Friday, July 31, 2009

Comic Book Price Increases

Via Polite Dissent, here is a letter from National Periodical Publications Inc. explaining their reasons for increasing the price of comic books.

reprinted from

How nice of them! A noble attempt at explaining the economics behind the comic book industry. Although the line that reads, "We feel confident that you understand the necessity for this slight adjustment and will remain loyal fans" struck me as a little odd. I mean, who are they to tell me how I feel? That certainly wouldn't work today. When comic book publishers raise their book prices by a dollar, I generally don't care how nice the paper quality is. Most likely, I'd drop the book if it was not essential.

Also, this comment is wonderful:

I wish Government would publish explanations like this one when they raise taxes.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Question for Readers: What Are The Recession Proof Industries In Comic Books?

((The person who comments with the best answer to this question will win a prize, which will be a comic book of his or her choice for under $20, assuming it is available at my local shop. Please note, we will not ship internationally).

The recession has affected many aspects of the American economy, causing spending to drop and industry to shrivel. But as always, some businesses have shown their resiliency and great resistance to the economic downturn. As always, the movie industry is still relatively flourishing despite the economy. Alcohol is still being purchased despite raised taxes and overall higher prices. Waste management still thrives because people want their garbage removed in a timely manner. To a degree, these industries seem to be recession proof.

But the fictional world of a comic book changes America's economic landscape. Industries that would thrive in reality could falter easily in a comic's fictional world. But surely some industries in the comic book world must have the same level of recession-proof security that some real ones do.

Here are my pick's for recession proof industries in the comic book world:

1) Purple pants manufacturers. The Hulk will always need them. And for the Hulk, 1 pair equals 1 use. He is a market unto himself.

2) The construction/repair industry. We've already gone over this one.

3) Spandex manufacturers. Who would have thought it would be such an important resource? Especially after break-dancing starting to lose momentum. But it seems like spandex clothing is very popular in comic books despite the high possibility of chafing.

4) Indestructible shield polish makers. Has Captain America's shield ever not been shiny? Even after being slammed in dirt and covered in vampire blood?

5) Clothing designers of easy to open white button-down shirts. Superman rips one of those up roughly every five seconds.

6) Jet airplane insignia painters. Every hero team needs a means of transportation and every means of transportation needs to have the team's logo plastered all over it. The average airplane painter could make an entire career out of painting "X"s, "A"s, "4"s, "JLA"s, and "S.H.I.E.L.D"s on all manner of flying vehicles. And since these vehicles are always getting blown up you never have to worry about repeat customers.

7) Superhero/supervillain massage and chiropractor. Do you have any idea the cramps you can get from being stretched in all directions by Plastic Man? And being hit with an optic blast will at the very least disturb the alignment of your spine.

8) Silk Cuts. John Constantine's personal brand of tobacco will never go out of business.

But of course the vigorous demands of the comic book economy means that there may be many more "recession-proof" fields I haven't thought of. Any more ideas are of course welcome.

Note: This is actually a post by Mark that is posted under Shadowbanker's name.


Hey Ecocomics Readers

I'm sorry that I have not been replying to your comments on this blog as much as I'd like. However, fear not for the Shadowbanker is more benevolent than he lets on! I'm going to be reading and replying to comments more frequently now so LOOK OUT. If you've posted a comment recently, check back.

Thanks for reading, everyone!

Ecocomic Recession Watch: Spider Man Edition

The Amazing Spider Man #600 by Dan Slott and John Romita Jr. (2009)

Peter Parker is having more difficulty putting food on the table these days than usual. Especially as the newspaper industry is struggling during the recession, The Front Line is having more trouble paying its freelancer writers and photographers. Peter is in such debt, in fact, coupled with the loss of his roommate in a recent storyline, that he is at risk of missing Aunt May's rehearsal dinner and other major events in his personal life. Mind you, this is not anything new. But what's new is that he's missing it for his day job and not his crime fighting endeavors as Spider-Man. After all, as he notes, "web fluid doesn't grow on trees."

Meanwhile, J. Jonah Jameson is having troubles of his own as he struggles to infuse some funds into the stalled New York State economy, while trying to fend off an attack by Doctor Octopus and be circumspect about the state budget (despite the fact that he appropriated a significant amount of it towards an anti-Spider-Man task force).

It actually surprises me that the Governor has not called them in already. Is he unaware of this impending attack that is being broadcast on all television and radio stations, as well as over the internet? But yes, Jameson, the National Guard does eat up state funds as well as federal funds. In fact, in 2008, New York State funded about $43.2 million on its National Guard. I would say that's a lot of money to be spent when you could just call in Spider-Man. Another alternative is to call in New York's state defense force, the New York Guard, which are comprised primarily of volunteers. Of course, this might lead to concerns regarding whether there would be enough forces to take on Doctor Octopus and whether these volunteers have the appropriate incentives to perform adequately.

So what's Jameson's grand money-making plan? In typical fashion, it's misguided and irresponsible...

Can anyone actually explain the logic of this to me? How would girls in bikinis help the NYS economy? The reporter suggests that fashion retailers might start purchasing, but really? That's it? This is not rhetorical. I'm actually asking the readers for help in understanding Jameson's new plan!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Does Spider-Man Have Mental Health Insurance?

"Identity Crisis" by Stan Lee and Marcos Martin in Amazing Spider-Man #600 (2009)

Noted psychiatrist, Dr. Gray Madder, shortly after initiating his session with the webslinger, wonders if Spider-Man has insurance. It's a silly question, as the doctor should be aware of New York's mental health parity legislation, Timothy's Law. The law, which was passed in December 2006, requires that employer-sponsored insurance in New York State include mental health benefits comparable to medical care benefits. This means that generally the law forces employers that provide health insurance to also provide mental health inpatient care of 30 days per year and outpatient care of 20 visits per year. What's more is that small employers (firms with fewer than 50 workers) receive a full subsidy from the state to offset the additional cost of insurance that adding the benefit would add.

Therefore, Dr. Madder should have figured either one of two things. Realizing that Spider-Man uses webslingers (which are not free) and has access to other expensive technology, the doctor should have deduced that he was either independently wealthy or had a steady source of income. If Spidey was independently wealthy such that he could afford to buy such gadgets without working a day job, then he would have likely been able to afford to the cost of the session on his own, which should have pacified any concerns on payment. If he had a steady source of income, he would have most likely been a beneficiary of Timothy's Law, meaning he had mental health insurance.

The only scenario that is uncertain is that Spider-Man is either self-employed or works for a firm that does provide health insurance at all. This could be understandable. After all, it is hard for an outsider to imagine Spider-Man sitting at a desk from 9-5. It is conceivable that he is an artist or something.

More likely, I think Dr. Madder was just unaware of Timothy's Law. In fact, according to a recent report issued by the New York State Insurance Department, a survey of 200 random small employers in NYS found that about 38% had never heard of the law and 18.5% were aware that it expanded mental health benefits, but also believed that it increased costs for the firm (that is, they were unaware of the subsidy).

Perhaps Dr. Madder should keep more in touch with health insurance policy in his state of practice. Or maybe this suggests that the insurance companies should better inform providers of recent changes in policy. Either way, it is safe to assume that Spider-Man has mental health benefits.

Obesity and Health Care in the Marvel Universe

reprinted from

A new study (abstract only, unless you have a subscription) in Health Affairs by RTI International, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the CDC concludes that 9.1% of medical costs were spent on obesity in 2006, up from 6.5% in 2001. This comes out to approximately $40 billion in increased spending. Overall, people who are obese spent about 40% more on health care than did people of normal weight in 2006. Furthermore, the authors project that medical care spending for obesity could have hit $147 billion in 2008.

