth, thereby simultaneously increasing both the capital stock and total factor productivity.

Aside from physical capital, economies must take advantage of their human capital to grow. But even with metahumans this is a tricky proposition. In an earlier post Mark discussed the potential benefits of having mutants performing tasks such as construction if they ever took a break from blowing stuff up. However, looking at economic development through the lens of the Solow model I feel that these mutants may ultimately prove unable to increase long-run living standards. Any effect that Magneto may have on productivity will only temporarily move the economy to a higher steady-state output per person (y/n). With his death the economy will move back to where it was (and probably experience some unpleasant distortions during the transition). The reason is that Magneto is essentially no different than a tractor or any other piece of capital equipment. He ages, depreciates and eventually dies. More importantly however, is the basic result of the Solow model: sustained growth in y/n can only be achieved if there is concurrent growth in our stock of knowledge and technology, something Magneto cannot contribute to. Without technological change, the economy will eventually reach a steady-state level of y/n and all growth will cease. Even so, the Marvel universe does have one ace in the hole, and he’s got a big green head!

Samuel Sterns was just an average Joe working at a chemical plant when he was exposed to massive amounts of gamma radiation. Thus was born The Leader, a villain whose only real power is superhuman intellect (maybe some telekinesis, but whatever). This guy probably has enough ideas in his head to keep scientists busy for millennia. Imagine the technological advancements that could be made if the government hooked him up with a research position! And if there’s one Leader, then it’s possible to have more metahumans with precariously large crania. Given the right incentives, maybe some of these bums turned mutant geniuses will come up with life-enhancing inventions like 3D holographs or a flying car. There should be grants and subsidies to promote their research activities and encourage investment into new technologies, so guys with green skin and giant brains can yell at MIT grad students instead of toppling civilization with armies of plastic humanoids.

Finally, aside from investment from within our planet, economic growth can be sped along by Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows from other civilizations. But what’s surprising is that with an entire galaxy of highly advanced civilizations, no interplanetary investment seems to be reaching earth. Capital should flow to where its return is highest. Being mere humans in a giant multiverse of galactic powers, it’s a fair assumption that earth is an LDP (less developed planet) with a comparatively small capital stock. According to the Solow model, alien entrepreneurs should be jumping at the opportunity to invest in Earth. Add a growing stock of technology from metahumans and falling debris and you can get productivity and standards of living rising indefinitely. The only thing I can think of that deters aliens from investing is the unstable sociopolitical climate. I mean, who really wants to deal with the risks of a Luthor presidency or an Emperor Joker? It seems that now, more than ever, the earth needs superheroes to stamp out crime so that other planets might feel safer about their investments.

Even without additional capital inflows, all people on comic book earth have a real shot at modernizing if the proper steps are taken. And it’s not just the responsibility of the governments, but also of the superheroes. The Green Lanterns have access to technology and information from all the planets in the galaxy. Superman can travel through space and time almost instantaneously and in fact spends much of that time in the 31st century with the League of Superheroes. It’s about time some of this technology makes it back to Earth.

After all, maybe one of those alien spaceships had a toilet that could conserve water more efficiently, or something. It can’t all be hyperdrive this and giant laser cannon that!

Superhero Decadence: Vanity

The world of the superhero is awash in eccentricity and excess. I suppose it's only natural to indulge in a little theatricality if your chosen profession is fighting evil in close-fitting costumes composed of spandex and leather. In spite of this it seems that, on occasion, a superhero can take things a wee bit too far.

This is especially true in the case of superhero vanity. It seems like the moment a superhero decides they will use their unique abilities and resources for the good of mankind, they then select a name and a symbol for themselves. And shortly afterwards, the superhero goes around plastering this name and symbol over everything they own. In some cases, it seems like the superheroes concerned are building a brand and increasing their own marketability by the manner in which they promote their heroic image.

