Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The American Way

The American wayThe Amazing Spider-Man #638 by Joe Quesada, Paolo Rivera
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie, and Paul Ryan
Marvel Comics, (2010)

Spectacle for profit. The American way.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Iron Man is Impressed With Barter Economies

Mr. Macken starts a barter economyInvincible Iron Man #28 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca, Marvel Comics (2010)

Stark Resilient is officially underway as Tony Stark tries to piece together his life, build a new Iron Man suit, and kickstart his new company, with the goal of creating the first ever electric car powered in full by repulsor technology. First step? The interview process.

Here, Stark interviews a Mr. Macken. He ran an electronics repair shop in Detroit, fixing televisions and such primarily for senior citizens. However, the community he worked in was poverty-stricken and faced as astonishing 88% unemployment rate. This meant that most of his customer base were out of work and could not actually afford to pay for their repairs. So, Mr. Macken decides to fix the televisions anyway in exchange for direct goods and services, such as a nice home-cooked meal and some plumbing in his home. This apparently "created a kind of running barter system in lieu of cash. An underground economy." And it impressed Tony Stark.

First, which community is this that is running an 88% unemployment rate? And how small is this community? I did a quick search and couldn't find anything. Maybe the community is a few blocks populated mostly by senior citizens, who likely would have been retired anyway. Though, that wouldn't even count in the unemployment statistics since unemployment refers to those actively looking for work. The people who Mr. Macken tends to serve seem to be just good, old-fashioned poor.

Second, how big could this barter economy have possibly been? Tony makes it seem like Mr. Macken launched an entire system where everyone in this community just swapped chickens for checkups. That might be, but my guess is that it was really more along the lines of a barter system relegated to television repair. I doubt this would have made a major impact worthy enough to gain Tony Stark's attention.

Plus, I doubt this economy's sustainability. As we all know, there are several problems with barter economies, the least of which is not having a standard by which you measure value. For instance, someone with a particular skill or trait could exhaust it after one use. Take, for instance, the case of the repair man offering to fix Mr. Macken's plumbing in exchange for TV repair. Suppose the gentlemen later needs his radio fixed. He's already fixed the plumbing, so what else does he have to offer?

I don't know about you, but I don't trust this "Mr. Macken" and his crazy get-rich-quick schemes. Not the kind of employee I envision for Stark Resilient.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Beast Gets Statistical Significance Wrong

Statistical or Practical Significance, Hank?Uncanny X-Men: The Heroic Age by Matt Fraction, Whilce Portacio,
Steve Sanders, and Jamie McKelvie, Marvel Comics (2010)

In the wake of the major "Second Coming" event, the return of Hope, thought to be the mutant messiah, has resulted in the appearance of at least five new individuals with the X-gene across the globe. Or at least that's the theory. After all, correlation is not causation.

Why is this important? Well, there hasn't been a single mutant birth since the "M-Day" event, and for the past several years mutantkind has been living in fear at the prospect of its own extinction. As Molly mentions above, the return of Hope (the first mutant technically born after M-Day) and the appearance of these five new mutants could signal a potential resurgence of the species.

In response to this, Beast tells Molly that, as a scientist, he is skeptical. After all, there were only five mutants. Compared to the mutant birth rate before M-Day, a mere five mutants is inconsequential. He refers to this as being "statistically insignificant."

I'm surprised to see such a renowned scientist fumble the concept of statistical significance. When economists, statisticians, scientists, etc. say that something is "statistically significant," they mean that the results they observe are extremely unlikely to have occurred by mere chance. Even if the results are small, they can still be statistically significant.

In this case, what we're testing is whether the appearance of these five new mutants was just pure coincidence, or whether it was actually caused by some event (i.e. the return of Hope). There is really no way to get a firm answer on this. As readers, we pretty much know that Hope was responsible. But it's a bit harder to prove empirically that it wasn't coincidence.

Nevertheless, this is not what Beast was referring to. He was referring to the number of mutants, which is not what statistical significance actually is.

In actuality, Beast made a common mistake, which is to mix up statistical significance with practical importance. Beast was implying that whether or not Hope actually caused the birth of these five new mutants, it didn't have any real implication yet, since five mutants is a relatively small number compared to the current mutant population and the previous birth rate.

The funny thing is that it's even too soon to tell whether it has any practical significance as well. It's been a matter of days since "Second Coming" ended. It is highly likely that given some more time, the X-Men would find some more mutants on the radar. I know scientists are supposed to be skeptics, but I'm truly shocked to see Beast be so dismissive about this. And I'm stunned to see him blame his empirically-trained mind for the phenomenon.

Maybe Hand McCoy should enroll as a continuing ed. student in the local college and re-take statistics.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ecocomics Recession Watch: Hellboy Edition

Hellboy: The Storm #1 by Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo, Dark Horse Comics (2010)

The economic downturn is, by far, the most dangerous evil in all of comics. It can hit in the most surprising of ways. It can hit people and places you never thought possible.

For example, here we see how bad credit has forced Hellboy to travel around with his newly acquired magic sword in nothing more upscale than a crummy rental car. Pretty modest for the King of Britain.

(Hellboy also says he quit drinking to avoid making bad decisions. But we know he just can't afford another bottle).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Externalities: Week of 07/16/10

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


#1) Amazing Spider-Man #636-- Breaking the Web of Life.

Amazing Spider-Man #636 by Joe Kelly (w/Zeb Wells), Marco Checchetto,
Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano, Marvel Comics (2010)

The "Grim Hunt" continues as the Kravinoffs intensify their extermination of spiders. Unfortunately, according to Madame Web, these spiders play an important role in a delicate ecosystem (or something). By hunting them, the Kravinoffs have accidentally disturbed the balance of nature, forcing a bunch of angry rats, gorillas, birds, lions, and others to respond by killing more humans.

Irredeemable #15 -- Accidental Earthquakes

Irredeemable #15 by Mark Waid and Diego Barreto, Boom! Stuidos (2010)

It's bad enough that the Plutonian destroyed Singapore, along with several other major cities in the world. Now in his fight against him, Cary has impetuously driven the Plutonian into a fault line, causing a 9.8 quake that's spread as far as 221 miles away to Phoenix. Incidentally, in the last issue the Paradigm (former eminent superhero team in this universe) specifically picked the Grand Canyon as the location of the fight to avoid causing damage and externalities such as this. Whoops.

#3) X-Force #28 -- Golden Gate Bridge

X-Force #28 by Craig Kyle, Christ Yost, and Mike Choi, Marvel Comics (2010)

When last we checked in on "Second Coming," the Golden Gate Bridge had been surrounded by a mysterious dome, engulfing the new mutant haven, Utopia, along with a good chunk of San Francisco. We later discovered that the dome was actually a portal, sending "mutant-slaying Nimrod sentinels" back from the future to, well, slaughter mutants. Now it seems the battle is over and the Nimrods are all but destroyed. Except...yeah.


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