This is pretty grim news and should further corroborate the argument that much of the U.S.' exorbitant health care costs stem from poor dietary habits. This begs the question of why the government has not contracted some metahuman genius scientist, like Reed Richards, to invent some gizmo to curb such habits. After all, health care is a major agenda in the Obama administration, who is President of the Marvel Universe, and reducing costs is a big win for health reform.

You might think that such anti-obesity devices are unrealistic or infeasible in the real world. Well, a quick search on Google actually yielded this: some inventors have actually patented the design for some anti-obesity devices. The one described here looks like some sort of tube implanted in the stomach that is supposed to limit the absorption of food in the digestive system. There is also this device, a sort of "pacemaker" implanted into the abdomen, which tricks nerves in the stomach to making you feel that you're full when you've eaten a smaller portion.

These devices sound incredibly invasive, expensive and painful. And likely that's why many of us haven't heard about them. But these are just the developments made by ordinary humans. Surely, Mr. Fantastic can patent something much more friendly and hip, can't he? Can you imagine walking around with a hand-held anti-obesity device the size of an iPod?

If Obama is serious about bringing down health care costs, he should consider wielding the talents of some of Marvel's most brilliant heroes. People in Marvel's New York City really should all be skinny and have health insurance, but for some reason they don't. Let's get serious.

Does anybody actually know of an attempt to Richards or any other scientist (Marvel or DC) to do something like this or to help with domestic policy of any kind?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Dethklok and Killer Tomatoes

Dethklok Versus The Goon by Eric Powell (2009)

I don't know about this, Ofdensen. First of all, a tomato is actually a fruit, scientifically speaking. It is developed from the ovary in the base of a flowering plant and it contains the seeds of that plant. It has also been declared the state fruit of Ohio in 2006. It is only really a vegetable when referring to its culinary use, since tomatoes are typically used for savory cooking rather than sweet dishes. The Supreme Court did actually declare that tomatoes were subject to tariff duties like other vegetables in the 19th century. Nevertheless, when not talking about tariffs or cooking, tomatoes are fruits.

Secondly, I know that "manufacturing" generally refers to industrial production of goods, which includes factories, tools, conveyor belts, etc., but can "manufacturing" be used to refer to tomato production? According to the Census Bureau, agriculture is generally not manufacturing:

The materials, substances, or components transformed by manufacturing establishments are raw materials that are products of agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, or quarrying as well as products of other manufacturing establishments.

So farmers harvesting tomatoes is not considered manufacturing, but rather the tomatoes that are harvested can be used to manufacture other products. In any case, I think that Toki just hasn't made himself clear. Maybe he doesn't plan on growing and selling tomatoes, but tomato products, such as canned tomatoes. Or maybe what he really intends is to convert those agricultural products into some super death-metal, killer tomato monsters or something.

reprinted from

And why is Ofdensen so quick to dismiss him? Dethklok could make a fortune manufacturing mutant tomatoes. Or even Dethklok brand Ketchup.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Charitable Villainy

In Batman: Streets of Gotham #2, released this month, the villainous Hush escapes from his confinement in Wayne Tower and puts into effect a very unique plan.

Warning: SPOILERS Below

In the aftermath of the "Heart of Hush" story in Detective Comics, Hush has altered his physical appearance to resemble Bruce Wayne. This puts the new Batman, Dick Grayson, in an awkward position because the real Bruce is gone. This allows Hush to pretend to be Bruce Wayne and the only way to prove that he is an impostor is to reveal Bruce's secret identity as Batman and his apparent death in the battle against Darkseid.

That simply can't be done. So Hush has free reign over Bruce's assets and wealth. And what devious plan does he enact with all those resources? Does he build a cannon to shatter the Earth's crust? Does he disrupt the Earth's orbit around the sun? Does he consolidate Gotham's drug trade under his control?

No, he donates 1 billion dollars to the city. That's right, Hush diabolically gives the money to charity. And he promises to donate 1 billion more dollars each month until Gotham's criminal activities are under control. This causes Dick, Damian (the new Robin), and Alfred to react like this is the worst possible outcome.

Now let's stop and think about this for a second. This is, no doubt, one of the more unique supervillain plans. By giving away Bruce Wayne's money, Hush is damaging the foundations of his greatest enemy's wealth, thereby blunting his ability to fight crime. If Bruce Wayne (and now Dick Grayson) didn't have an unlimited well of money to draw from there would be no batarangs, no grappling hooks and no Batmobile for Batman to use.

Removing money from Wayne Industries also will likely create unemployment. If $1 billion is removed from the company every month, the infrastructure of Wayne Industries will be irreperrably damaged immediately. Employees will need to be laid off, benefits and wages will be reduced, and valuable public and private services provided by Wayne and its subsidiaries will drop in quality. There are few better ways to cause economic crisis than by throwing Gotham's biggest corporation into chaos.

The sudden influx of money into Gotham City will also breed corruption and squandering of funds. The infrastructure of Gotham City is not set up to deal with an addition billion dollars each month. The money could be used to hire more police officers, improve public services, and at least put up more lights in the historically dark city. But in all likelihood, the additional money flowing into the city will be abused by corrupt political officials and wasted by the politicians who have the best intentions. That much money requires massive restructuring of a city's economic plan. And during the time of that restructuring, Gotham City will not get as much benefit from the money they are receiving.

The problem is (as my colleague ShadowBanker and even Hush himself will admit) this plan is very hard to execute. Bruce Wayne, though majority shareholder in his company, likely does not have access to the amount of liquid capital to continue his plan beyond a few months. The easy way in which Hush donates his first billion to Gotham is rather strange. Though Bruce Wayne does burn through money at a rapid pace, he likely does not have a balance of $6 billion in his bank account that he can easily access without filling out hundreds of forms and getting approval from others in his company.

So, assuming Hush's plan is foiled (these are superhero comics we're talking about, it will be foiled), does Hush's plan do more harm than good? Or is it the other way around? If Hush only donates the first billion dollars to the city, will this help Gotham? I've listed some of reasons Hush's plan is damaging, but if his evil charity is controlled and regulated could Hush be helping the city he holds in such contempt?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Those Tweeting Superheroes!

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #2 by Joe Casey, Andre Coelho and Eduardo Pansica (2009)

In his new book, Create Your Own Economy, Tyler Cowen writes:

The current trend--as it has been running for decades--is that a lot of our culture is coming in shorter and smaller bits. The classic 1960s rock album has given way to the iTunes single. The most popular YouTube videos are usually just for a few minutes long and most of the time the viewer doesn't stay for longer than the first ten seconds.

Indeed, as evidenced by the prevalence of such social networking mediums as Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc., people are more interconnected than ever, albeit receiving their information in smaller and smaller chunks. And this phenomenon has even permeated into the world of superheroes.

In the old days, there were only very few superheroes. Whenever somebody was being terrorized by alien robots from outer space, or simply had a cat stuck in a tree, Superman would come and save the day. Whenever mobsters would rob a bank or low-life thugs would assault a rich couple in an alleyway, Batman would materialize from the shadows.

And people loved them. Superman, in particular, was the single most exciting thing that human beings had ever witnessed. He could leap tall buildings in a single bound and run faster than a speeding bullet. He stood for truth, justice and the American way. He inspired people. Every word he uttered projected a sense of unfailing hope and strength. People traveled far and took significant risks just to get a glimpse of him. Countless times, people have actually jumped off of rooftops just in the hopes of meeting him. Lois Lane and Lex Luthor alike dedicated their entire lives (and careers) to discovering his secrets and sharing them with the world.