Professor Xavier has "x"s all over his home and his students. Granted, these "x"s also refer to the "x-factor" in the genes of mutants, but I'm sure Xavier gets a certain degree of pleasure when he realizes that his last initial is emblazoned across Emma Frost's chest. Not to mention belts, guns, costumes, communicators, and an entire series of supersonic jets. The Fantastic Four use their special digit to stamp their flying car and (sometimes) even the building they live in.

The worst offender by far is Batman. Bruce Wayne created symbol of a dark knight defender whose mere presence would strike fear into the hearts of criminals. And then he integrated that symbol into every element of his crime-fighting arsenal. The bat-suit with its flowing cape and chest insignia letting you know just who you're dealing with. There's the batarang which can be thrown from long distances and left behind at a crime scene. The batmobile can be seen streaking through the night. Everything he uses is shaped like a bat. He even gave Commissioner Gordon a spot light marked with his symbol to shine in the night sky. The implicit purpose of all of this is to build the Batman mythos and give criminals the impression that he is everywhere. And though I still believe it to be incredibly arrogant to make everything you use shaped like bats, it's possible that doing so will deter criminals from engaging in illegal behavior by leaving behind these calling cards to show the consequences of committing crimes in Gotham City.
But then there's the Bat-plane.

Who even sees this vain aerodynamic monstrosity? Have you tried looking for a plane going Mach 3 while looking in between tall buildings? It's certainly not the most salient object in the night sky. And who exactly is deterred by a bat shaped airplane at 20,000 feet? Villainous 747 pilots and ill-tempered pigeons? No, the Bat-Plane is a sheer exercise in vanity. Any other shaped aircraft work just as well (or better) and would not require the needless expense of matching the design of a 6-million dollar vehicle to the little symbol you drew on your bat-chest. True, as a rich playboy, he's already the picture of excess, but why not buy a more maneuverable Apache helicopter from army surplus and use the leftover money to install more motion detectors and reinforced doors in Arkham Asylum?

So, regarding the Bat-plane, its utility is questionable but its ability to satisfy Bruce Wayne's personal bat fetish is undeniable.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Supernatural Disaster Insurance

Suppose you own the car that's being blown up in this image. You park, run into the convenience store across the street for some batteries, and then some right-wing armored militia blasts everything in its way as it frantically tries to kill Captain America with rocket launchers. No more car. Now what?

In an earlier post, Mark mentioned that the construction industry in the comic book world must account for a large portion of the economy. I bet there is also a lucrative superhero / supernatural disaster insurance industry to deal with these externalities.

How would this insurance industry be set up and organized in the comic book world? Certainly no one is chasing after Superman asking him to pay each time the Daily Planet globe is decapitated from the building. So who is paying? I think there are several options for how a system of insurance in the comic book world could work:

1) A comprehensive, public system. If this government pays for all the damages, then this would effectively be equivalent to having no insurance at all. Instead, the government would levy extremely high taxes from the general public ($18 billion per person per year by Mark's count) and use them to cover all the costs of supernatural disasters.

2) A mixed public/private system. Such a system could be organized any number of ways, but I think two in particular make the most sense. One could be a system similar to obtaining catastrophic insurance (or high-deductible health insurance plans), but in this case it would be paid for by the government. So the government would only pay for certain services, such as for damage caused by superheroes of supervillains to your home, and would only pay "catastrophic" expenses--those that exceed a certain predetermined amount in costs. Everything else would be paid for out-of-pocket by the homeowner. The other way is to establish a base government benefit for certain services (i.e. superhero destruction, supervillain destruction, destruction to your home, destruction to your car, etc.) up to a certain amount. Beyond this base benefit, individuals can elect to purchase supplementary insurance to cover services not included in the package.

3) Market-Based System. This would work exactly like insurance markets work on real Earth. Multiple insurance companies would compete, offer coverage for different services related to superhumans, and charge premiums for that coverage. Likely there would be some significant administrative costs, since most coverage would probably be purchased at the individual level. Furthermore, premiums would be rated by region. That is, if an individual lives in a particularly active area of Metropolis or Keystone City, superhero insurance premiums would be much higher than they would for someone living in Kansas, where there is no action unless Darkseid takes over the entire world (but seriously, how rare is that?)

I will post my views on which system is the best later, but for now I'd love to get reader opinions: Which system makes the most sense in the comic book world? Is insurance necessary at all? A few things to keep in mind:

1) If a public/private system were put into place, should insurance be mandated? If not, then how would they prevent the richer individuals from opting out of the system, thereby increasing average premiums and shrinking the market?
2) Are there any measures that can be taken to minimize the amount of superhero destruction?
3) Should premiums be rated any other way than just by region?
4) What should be included in the base benefit?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Superman, New Krypton, and Labor Unions

From Superman: World of New Krypton #3 by James Robinson, Greg Rucka and Pete Woods (2009)Over on New Krypton, Kal-El (formerly Superman) is having trouble negotiating a peaceful resolution to a very dangerous hostage situation. Members of the planet's labor guild have taken Alura, commander of the Kandorian people, as well as several other prominent members of the Council hostage. Though General Zod, who is now Kal-El's superior in the military guild, ordered him to use force to dissolve the attack, Kal-El resolves to listen to the guild's demands. What are they? Simple enough: the workers demand shorter work days so that they can see their families and reduce the illnesses they had been suffering from being overworked, exhausted and malnourished. They are also demanding some form of health care, sick leave, and other social benefits common in Earth's workplace today.

Even New Krypton, a society that favors efficiency over equality and views Earthlings as "primitive" and "weak" for their emphasis on the converse, cannot suppress the rights of the individual. Perhaps had they studied a little Earth history, they might have noticed some historical parallels.

The eight-hour day movement in Europe was a time of dramatic transformations in work life, as adults during the Industrial Revolution typically worked anywhere from 12 to 16 hours a day, with little or no time to eat or rest. Factories were unregulated, so there was no one to ensure they met health or sanitation standards. Child exploitation was extremely popular as well. These variables helped spark not only the movement for an eight-hour day, but began to sew the roots of unionization.

Of course, there is an important distinction between this and New Krypton: Capitalism. Workers in the United Kingdom, France and the United States were typically working for private, unregulated employers and were earning wages to survive. New Krypton doesn't seem to work this way. Employers are certainly not private, there seems to be no such thing as "business" or "profit," and hence there is no competition among them. There are no markets. The Invisible Hand has no place on New Krypton. Further, the workers do not actually seem to earn any sort of wage -- it seems that each citizen is instead motivated by an innate sense of civic duty. In fact, the labor guild likely adheres to the social code for one or all of three reasons:

1) Civic duty or a utilitarianism
2) Deep sense of Kryptonian tradition
3) Self-interest: they work in exchange for the right to be citizens, to enjoy the planets public resources (the only one I can think of is pretty crystals), and to be protected by the military guild

Civic duty and tradition are powerful motivators. As an example, consider feudal Japan where vassals were almost instrically attached to serving their lords and would rather experience death before suffering the dishonor of disobeying it. Yet, it's not always enough. We can already see the seams falling apart on New Krypton with Kal-El's presence. Lower-class Kryptonians desire to be equal to that of the nobility. They want to see their families. They don't want to be sick. Nobles want to sit around while laborers tend the fields for sixteen hours. What to do? Assuming Alura grants them shorter hours and medical care, what do you suppose comes next?

That's right! Labor unions! Supposing that laborers work for different employers (scientists, etc.), certain labor forces are going to band together in order to collectively bargain with their superiors for more benefits and better working conditions, to prevent against discrimination, and to be involved with political activity of the state (such as having votes on the Council).

The other issue that concerns me is moral hazard. The medical scientists in the science guild need to take time and resources to heal the sick. If the workers get continual access to health care from the science guild, what is to stop them from abusing this? I think that eventually Alura and Zod will need to introduce some system of payment. And what comes next? Markets! Workers will have more access to health services, but they will have to shell out some serious ice crystals in order to get it.

The point is that it does not seem that New Krypton can continue suppressing the labor guild. And that's not a bad thing. Kal-El is champion of the workers. He's like FDR. Better yet, he's like Upton Sinclair, laying upon the masses his masterpiece, The Ice Crystal Fortress.