But things have changed since those days. The market has actually become over-saturated with superheroes. There are now multiple heroes in every major city in the United States, as well as pockets of imitators in Europe and Japan. New individuals with new powers and gimmicks are popping up each day and forming new teams to beat the bad guys. There is an entire Wikipedia page just on all of the teams and organizations in the DC Universe. And it's not even a complete list. Just scanning briefly, I noticed it's missing, "Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters."

As a result of this abundance of superheroes, individuals are becoming less interested. Sure people are still grateful when they are saved and are still fascinated by some of the new powers and abilities on display, but in general superheroes have become commonplace and, I would even say, a bit banal. As a result, more new superheroes are embracing this new culture of "small bits" in order to sustain the public interest and maintain relevance. As Cowen writes:

When access is easy, we tend to favor the short, sweet and bitty. When access is difficult, we tend to look for large-scale productions, extravaganzas and masterpieces.

Consider the "Super Young Team" from Japan, recently popularized in the United States after playing an integral role in Darkseid's defeat during Final Crisis. Do you think anybody cared about the Super Young Team prior to a few months ago? Even now that they have literally saved the world (no doubt a large extravaganza), people seem to have returned to their natural state of complacency. This is why the Super Young Team has engaged in all sorts of marketing and branding in order to continually provide the public with news about their exploits and heroics. The Most Excellent Bat even keeps a Twitteratti, which is cleverly used as the narration of Final Crisis: Dance.

Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. On the one hand, in an attempt to appeal to younger crowds, superheroes might be becoming a bit more materialistic, as is the case with some of the Super Young Team. This does somewhat negate the classical concept of a selfless hero. Yet, on other hand, superheroes can now stay interconnected, not just with each other, but also with the public. I bet @mosexbat has millions of followers on Twitteratti. Should some of them choose to reach out to him with a problem, he may very well respond, especially since he seems to be the only one in the team interested in actually being a hero. By staying connected and embracing this technology, if there is danger then the Super Young Team might be in an even greater position to become aware of it. Possibly even more so than the Justice League. They might have a moon base and a satellite that can monitor human beings around the world, but the Super Young Team has Twitter and Facebook.

Oh, and it's not just the new superheroes that are using this new technology to stay connected.

Detective Comics #845 by Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen (2008)

That's right. In a semi-recent issue of Detective Comics, Batman actually logs on to detective chat room in the Batcave in order to discuss a tough case with some like-minded sleuths. It turns out that as a result of discussing the facts with who ended up being The Riddler and Detective Chimp, Batman was able to solve the case and stop a crime.

So this new culture might actually have some advantages, both for the superheroes embracing it and for the public.

I open the floor to the readers. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ecocomic Recession Watch: Streets of Gotham Edition

Streets of Gotham #2 by Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen (2009)

Hush, posing as Bruce Wayne, conceives of a devious (and quite unique) plan, using the economic recession as a justification (more later on this). He claims that the private sector is the most effective way to combat the crisis.

I never knew Bruce Wayne as a rabble-rouser, but do you think this will provoke the Obama administration and stir some contention in Washington? Certainly folks like Paul Krugman and Brad Delong should come out and speak against Bruce Wayne.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

When Are We Going to See the Flying Car?

Incognito #5 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

In comics, there are many instances when we have to suspend our disbelief. Alien planets, superpowers, time travel, radioactive spiders, parallel universes, and the list goes on. Incognito is no exception. In this series, superpowers, monsters, cloning and mind control all play a large role. And I am willing to suspend my disbelief for all of these. Growing a full-grown superhuman capable of intelligent thought in a laboratory? Sure, why not?

Where I draw the line is the flying car.

In this issue, we see Zack Overkill and Ava Destruction zipping around the sky in a flying car that, no doubt, was invented by the mad scientists of the villainous crime syndicate, of which they were previously members. I have a hard time believing that such a car as depicted in the image above is economically or technologically feasible. Nor do I think it is actually a smart idea for Zack and Ava to possess one.

First, it surprises me that these two supposedly brilliant criminal masterminds would try to remain under the radar and attempt to avoid capture by traveling in the flying car. Wouldn't a regular car have worked better? This way, they would have blended into the crowd, rather than attracting attention during take-off, landing, and possibly even the flight. I thought the name of the book was Incognito.

Second, there is the issue of lifting off and landing vertically. Notice in the image that the car does not have any wings. This means that it does not require acceleration on a runway (like an ordinary airplane) to take off, but instead is likely capable of doing it on its own. After all, we're talking about sinister, mad-scientist technology here. The problem is that millions and millions of dollars have already been spent trying to create such a car, and so far we have seen minimal results. In fact, according to The Economist,

One enthusiast, Canadian-born Paul Moller of Davis, California, has spent an estimated $250m of his own and other people’s money over the past 45 years trying get his fan-powered Skycar off the ground. So far, none of his vertical take-off and landing prototypes has risen much more than a few feet.

So that's $250 million spent developing the Moller Skycar, which still does not really do much more than hover. And this is a man who has spent over forty years working exclusively on the development of the flying car. How would the villains have been able to do better?

Third, what about the fuel of the flying car? Well, the Terrafugia Transition, the latest design for a "roadable plane" claims that it can get 500 miles on a single tank (20 gallons) of petrol cruising at 115 mph. 500 miles of flying is pretty good, but remember that this is more of a small airplane than it actually is a flying car. The cars from fiction, from our imaginations, and from Incognito do not have wings to help with lift or aviation. Instead, they have to power themselves through the duration of the flight, and more importantly, through liftoff. This would require a significant amount of fuel, which I suspect would both be expensive and inefficient. Maybe the villains have tapped an alternate energy source, which they are using to propel their cars. If this is the case, then why even be villains? Just make billions of dollars selling energy on the market. Or efficient flying cars!

There are many other reasons to think that it will be a long time before humans are cruising as they did in The Jetsons or Back to the Future II. As The Economists notes, many of the cars that are designed like planes, such as the Transition, are likely to require proper pilot licensing. In addition, it is still illegal (except in Alaska) to take off or land on public roads. Then there are air traffic control problems, FAA regulations to pass, National Highway and Traffic Safety regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, and a whole mess of legality issues to get through. This does not really apply to Incongito, but it is just something to think about regarding the future of the flying car.

Believe me, no one is more upset about the infeasibility of the flying car than I am. I grew up hoping that one day I would get to live in a world where I could fly to work through a hovering skyway. Back to the Future predicted this would happen by 2015. I am sad to report it does not look so. Despite what Zack Overkill and Eva Destruction say.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Missing Variable

My esteemed colleague, the venerable ShadowBanker, has done a lot of work analyzing villain's choices, cooperation and the outcomes that arise from these choices.

And I think we can all agree that these analyses are pretty well thought out and well considered, but one element is missing.

Let's consider a similar analysis. In a two-part story in Detective Comics in the mid-90's, the Penguin hires an actuary to calculate risks for his jobs. The actuary sets to work analyzing a particular set-up for a heist, works on the cost-benefit ratios and probabilities, and provides Penguin with a plan that is satistically most likely to succeed. The actuary even applies his skills to reducing the interference of Batman. He postulates that since Batman appears almost exclusively at night, a daylight heist of a rare orchid from a flower show could be pulled off without any interference from Batman. But Batman shows up, beats the living crap out of the thugs and foils the plans.

But why did the actuary's analysis fail? How did Batman triumph over statistics and reasoning? With the most important ingredient in any super-hero analysis: BAD-ASSITY. That's right, because Batman is bad-ass, probability starts to break down.

And its not just Batman who benefits from this extra variable influencing probability. It's nearly ever major superhero who triumphs over impossible odds consistently. You can find bad-ass in all of them. It's in every flying kick. Every splash page uppercut. Every pile of vanquished enemies. The true hero eats, sleeps, and maims with pure bad-ass. And as a result, this infused bad-assity affects all of their hero encounters.

Allow me to demonstrate some simple equations for how bad-ass can affect a situational analysis.
  • Superman+ Braniac's spaceship + Badass= smoldering metal floating in space

  • Daredevil + Kingpin + Badass= -12 teeth for Kingpin

  • Batman + Scarecrow + Badass= A floor covered in straw and bloody burlap

  • Wolverine + 3,000 ninjas + Badass= HOLY CRAP ALL THOSE NINJAS ARE DEAD!

But without Bad-ass you're left with very different results:
  • Blue Beetle + Maxwell Lord = Gaping Head Wound

  • Speedball + Civil War = bondage freak

  • Alpha Flight + Power Absorbing Mutant = Dead Canadians

So if you're going to analyze the outcomes for actions of superheroics, you need to include Bad-Assity as a fundamental element of your equations. Bad-Ass is the deciding factor between a hero standing triumphantly on a balcony with the moonlight shining through their flowing cape and a hero locked in the trunk of a car with a plastic bag wrapped around their head. It's that important.

Are Vampires Good for the Economy?

Michael Ian Black seems to think so. In his book, My Custon Van, he argues that cape manufacturers, garlic farmers, coffin makers, and angry villagers (by this he means suppliers of tools such as torches, spikes and crosses) would see net growth. Furthermore, he discusses the notion of a "vampire tax" or the idea that vampires would be more likely to attack individuals of lower socioeconomic backgrounds, who have less adequate means of protecting against an attack. This, he argues, would serve to reduce spending on social welfare programs, such as Medicaid, since more lower-income individuals enroll in these programs.

Although he predicts net losses to the makers of fake plastic and wax vampire teeth as well as the travel and tourism industries, he concludes that a small to moderate vampire army would be beneficial for the economy in the long-run and offset any potential short-run losses.

I would like to add a few things to this argument.

First, there are other industries that have the potential to grow. One is, of course, the insurance industry. Much like with supernatural disaster insurance, people will want compensation in the event of vampires destroying their homes, their cars, and most of all, their pets. And what about insurance against actually becoming a vampire? Vampires have things to buy. They still live in homes, which means they have mortgages to pay, utilities bills, car insurance payments, etc. Unlike zombies, vampires do not just walk around lusting for brains and losing body parts. They are actually capable of blending in with humans, holding intelligent conversation, and engaging in rational thought. They are also capable of deriving enjoyment from television, music, books, clothing, and others. Therefore they are likely to make some purchases for entertainment and luxury in addition to necessity.

However, turning into a vampire greatly limits your potential to make such purchases. First of all, if you had a day job as a human being, you can forget going to work. You need to find a night job, which is likely to be in a field in which you have no particular training or interest. And you would have to spend more money to acquire that training. Furthermore, even if you do secure a job that you enjoy, you would have to hide the fact that you are a vampire, for there would likely be some social stigma attached to that particular "life"-style. It would therefore be much harder to actually get a job.

All of this is to say that, assuming a predominantly private insurance market, the industry would thrive with the existence of vampires. Of course, there would be the potential for insurance fraud (people turning into vampires on purpose).

Secondly, I highly doubt that the makers of fake plastic and wax vampire teeth would suffer. In fact, I think they would dramatically expand. The thing is that, much like with many minority segments of the population, vampires would be the subject of a perpetual societal prejudice. However, there would also be a significant boost in the civil rights movement, which might eventually lead to surges in the entertainment industry. This is precisely what happened in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8. Harmony, an evil vampire in the Buffyverse, signed a contract with MTV to star in a reality show about vampires. Once the show became a hit, people became more accepting of vampires and more critical of vampire slayers, who were likened to fascists.

Thus, movies about vampire underdogs and toy vampires would gross lots of money. Imagine Rocky taking on Apollo Creed, only if Apollo was an evil slayer and Rocky was an innocent vampire.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 #21 by Jane Espenson and Georges Jeanty (2009)

Finally, I am skeptical of the "vampire tax" argument. The costs of acquiring the means of killing a vampire are relatively low. All it really requires is a piece of wood. I think that any socioeconomic death bias would be marginal at best. Also, wouldn't there be increased spending on social programs for vampires? I imagine if there will be private vampire insurance, there might also be public vampire insurance for the low-income vamps.

And how exactly would Medicare and social security work? Vampires are immortal and most are hundreds of years old. After 65, would they just collect on social security for hundreds of years? That would certainly affect public spending. Or would vampires be completely cut out of the system (which would raise civil rights concerns)?

It turns out that the question of whether vampires are good for the economy is more complicated than we think and riddled with questions. Should vampires be integrated into the system? What would be the effect on the labor force? Will the benefits in the aforementioned industries offset the losses to the labor force?

What do you think?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ecocomics in Wall Street Journal's Guide to the Econ Blogosphere

The Wall Street Journal has an article about the prevalence of economics blogs and their recent surge in popularity. They also compiled a list of the top 25 economics blogs. While Ecocomics did not make the list, the Wall Street Journal did mention us:

We also left off some fun blogs, like Ecocomics or Parentonomics that are specialized and primarily focused on entertainment.

We are happy for the shout out and thank you to everyone who reads the blog. If you enjoy this, you can also follow us on twitter! Also please do check out the other blogs on the list if you have not already.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How Does Two-Face Fund His Crime Sprees (Revisited)?

Joker by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo (2008)

Remember when we asked how Two-Face made the money to afford a headquarters, armored cars, henchmen, weapons, ammunition, tools, and all the other useful things he uses in his heists and plots to destroy Batman? Well, Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo put forth a bit of an explanation in their recent graphic novel, Joker. Apparently, "Harvey Dent was the rackets in Gotham. From fruit stands to oyster bars, he got a taste. The price of doing business was doing it with him."

This makes sense to the extent that I believe that Two-Face would play the role of Gotham's eminent mobster. If any one of Gotham's "freaks" would be most capable of taking over the Falcone and Maroni businesses, it would be Two-Face. He would have dealings with most of the crooks in the underground and he would skim some off the top for it.

And I imagine that all or most of these businesses involves some drug smuggling, human trafficking, or whatever other shady businesses come to mind when thinking of mobsters. Drug trafficking alone is a lucrative enterprise. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, New York City police seized 1,481.1 kgs of cocaine, 279.3 kgs of heroin, 7.1 kgs of methamphetamines, 2,820.7 kgs of marijuana, 79.3 kgs of hasish, 0.6 kgs of MDMA, and 9 meth labs in 2008 alone. In 2007, a man was found guilty of helping to import more than $100 million worth of cocaine into the United States between 1998 and 2003. If Two-Face is at the very top of this game in Gotham City, one of the notoriously corrupt cities in the world, and has his hands in most of these exchanges, I am sure that he is making quite a bit for his villain game.

However, one thing still remains a mystery to me (which I mentioned in the earlier post): Batman. If Two-Face is really running Gotham the way that his predecessor thugs did, then why has Batman not stopped him and seized his assets? While the police in Gotham may be lackadaisical in rooting out these smuggling rings, or simply not have the legal basis or evidence with which to halt these illegal activities, Batman is not bound by such constraints. In fact, that was one of the main issues raised in Batman Begins. The police could not touch Falcone, despite his infractions, but Batman almost immediately was able to stop his smuggling operation and bring him to justice. So why is Two-Face capable of making so much money in Gotham City that he is actually living in a mansion?

Actually, Batman seems to be pretty slow overall in this novel. SPOILER ALERT. It took the entire novel for him to so much as make an appearance to stop the Joker. Before he showed up, the Joker was released from Arkham, skinned a man alive, blew up a building, killed a whole bunch of mobsters, and performed many others lude and violents acts that I will not mention. And Batman didn't even discover it for himself! Two-Face had to actually call him and alert him of what the Joker was up to. What is going on?