Mutants and the Economy

The idea of mutation introduces some interesting concepts into the global economy. Marvel's conception of a mutant race introduces an entire populace that has extraordinary abilities. In terms of culture, these individuals are an ethnicity who have their own customs and shared identity. But the mutant race also represents an entirely new venue for economy.

Each mutant possesses a special skill which has its own inherent value. Because of this, a mutant can be viewed as a craftsman or a skilled laborer. Mutants with enhanced strength can work in construction, demolition, or even transportation. Storm could irrigate the crops of all the suffering farmers in the midwest and California when the droughts of summer are destroying their crops. Quicksilver could sort the daily mail output of the United States in 3 hours. And the extraordinary power of these abilities would only make the economic effect of using mutant powers that much more extraordinary itself. Time, labor, and machinery costs would all be cut dramatically.

Tragically, most mutants use their powers to either save the world or terrorize it. At least this is the popular depiction in Marvel Comics. Imagine what Magneto could do if he worked in construction. For one thing, all of those New York City public works project would have their completion dates moved up from 2018 to roughly five minutes from now. But instead, he spends his time sinking Russian submarines and making asteroid bases to live in. For the love of God, the man has the power to build himself a high-tech home in space. He could repair the Hubbell telescope with no trouble whatsoever.

The only time Marvel Comics presented a mass use of mutants for economic purposes, it was in the context of the island nation of Genosha. On this island, mutants were enslaved and forced to work for the government. This turned the troubled economy of Genosha around in the span of a few years, making it a thriving paradise (for those who were not enslaved and constantly tortured, of course). Naturally this brutal treatment of mutants could not stand and the X-Men destabilized the government (resulting in thousands of deaths, but that is the price of freedom and giant, bloody splash pages). Eventually Genosha became a haven for mutants. And with an all mutant population, the island did thrive, but in total isolation from the rest of the world.

But its strange how there haven't been any depictions of how mutant powers could be integrated into the modern economy. It seems like whenever mutants are given employment, it's usually because their powers can be used to murder someone. The government has an endless parade of mutant assassins at their disposal, yet somehow refuse to employ Scalphunter as a computer mainframe manufacturer.

Of course, there is the very logical reason why mutants are not integrated into economy in comic book stories. No-one wants to read 22 pages of Colossus moving girders to build an office building and then going home to watch "24." An ordinary, integrated life for mutants is not interesting. But tearing the head off a Sentinel while falling through the atmosphere. Now there's something special.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Where Does the Canadian Government Get the Money from to Keep Making Super-Soldiers?

In the Marvel Universe, Canada is responsible for creating some of the most deadly super-soldiers in history. Wolverine, Sabretooth, Deadpool, Kane, and Agent Zero were all deadly assassins who were empowered by Canada's Weapon X program. This secret division of the Canadian government went to great expense to create nearly unstoppable weapons (and in almost all cases, allow them to escape shortly thereafter). This gives rise to a single question: WHY?

What threat was Canada so afraid of that the government felt the need to constantly produce human death machines?

"Holy Crap, Quebec is getting uppity again, let's coat another mutant in adamantium!"

One explanation is that Canada needed its own meta-human defenders. This was, of course, the reason why Canada's own Alpha Flight was formed. But Weapon X had a different purpose. It was supposed to create unstoppable assassins. Work by writers like Larry Hama, Grant Morrisson, and Frank Tieri has muddied the waters in terms of the purpose of Weapon X and why it was built. Based on divergent histories, Weapon X may have been a subdivision of the CIA, a covert operations training program, or an offshoot of a counter-mutant program developed by sentient bacteria. That's right, I actually typed that sentence.

Regardless, someone in the Canadian government was still there to provide funding for Weapon X, whatever its intended purpose may have been. And I'm sure they had to receive progress reports such as: "We created a supersoldier with a healing ability and an indestructible skeleton. And he was really cool. But then he killed all of the scientists and the guards... and he's living in the woods now. So... we need more money."

And Canada, true and loyal country that it is, kept footing the bill. And Weapon X kept on chugging, giving bionic enhancements and healing factors to the clinically insane. Now that's good government.

Millionaires= Crazy

In the world of comic books any individual who has more than 5 million dollars in saving or assets immediately becomes bat-shit insane. It's a strange rule, but it seems that every independently wealthy individual in superhero comics decides that fighting/committing crime is the best way to spend their free time. They ignore possible hobbies like golfing, yachting, and collecting antique cars and go straight into wearing a mask and creating a global organization designed to save/destroy/conquer the world. The examples in comic book fiction are nearly limitless.

In terms of billionaire superheroes there are: Batman, Iron Man, Moon Knight, The Golden Age Sandman, Professor Xavier, etc. The list of wealthy villains is even more dramatic: Lex Luthor, Ra's Al Ghul, Norman Osborn (The Green Goblin), Hush, Count Nefaria, Spymaster, Justin Hammer, Obadiah Stane, The Mandarin, Sebastian Shaw, etc. It seems that anyone who encounters a financial windfall in the comic book universe immediately invests all of money into either saving the world or destroying it.

In some cases, the actions of these comic book millionaires seem somewhat logical. Professor Xavier used his money to create a sanctuary for mutants who were being persecuted. He also used his money to train said mutants using a holographic "Danger Room" created with technology gleaned from alien bird-people. But with that superfluous spending aside, we can look at the Xavier Institute as version of the WMCA for people who can shoot lasers out of their eyes and with slightly less gay sex on the grounds (see: The Village People). Wealthy industrialist Tony Stark built the Iron Man suit to save his life and then continues flying around in it because he's a joy-riding arrogant ego-maniac. I understand that.

But then there's this man...

Norman Osborn started as a weapons and chemical designer. But like all wealthy industrialists do in the comic book world, he decided profit margins weren't enough. And as such he began riding around on a bat-shaped glider in a green and purple outfit and started throwing pumpkin bombs. It truly boggles my mind when i consider the amount of research and development that must have gone into the creation of pumpkin-shaped explosives. Some poor R&D guy had to sit in front of his computer screen, working on plastic explosive casings while dealing with Norman standing over his shoulder and shouting, "No, it needs to be MORE ORANGE!"

It simply boggles the mind that an industrialist who had made millions designing lucrative compounds, weapons, and technology would then perform an engineering about-face and decide that the best means of long distance transportation would be a halloween-themed glider that uses foot-grips to secure the rider. That's right, Norman Osborn expects a commando to be secured to a glider flying 800 miles an hour by the same technology that keeps boots connected to skis. Not to mention the fact that Norman Osborn decides that he is the best person to use this new technology. A company of hundreds spends millions of dollars to create a new series of weapons only to have the company CEO steal it all and fly around new york wearing a Halloween costume. In this economic downturn, it seems truly tragic for a company to nearly go bankrupt because their fourth-quarter profits were spent "trying to kill Spider-Man."

This persistent pattern of a wealthy individual building a financial empire through shrewd economic skill and then destroying it almost instantly through costumed antics shows only one thing. In comic books, all money is coated with a powerful hallucinogen. When you aquire enough of it you go crazy and then act accordingly. I will no doubt come back to this in later posts.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Jonah Hex Exercises Some Real Estate Intuition

Reprinted from Jonah Hex #43 by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Paul Gulacy
Well, maybe. One of the great things about reading Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray's Jonah Hex series is that, aside from the sheer badass adventures of the meanest, ugliest, most violent bounty hunter in the old west, there are lots of subtle implications about economic development in the late 1800s United States, specifically regarding the massive industrialization and business expansion.

In his latest adventure, Hex was hired to rescue a hotel owner/manager and his daughter from a gang who had kidnapped them. In the process, Hex had burned down the hotel and upon attempting to collect his fee, the bank (who evidently hired him because of their interest in the hotel) informed him that they would be unable to pay for his services. The reason being, simply, that he burned down the source if income with which they would have paid him.