Perhaps Two-Face immediately sends his money to offshore bank accounts where Batman cannot touch it. This way in between committing crimes, going to Arkham, and coming out, he has some sort of a reserve from which he can draw funds. Though I'm not quite sure how this would work.

What do you all think? Any theories??

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

International Conflict and Superhero Films

Ezra Klein noticed a connection between recessions and Robin Hood movies:

My colleague Binyamin Appelbaum noticed something interesting yesterday: Robin Hood movies are tied to recessions. We're talking here about the adult Robin Hood movies. So set aside "Men in Tights" and the Disney cartoon. Instead, look at first major Robin Hood film, "The Adventures of Robin Hood". Release date? 1938. Similarly, "Prince of Thieves" came out in 1991, another recessionary year. And I ran a quick Google search: Sure enough, there's another Robin Hood movie slated for May of 2010.

Is there a similar pattern for superhero movies? We know that many of them tend to be topical. Look at The Dark Knight, which dealt with issues of terrorism and national security. But is there anything to when they are released?

There actually might be. However, I think the connection has more to do with politics, international affairs and culture than it does with economics.

Consider the first wave of really grand, popular superhero movies. It began in the late 1970s with Richard Donner's Superman. It is interesting because the 1960s and early 1970s marked the peak of the arm's race between the United States and the Soviet Union. And those who will remember the plot of Superman will recall that the villain, Lex Luthor, had plotted to deploy missiles to destroy a considerable portion of American soil, which was a big national fear at the time. But then, the valiant and heroic Superman, championing the spirit of America, defeated Luthor and brought him to justice.

Reprinted from

Following the release of Superman, the late 1970s and 1980s saw the release of several successful superhero movies, including three sequels to the Donner film, Swamp Thing, Supergirl, The Toxic Avenger, The Punisher, Dick Tracy, and of course, Tim Burton's Batman. All of these movies had set the hero against a known villain, depicting the eternal struggle between good and evil. And all of them had occurred during a time when the social milieu of the United States was that of having an enemy to face.

Then came the 1990s, the end of the Cold War, and the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Suddenly, the United States did not have a single, firm enemy. And superhero movies became overshadowed by movies in which enemies, rather than being supervillains, were natural disasters. Armageddon, Deep Impact, Volcano, Dante's Peak, Twister, Avalanche, etc. were extremely popular movies during the decade. The few superhero films that did come out were much less successful. I need not dwell on the tragedy that was Batman and Robin.

Following 9/11, the United States had a new enemy: terrorism. And once again there was a resurgence in the release and the popularity of superhero films. Examples include the Spider-Man series, X-Men, Daredevil, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Hulk, and the list goes on. Superheroes were back in action, pounding the bad guys and standing up for what they believed to be right. The only difference is that in the new age, "right" and "wrong" are not as black and white as they appeared to be in the films of the 1970s and 1980s. Many of the superhero movies today deal with moral gray areas, such as the distinction between "hero" and "vigilante" as well as the difference between "villain" and "terrorist."

The one major film that does not quite fit into this paradigm is Bryan Singer's X-Men, which was released in 2000. Though this film seemed to be less about a battle between good vs. evil and more about persecution and acceptance. With lots of pounding.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fee for Service Superheroes: Will Privatization Work?

You know, Spidey jests here, but what if superheroes did actually start changing fees for their services to those they save?

Obviously, this lends itself to moral arguments concerning the nature of superheroes as selfless arbiters of justice and champions of the human spirit. After all, how can ordinary humans come to respect a hero if that hero profits financially from his or her potential misfortune?

But let's think about Spider-Man and the residents of New York City for a minute. Spider-Man is essentially a public good offered to those living in New York (and occasionally those in Boston, as depicted above). To be sure, let's recall that a pure public good is generally regarded as a good that is non-rival in consumption, meaning that one person consuming the good does not in any way affect another's opportunity to consume it, and non-excludable, meaning that there is no way that anyone can be denied access to this good. A typical good that is considered a pure public good is national defense.

To be technical, Spider-Man is not really a pure public good, but rather an impure public good. He satisfies the aforementioned conditions to an extent, but not fully. Indeed, Spider-Man is non-excludable to NYS residents. He is an equal opportunity savior and does not discriminate against any citizen. All he requires is that they be in need of his assistance. However, unlike national defense, he is not really non-rival. He is only one, super-powered man. If the Green Goblin is throwing a citizen off of a high-rise building on one side of town and Doctor Octopus is blowing up a science facility on the other side of town, Spidey generally can't be at both.

And this is where the problem is. As it stands, the social costs imposed by Spider-Man's existence are paid for by the public. These social costs mostly take the form of negative externalities caused by his battles with evil. By this I mean the costs of repairs for all the damaged buildings, villain escalation, and others. It is extremely likely that the government responds to these externalities by imposing higher taxes on the public, particularly if they are subsidizing the costs of construction and repair.

This also means that there could be a moral hazard problem. Living in an area in which you know there exists such a public good might entice you to alter your behavior. In the case of Spider-Man and New York City, residents might elect either to live in more dangerous neighborhoods or engage in more risky behavior, knowing that they have a protector who has a high probability of saving them in any unfortunate circumstances.

You might claim that this is far-fetched. Why would anybody choose to throw themselves in harm's way? Well, it turns out this happens pretty often in comics. A perfect example is Lois Lane. Since the arrival of Superman, Lois has gone on more risky assignments for The Daily Planet, has kept more dangerous company, and has generally had near-death experiences at the hands of known thugs or villains to a significantly larger extent. Many citizens, like Jimmy Olsen, have even joked that she is nearly invulnerable, since it seems as though Superman had become her personal bodyguard. In the film Superman II, she even jumped off of Niagara Falls (and out of the Daily Planet in the Richard Donner version) with full certainty that Superman would save her.

Reprinted from

This behavior could be particularly taxing on a hero like Spider-Man and could have catastrophic consequences on New York City. We already know that Spider-Man has trouble balancing his duty as a superhero with his personal life and part-time job. Even when he took up the job of crime fighter full-time in Mark Waid's recent "24/7" storyline, he was still incapable of being at every crime.

This would only be exacerbated if more and more people continued to engage in needlessly risky behavior. And this means that Spider-Man might one day have to start picking and choosing, neglecting certain crimes in order to stop the more high-priority ones. Or his attention towards the little ones might cause him to miss the big ones. One day, Spider-Man will be off saving some guy who thought he could jump from one roof to another on the Upper West side, while Mysterio captures Mary Jane and throws her off the Brooklyn Bridge.

The answer to these problems is privatization. Suppose that Spider-Man decides to charge for his services. This way if a Lois-like reporter was a frequent consumer of Spidey heroics, she would have to pay more for them. This could create a market for Spider-Man such that individuals would utilize an equilibrium quantity of him based on what they would be willing and able to pay for him. It would effectively reduce any potential moral hazard problems, as individuals would be willing to take less risks, knowing they would have to pay for those risks later.

Not to mention, Spidey would be able to make some cash on the side, which he might even use towards more effective means of fighting crime (though likely he'll just buy some air conditioning for his apartment).

Is privatization a good idea? Probably not. Once again, there might be some pretty disastrous effects for morale if superheroes only saved people for a fee. In addition, it would mean that villains would be successful more often. Further still, it is likely that the low-income populations will not be able to afford superhero services and would hence be excluded from the market. I generally think this is a bad thing, especially for something that could mean the difference between life and death.

Maybe Spidey can find ways to get around this. Maybe he can charge only people above a certain income. Or maybe he can charge by the nature of the situation. If somebody jumps off a roof, maybe he should pay. But if Green Goblin attacks, it's on the house. Obviously, however, this raises issues of equity.