You might be wondering why it is that the bank would elect to honor their agreement at all, being that Jonah Hex technically operates outside the law. The reason is, also simply, that they fear Jonah's wrath on them might exceed that of his on the gang and the hotel.

So, we have a problem where the bank and hotel owners have no money to pay Hex. The solution that is eventually agreed upon is that the hotel owner would transfer ownership of the land on which the hotel was built over to Hex, who gladly accepts, declaring the land a fine form of currency in the rapidly industrializing economy.

Reprinted from Jonah Hex #43 by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Paul Gulacy
I have a few comments on this:

1) I'm a bit confused as to how this transfer of ownership works. I'm not a real estate expert, especially concerning 19th century property values, but it seems to me that this is the basic way it works: someone wants to open a hotel, so he or she goes to the bank to acquire a loan for land (remember that land is considered real property and also one of the four basic factors of production in classical economics) as well as the capital to actually build the hotel. The new business owners now use the profits they earn from the hotel in order to pay back the loan, however the bank still technically owns all or part of that property until reimbursed. This is what I think the bank owner meant when he said that they had a "vested interested" in the hotel.

So, now that the hotel is burned down and the family has no means of paying back for the loan (and has no property insurance!!), it seems to me the equivalent of a default. Obviously, in this situation, it is perfectly acceptable to transfer land ownership to someone who could pay the rest of the loan (and this would also save on foreclosure costs, legal and administrative expenses, etc., and and save the owner from applying for bankruptcy), but wouldn't this still mean that Jonah would have to pay the bank? Unless his fee was so large or the amount the hotel owed was so small that they just considered it even (which I doubt) , I would think Hex would still owe the bank. And that doesn't sound very Hex, does it?

2) This demonstrates the importance of insurance (superhero insurance will be the topic of a later post).

3) Hex's comments on the last page confuse me. When asked what he would do with the land, he profoundly respond, "It's currency." Then he goes on to talk about the growth of towns and railroads, which leads to the implication that Jonah might want until the value of the property increases before he sells it to inevitably expanding businesses who might need the land. This is, first of all, an incredibly shrewd and economic tactic that is surprising coming from such a notoriously rough-around-the-edges bounty hunter. Secondly, however, Hex then goes on to say "with railroads and towns poppin' up, it's gettin' so a person can't keep to themselves. Best thing ta do is leave it clear and free." Does this mean that he actually just wants to keep the place and not sell it eventually?

All in all, Jonah Hex is a more shrewd economist than I would have guessed.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ecocomic Recession Watch: Bad Dog Edition

Reprinted from Bad Dog #2 by Joe Kelley and Diego Greco
The global ecocomic recession has spread so far that its effects are even starting to be felt in the already marginalized Image Comics world. Conditions there are so bleak that small business owners cannot even succeed in a werewolf's behind. There should really be an employer subsidy to aid these firms working in such harsh environments.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Construction Industry in Comics

It has occurred to me that building repairs must make up something like 90% of the economy in comic book universes. This must be true to combat the rampant destruction in the comic book world. Nearly ever major title from DC comics showcases this constant and overwhelming destruction. Superman frequently levels Metropolis while "protecting" its citizens. Riots happen in Gotham City roughly every five minutes. A FRICKIN DARK GOD POSSESSED EVERY LIVING SOUL ON THE PLANET AND DESTROYED TONS OF BUILDINGS WHILE BURNING EVERY BOOK EVER WRITTEN!

The same is true of the Marvel side of the superhero world. In a decidely random sampling of issues in the Marvel Universe, New York has been destroyed roughly 5 times in the span of a few comic book months. Thats right, in less than a comic book year Marvel Comic's version of New York City has been leveled by a weather-controlling Ultron Robot, a plague of Venom symbiotes infecting every citizen in Manhattan, an invasion by shape-changing aliens from outer space, a terrorist raid of the United Nations performed by a french acrobat, and a battle with a rogue Norse god. Each time, buildings have crumbled, streets have been cracked, and the carts of hot dog vendors have been thoroughly over-turned.