Superhero privatization is a pretty ridiculous concept. But it's fun to consider. What do you think?

Ecocomic Recession Watch: Dr. Doom Edition

iFanboy links to a video of Victor Von Doom performing stand-up comedy.

Is it possible that the recession has hit Dr. Doom so hard that he is now forced to wield his other talents and seek alternate sources of income? I could have sworn that supervillainy was lucrative enough for him. After all, he is part of a cabal with Norman Osbourn. If he was having this much financial trouble, you would think that Osbourn could loan him some cash. Or maybe he could ease up on spending all his resources taking trips to the moon to hang out with Dracula, as he did recently in Captain Britain and MI:13.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Proposition X: Restricting Mutant Birth

Controversy is brewing in the Marvel Universe. Specifically, in the new storyline, "Utopia," Simon Trask and his followers of mutaphobes are trying to pass a bill into legislation, known as "Proposition X," which would effectively ban unauthorized mutant breeding. The idea is to prevent further chaos and destruction either by wayward mutants or those not capable of harnessing their powers appropriately. Trask has cleverly tagged the bill under his "people protecting people" slogan, thereby making the implication that you either support the bill or you are somehow a traitor to the human race.

Regarding the morality issue, Prop X does not really surprise me. In the Marvel Universe, mutants have been the subject of scorn, hate crimes, and brutal violence almost since inception. There have been numerous attempts to outlaw certain mutant actions, and as a result, many mutants have had to spend the majority of their lives operating outside the law. All in all, Prop X is not an entirely new phenomenon.

What does surprise, me, however is the economics of restricting mutant birth.

First, there is no real evidence to suggest that the passage of this bill will actually have any effect on mutant breeding. Once again, mutants have operated outside of the law for years. Restricting their ability to go to public hospitals and receive proper obstetrics care hardly seems that it will do much. In fact, has anyone actually ever read a comic book where a human doctor, completely disconnected from the patient, has actually handled the care of a pregnant mutant and delivered a mutant baby? I'm fairly certain that doctors exist within the metahuman community who mutants typically go to for this sort of thing. There's Beast, Jarvis, Hank Pym, Reed Richards, Storm, Nightcrawler, etc. Even Dr. Nemesis, Sinister, and Dark Beast can deliver babies. And these are just the superhumans that are front and center in the comic book world. For all the mutants that exist, I'm sure there exist plenty of individuals with medical training that could set up clinics beneath the radar of the federal government.

Even supposing that Prop X has the effect of significantly diminishing future mutant births (and let's not forget, there has only been one mutant birth anyway since House of M, and afterwards Beast assembled a team of scientists specifically charged with the task of working on mutant births), this would do nearly nothing to reduce existing mutant crime and violence. In fact, it seems odd to me that Trask's plan is to pass legislation that won't see effects until several generations later, likely even after his own time. Restricting mutant births is a long-term endeavor. If anything, we can see that the passage of the bill is having an adverse effect, namely causing more mutant violence in response to the bill's moral implications on the community.

Furthermore, Prop X is costly, especially in the way that it is described in "Utopia." According to Trask, the idea is to "gently and humanely legislate when and how mutants are allowed to breed." This is not as simple as it sounds. It requires technology, databases, and personnel to monitor the mutant population. And we already know that maintaining medical records is expensive, which is why there is such a powerful movement to convert them to electronic records across the country.

Prop X would also require more money to be invested in enforcement of the law, especially if the government is serious about closing all the underground mutant medical clinics. Furthermore, it requires extensive background checks for the mutants who do wish to apply for a government permit to breed. Officials will have to check past criminal records, study the applicant's mutant abilities extensively, and estimate the likely powers that would be transferred to the child. This is not cheap.

It will also be costly in terms of potential labor force that is lost. If Prop X has any significant effect, then future generations will be a great disadvantage having lost all of the potential mutants from contributing towards the economy.

I think it is a bad idea to spend all of these funds on a program that will have dubious effects at best. It is a much better idea to invest this money in education and health care for mutants. Opening more centers like the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning would go a long way towards keeping wayward mutants off crime. Much destruction is caused in the Marvel Universe not by mutants who make a conscious decision to turn evil, but by those who have been incapable of adapting to their powers or new lifestyles. With appropriate guidance, these mutants will learn to control their powers and contribute positively to society.

Of course, this is not what Trask wants. His plan seems to be predicated on sparking mutant violence so that the public will turn against them. Never mind that historically mutants have collaborated the best when society has not ostracized them. But Trask wants them gone. He wants them to be scared of Normal Osborn and the Dark Avengers. And, unfortunately, his plan seems to be working.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Superman and Batman Arrested for Beating Up Some Cops

Reprinted from
Image via New York Post

You heard that correctly. The New York Post reported that the Man of Tomorrow and the Caped Crusader have been arrested at Times Square for assaulting police offers. According to the Newsarama blog:

Jokes aside, what apparently happened is Maksim Katsnelson of the Bronx (Superman) and his friend Frank Frisoli (Batman) decided to dress up as superheroes in Times Square. For fun, obviously. But when the NYPD asked for licenses for them to perform in costume in public (!!), Katsnelson apparently threw the first punch, yelling “I’m not getting arrested.”

First of all, I am extremely disappointed in Superman's conduct here. Nevertheless, I am a little dismayed to hear that the events of Marvel's Civil War have apparently now been transplanted over to the DC Universe. Now the government requires our superheroes to have permits to patrol the streets? Decades of service and now Superman needs to identify himself? Yes, this is a good incentive to minimize superhero externalities, but how can we expect our saviors to protect their own families with their identities registered with the NYS police force? What's next? Is Superman going to be shot outside a courthouse?

Second, if the events of Civil War were to be applied to DC, I would expect Superman to take the role of Captain America and Batman to take the role of Iron Man. But this doesn't seem to the case here. They are both standing up against the Superhuman Registration Act. So who instigated this whole permit thing?

One thing is for sure. This adds to my argument that Superman should not be elected Mayor of DC. All the more reason to support The Green Lantern in today's election.

Question for Readers: What Would These Villains Do With $30 million?

I like the way that Paul Dini, in his new series Gotham City Sirens, clearly expresses a profound knowledge of the characters by depicting precisely what they would do if they suddenly came upon some wealth. Poison Ivy gave away her $30 million all to charitable donations promoting the preservation of plants and wildlife. Harley almost immediately splurged her share of Hush's money on frivolous toys, clothes and internet schemes. And you would expect both of those characters to do exactly those things.

What about other characters in the comic book universes? Sure, for some $30 million would only make a marginal difference, but for others it would be a life-changing acquisition. Some villains might use the money to get out of the villain business altogether. Others might spend it on new technology with which they could finally thwart their respective superheroes. And others still might use it entirely for luxury.

So my question to the readers is: What would the following comic book villains do if they suddenly received $30 million? What should they do if their intent was to capture a superhero?

1) The Joker
2) Magneto
3) Catwoman
4) Bullseye
5) Two-Face
6) Bizarro
7) Any other villain you can think of.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Uneasy Alliances II: Why Two-Face Loses by Flipping a Coin

Reprinted from

Earlier we began a discussion of Harvey Dent and James Gordon's alliance to clean up the streets of Gotham. We concluded that cooperation did make sense in the scenario portrayed by the film The Dark Knight. The cooperation game, or the Stag Hunt game, produced two pure strategy Nash Equilibria -- both players would cooperate or both players would work on their own.

Now, suppose that we take the same situation but introduce randomization. That is, suppose Harvey decides he wants to randomize his actions so that Gordon could not predict what he would do. Note that this is extremely unlikely; people usually intentionally randomize when they are working against another player. But for the sake of argument, suppose that it applies here.

The idea of assigning a certain probability towards an action is known as a mixed strategy. In this game, we can actually find a third, mixed-strategy equilibrium in addition to the two pure strategy ones we had found in the previous post.

So, here is the matrix from last time:

Harvey Dent -->>
James Gordon ↓


Don’t Cooperate




Don’t Cooperate



Suppose that Harvey assigns a probability, p, to cooperating and (1-p) to not cooperating. Then we could perform an expected utility calculation to deduce Gordon's optimal strategy.

Recall that Expected Utility (EU) of a given action is equal to the sum of the utility values (U) or outcomes weighted by the probabilities (p) of receiving each. Therefore:

EU = p * U(Cooperate) + (1-p) * U(Don't Cooperate)

Then the expected utility if Gordon cooperates is:
EU(Gordon Cooperates) = p * 4 + (1-p) * 1
=4p + 1 - p
=3p + 1

The expected utility if Gordon does not cooperate is:
EU(Gordon Does Not Cooperate) = p * 3 + (1-p) * 3
= 3p + 3 - 3p
= 3

We know that Gordon will choose whichever action gives yields the greatest expected utility. So setting the two equations equal to each other, we have:

EU(Gordon Cooperates) = EU(Gordon Does Not Cooperate)
3p + 1 = 3
3p = 2
p = 2/3

Therefore, Gordon will cooperate only if the probability that Harvey cooperates is greater than 2/3. Otherwise, he will not cooperate. We can perform the exact same analysis by assigning a probability, q, to Gordon's actions and calculating expected utilities for Harvey. It will yield the same answer, namely that q = 2/3.

So p = q = 2/3 and we have a new, mixed strategy equilibrium where each player chooses to cooperate 2/3 of the time and does not cooperate 1/3 of the time. If Harvey decides to randomize this way, then Gordon cannot benefit by deviating from this strategy alone.

This result is interesting for several reasons. First, each player's expected payoff under mixed strategies is 3. Therefore, the mixed strategy equilibrium outcome is no better than either of the pure strategy ones. Therefore, Dent and Gordon would be just as well off choosing not to cooperate with each other 100% of the time. They would each be strictly better off choosing to cooperate 100% of the time.

Second, I had mentioned before that we were supposing Harvey intentionally randomized his actions, but the truth is that this mixed strategy exists whether he wants to or not. The reason is that these mixed strategies can be interpreted to reflect one individual's beliefs about the other's actions. In other words, Harvey choosing cooperate 2/3 of the time and choosing to work on his own 1/3 of the time can be seen as Gordon's views on what Harvey will do given his uncertainty in the matter. If he believes Harvey will cooperate 2/3 of the time, then he will cooperate 2/3 of the time.

Now suppose that Harvey decides to flip a coin instead. And what's more, suppose that Gordon knows that Harvey will flip a coin. What will Gordon do? And will this be an equilibrium?

If Harvey flips a coin to decide, this means that he will cooperate 50% of the time and work on his own 50% of the time. So, Gordon's expected payoff will be:

EU(Gordon Cooperates) = (1/2 * 4) + (1/2 * 1) = 2.5
EU (Gordon Does Not Cooperate) = (1/2 * 3) + (1/2 * 3) = 3

Therefore, Gordon will derive a larger expected utility from not cooperating and will choose to work on his own all of the time.

This, however, is not an equilibrium. We already know that if Gordon chooses to work alone 100% of the time, then Harvey would be strictly better off by also choosing not to cooperate 100% of the time. By sticking to the coin strategy, Harvey is actually losing some utility.

Of course, there are certain situations where flipping a coin could work. Suppose that Two-Face and the Penguin are facing off against each other by driving their cars towards one another in a bizarre game of chicken. Each can choose to go left or go right. The only thing is that they have to make their decisions at the same time, so nobody gains any utility by turning first. All we know is that each wants to live. So, if they both turn left, they each receive a utility of 10 for being alive. If they each turn right, they will also receive a utility of 10. If one turns left and the other turns right, both will die in the car crash and receive a utility 0f 0. The matrix then looks like this:

Two Face -->>
Penguin ↓









Here if we perform the same utility calculations as above, assigning a probability of p to Two-Face turning left, we will arrive at p=1/2. Therefore, if Two-Face chooses to flip a coin intentionally, the Penguin should do the same and this would be a mixed-strategy Nash equilibrium.

Now, this sort of situation does not happen often. And this is why Two-Face's gimmick of flipping a coin to make every decision is usually a costly one. First of all, he gives away his strategy, making it easy for his opponents to predict their best actions. Second, it is not always the case that choosing one action 50% of the time and another 50% of the time is a mixed-strategy equilibrium, as we saw above. If Two-Face continues to adhere strictly to this strategy, he will be losing in the long-run.

And this is why Batman will always win. He knows his economics.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Green Lantern for Mayor: Blackest Night

(This is the second in a series of two posts regarding the current superhero mayoral election in DC. This post expresses doubts over Green Lantern's candidacy).

According to a recent announcement, Green Lantern has officially announced his intentions to enter Washington D.C.'s mayoral race.

Now, I have many fond memories of Kyle Rayner. I like him as a person. I respect his more severe face-mask and his poofy hair. I like that his imagination as a graphic artist greatly helped his ability to conjure up energy constructs as Green Lantern. I liked the way he wasn't vulnerable to the color yellow. But I have seriously doubts about his abilities as a Mayor.

Kyle is prone to being overly ambitious and his grand attempts often fall short. At one point, he tried to re-start the Green Lantern Corps by himself but only succeeded in creating a galactic despot and killing one of his newest inductees. Kyle also tried to go back in time and get his contemporary Hal Jordan to change his destiny. This ended poorly with Hal Jordan, quite literally, hitting himself. In both instances Kyle Rayner's heart was in the right place, but his brain was definitively elsewhere.

I also have problems regarding the way in which Mr. Rayner is conducting his campaign. The campaign web-site makes few specific references to which Green Lantern is running for office. Because of this, Mr. Rayner is able to cash in on the legacy of other Green Lanterns and use them to bolster his public image. Name recognition is not the way to draw voters to your camp. I find such activities to be unethical. This is the very reason why I withdrew my support of Ron McCain.

There's also the fact that Kyle Rayner has previously been possessed by Parallax, an entity responsible for the death of the Green Lantern corps and nearly destroying the universe. Now, a lot of good people get possessed by evil forces. Happens all the time. But I'm not entirely comfortable with my city being run by a man who is prone to being controlled by dark, primordial beings who are the living manifestations of fear. Things like that cause me to take pause. If the possession ever occurs again, it could be disastrous. At worst, the whole universe would end. At the very least one could expect major disruptions in public transportation which, in a city like D.C., could be disastrous enough by itself.

But beyond my personal issues with Mr. Rayner, there are problems that any Green Lantern would face upon entering office. The very nature of a "green" lantern would put any lantern at odds with established corporate lobbies who would view the inherent environmental connotations of the candidate as threatening. This could make interacting with large corporations difficult for any lantern Mayor due to preconceptions about the Lantern's political leanings.

It's also likely that any Lantern Mayor will bring their powers into the workplace. And while I agree that Green Lantern energy has great potential for improving infrastructure and helping the community, I worry that having a Kyle Rayner as a Mayor will make D.C.'s community too dependent on his powers. After all placing a lot of emphasis on a person who controls their powers with will is somewhat risky. You run the risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder sapping your Mayor's willpower and causing the new city hall building to collapse because the Mayor was propping it up with Green Lantern energy.