In order to recover from such devastating blows, the comic book world must have an array of daring contractors and craftsman, willing to jump into the fray at a moment's notice. They are the truly amazing people in the comics universe. Somehow they are capable of repairing the Chrysler building overnight after Thor has been punched through it, only for the Green Goblin to the blow the top off of it the next day. And they do this consistently. For this to work, the public works department of Marvel's New York must be 1 billion workers strong. But still, with the amount of damage caused to the comic book world, the construction and repair can never stop.

The work of the comic-book contractor truly is a never-ending battle. These intrepid contractors were given powers. The power of wood-working. The power of welding. The godlike ability to drive rivets into steel with unerring accuracy. And with this great power comes great responsibility. Only the comic-book contractor can use their triple barrelled caulk gun to repair the damage Wolverine causes to a truck-stop bathroom. Only the comic-book craftsman can repair Lexcorp tower every five seconds while watching tensely for a flash of blue and red or a giant purple and green battlesuit.

Of course this begs the question of what taxes are like in the Marvel and DC universe. In order to pay for Superhero damage, it must be 18 billion dollars per person per year.

How Does Two-Face Fund His Crime Sprees?

Reprinted from The Underground #1 by Chris Yost and Pablo RaimondiAnyone ever wonder how Two-Face gets funding for his schemes? With other Batman villains, it's not so much of a problem. The Penguin, for instance, runs a "legitimate" restaurant/night club, from which he earns most of the resources he needs to continue funding criminal activity in Gotham City. The Riddler is now a semi-legitimate private detective. Villains like Killer Croc don't need to worry about money, as the extent of his rampage through the city involves roaring and smashing. Then there's Poison Ivy and Harley, who occasionally rob a bank and go on shopping sprees, but spend the majority of their time housed in Akrham Asylum. The Joker is a tricky one, since he always seem to have an army of henchmen, but I attribute this more to the crippling fear throughout the underworld of refusing to partake in any scheme which the Joker might concoct.

That leaves us with Two-Face. Former District Attorney and golden boy of Gotham, Harvey Dent, took a tragic turn towards villainy when Boss Maroni threw acid on his face, shattering him both physically and mentally. Since then, Two-Face has held Gotham at ransom numerous times (though never succeeding thanks to Batman), has hired plenty of henchmen, bought several weapons, hideouts, cars, clothes, etc., and staged elaborate schemes that inevitably involve large sums of money in order to capture Batman. This begs the question: Where does he get this money from?

One might argue that Two-Face has enough saved up from his time as District Attorney, that he hasn't needed an additional source of income. But consider this: surely the government would have seized whatever assets he owned once he escaped from Arkham for the billionth time. Further, his pay as DA of Gotham City was likely meager, considering that public prosecutors do not get paid that much. Take a look at this image, reprinted from Payscale.

Median District Attorney Salary, Updated May 3, 2009, reprinted from Payscale.

Clearly, Harvey was a young gun: he had just been a DA for a few years before his accident. Conservatively, I will say that he served as DA for 1-4 years. That means his average annual salary was approximately $57,000 a year. And this is by 2008 standards. Recall that by modern continuity, his accident occurred in 1996. All of this means that Two-Face cannot possibly have enough money saved up to conduct his elaborate schemes against Gotham City and Batman.

Here's another theory: perhaps Two-Face has all his money from bank robberies or underground drug trafficking, criminal activity, etc. This could be true, but we happen to know that the Batman is pretty good at rooting all of these mechanisms out. And I do not think that Two-Face has pulled off enough successful robberies to sustain him throughout the years.

So what's left? We know he does not launder money through a business as the Penguin does. We can assume he does not have money saved up and that he has not scored big enough through crime to sustain his operations for over a decade. And now post-RIP, Two-Face is in a gang war against the Penguin, requiring even more resources to keep up.

The only theory I have is that perhaps he has a private investor; someone deep in the underworld of Gotham benefits politically or financially from Two-Face's successes. I used to think this person was the Penguin, but being that they are now at war with one another, this is unlikely.

Any thoughts from the readers?