Furthermore, a Green Lantern in office means the oversight of the Guardians of the Universe. After all, no Green Lantern is an autonomous unit. Each Lantern is overseen by the watchful eyes of the Guardians, making any elected Green Lantern essentially a puppet candidate. As a result, putting Rayner in office would really put the power into the hands of individuals who are never seen by the voting populace and have not been given democratic power over the city of Washington. Do you want your city controlled by blue oompa-loompas in romper suits? In secret? From a galaxy away? I think not.

By electing Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, the citizens of Washington D.C. run the risk of having their future chopped into pieces and stuffed in the proverbial refrigerator.

And that's not a pretty picture.

Green Lantern For Mayor: Brightest Day

(This is the first in a series of two posts regarding the current superhero mayoral election in DC. This post supports Green Lantern for mayor. Mark will post one later that expresses doubts over Green Lantern's candidacy).

Reprinted from

Yesterday, we discussed the Green Lantern's announcement to run for mayor of DC. Well, it looks like the election is heating up, as more candidates have entered the race. According to a Robot6 post today:

It appears Spider-Man is also in the race. As is Superman. And the Atom. Even Batwoman, who is apparently for bird equality in D.C.

As it turns out, the sites are part of the New Organizing Institute’s BootCamp, where attendees are tasked with running their own mayoral campaigns for fictional characters as part of their training. You can find a full list of the sites they’ve created here.

Before we move on to analyzing the Green Lantern's merits, I would first like to point out why he would be a better mayor than the other popular candidates. Specifically, I am going to talk about Spider-Man and Superman, as they seem to me the most likely to contend with the Green Lantern. Batwoman and Batgirl have not demonstrated any significant leadership abilities until the disappearance of Bruce Wayne, and even now they lurk in Dick Grayson's shadow. Wonder Woman is conditioned to pound opposition, not hold press conferences and appear at legislative hearings. The Atom is a renownded scientist, but as we learned from Woodrow Wilson, academics should not be politicians.

So there's Spider-Man. Yes, we all love Spidey. He's fun, he's witty, he's responsible, and he has a generally incorruptible sense of morality. He's young and in touch with youth voters. He even received glowing approbation from President Obama in issue #583 of The Amazing Spider-Man. However, this does not imply that Spider-Man would make a good, or even adequate political leader. First of all, Spider-Man is not a leader. He is a team player, but certainly is not capable of handling administrative duties and delegating tasks. Secondly, one of the persistent themes in his life is his utter inability to maintain both a personal and professional life. Peter Parker has sacrificed a tremendous amount, including schoolwork, careers, and even love, in order to maintain his role as New York City protector. He had trouble balancing a part-time job as a photographer at the Daily Bugle with his duties as Spider-Man. Imagine if he were to balance fighting crime with being the Mayor of a city. Besides, Spider-Man does not and has never even lived in DC--the city or the universe! What would he know about holding political office in it?

Reprinted from
From: The Amazing Spider-Man #583 by Zeb Wells, Todd Nauck, and Frank D'Armata

What about Superman? It would seem that Superman would be perfectly qualified to hold political office. America is in love with the Man of Steel. He smiles, beats up the bad guys, makes for great photos, and most of all, stands for truth, justice and the American way. Without a doubt, Superman is a natural born leader. The whole of the DC superhero community looks for his guidance in nearly all matters regarding Earth's safety. Here's the problem: he's Superman. He has better things to do than to sit at a desk. He patrols Metropolis and he serves as leader of the Justice League, who defuse threats to Earth's continued survival week after week. He was one of the most integral players in the recent defeat of Darkseid during Final Crisis. I personally would not want Superman to neglect his duties in the Justice League and risk the world's safety, would you? I would rather have somebody else handle the position of Mayor of DC.

And that someone is the Green Lantern.

Let us discuss his credentials. Kyle Rayner was specifically selected to serve as a Green Lantern following the tragic events of Hal Jordan's tenure as protector of Earth. Remember that Mr. Jordan had been a test pilot and had been awarded his power ring due to his honesty, bravery and fearlessness. These are qualities that the Lanterns and the Guardians of the Universe believed crucial towards membership in their ranks. Although Hal Jordan served proudly for many years, tragedy followed when he became possessed by Parallax--an agent of pure fear--went insane and destroyed Coast City.

It was then that the Lanterns decided they needed a new protector to replace Jordan--one in which the same tragedies would not repeat. Thus they had decided to change the job requirements. Rather than selecting someone based on the archaic, silver-age qualifications of fearlessness and honesty, they went in a new, more modern direction. They selected Mr. Rayner, a graphic artist, who was known more for his creativity and imagination than for his bravery. Rather than hastily, but confidently jumping into battle at the first sight of opposition, Rayner harnessed his boundless artistic imagination towards new and efficient solutions to problems of the day. And perhaps this was why Kyle Rayner retained such a strong public image in the United States.

Yet, this certainly does not imply that Mr. Rayner is void of bravery. Actually, quite the opposite. It turns out that much of the reason for why he was chosen following Coast City's catastrophe was that the Guardians believed that he knew fear well enough to be able to withstand torment by the Parallax. In fact, he even counseled other Lanterns (including Hal Jordan) as to how best overcome their innermost fears. And during the Sinestro Corp. War, Rayner did become possessed, but was actually able to take the form of the god, Ion, and engage Parallax in battle! Although he was defeated, there is no denying that this was a magnificent feat which not only showcased his bravery but sheer force of will.

Not only does Kyle Rayner possess the character and determination for Mayor of DC, he supports a range issues which will engender a positive effect for society and the economy.

Regarding the economy, the District of Columbia had the 10th highest unemployment rate (10.7%) in the country as of May 2009. Mr. Rayner will work towards easing this burden on the labor force by creating new, greener, energy-efficient jobs. He has proposed investing in local training programs, particularly in impoverished areas, in order to provide the necessary training and qualifications to secure jobs on the market for lower-income high school graduates. He has proposed investing in making DC's physical infrastructure by weatherizing older buildings and improving the public transportation system.

This could certainly contribute significantly towards easing the burden of the recession and DC's massive unemployment. Here is a report published by the Political Economy Research Institute, suggesting that investment in public infrastructure and economic growth rise and fall together. In a modeled baseline scenario for the year 2007, they estimate that a $54 billion increase in public infrastructure spending would increase annual GDP by about $46 billion. They also state that infrastructure spending will create about 18,000 jobs for every $1 billion spent.

Speaking of energy, the Green Lantern has a power ring, from which he could actually use the energy to create anything subject to the bounds of his imagination and will. As we discussed, Mr. Rayner in particular is known for his imagination and will power. Therefore, the use of the power ring under his guidance would be the most effective in helping DC recover in troubling economic times. In several occasions, Lanterns (such as John Stewart) have actually used the ring in order to rebuild destroyed cities and planets. In addition, his power ring is unique amongst the Lanterns in that is does not require recharging every 24 hours, its power is not negated by the color yellow, and is not powered by the Central Battery.

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Regarding education, Kyle Rayner has not only stated that he supports investing government funds towards strengthening the foundation of early education, but he also believes in providing incentives and rewards for teachers to perform better and improve student outcomes. Consider this NBER paper by David N. Figlio and Lawrence Kenny, which demonstrate a positive relationship between financial incentives and outcomes (though to be fair was unable to rule out the overall qualities of the schools in the sample as a potential factor).

For these reasons, I believe that the Green Lantern possesses the intelligence, determination, willpower, imagination, and creativity to make the best Mayor of DC. In addition, he seems to possess the most solid grasp of the issues and effective solutions as combating poverty and social inequality.

And just as a reminder, what was the "greatest fear" that Parallax had tormented Kyle Rayner with in the time he was possessed? It was the fear of letting down everybody he knew. The Green Lantern is the people's champion!