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Hungernomics: Economics on the Silver Screen


Freya McCormick

By

September 2nd, 2012


Economics lessons in popular movies.


The recent DVD release of pop culture juggernaut The Hunger Games has whipped millions of fans into an excited frenzy. I decided to sit down and see what all the fuss is about. In short, it’s pretty awesome. What’s not to like about a bunch of teenagers competing in a televised gladiator-esque fight to the death set in a dystopian North America?

Film and television frequently incites political, philosophical and economic analysis – as we have seen with Christopher Nolan’s Batman – and The Hunger Games is no exception. Though not exactly a literary or cinematic masterpiece, The Hunger Games has sparked intelligent commentary and debate on topics ranging from the reality TV phenomenon, to violence as entertainment, to racism, to strong female characters, to… economics?

Yes, Suzanne Collins’ novel and screenplay has generated rigorous economic analysis. Here’s a breakdown:

Slate’s Matthew Yglesias blogged about the runaway tesserae inflation he believes Panem would experience. He followed this up with a Why Nations Fail style analysis of the fictional economy, concluding that the post-apocalyptic United States functions much like a contemporary extractive African state. It’s brilliant and you can read it here.

Forbes published the 5 Economic Lessons of The Hunger Games.

Graduate student Brett Keller conducted a fantastically thorough statistical analysis, which was swiftly republished at Jezebel.com. He collated data from the books and film and used Stata software to produce the Hunger Games survival analysis: in a Cox proportional hazards model, which covariates are associated with the odds (or hazard ratios) being ever in your favor? You can read it and wish you’d done your econometrics assignment on The Hunger Games here.

Samuel Arbesman’s mathematical analysis discusses the probability of being chosen as a Hunger Games Tribute and explores the game theory behind the contestants’ strategic behavior in the arena.

 

I may be biased, but economics makes for great entertainment. Here are my top picks…procrastination you can (almost) justify!

 

A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Starring Russell Crowe, this is perhaps the ultimate film for economics geeks. A Beautiful Mind details the life of mathematician John Nash, his groundbreaking work on game theory, and his ongoing struggle with schizophrenia. Watch it…if you’re in the mood for a great drama.

 

Moneyball (2011)

Adapted from the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game this film, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, is based on the true story of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane who used an unorthodox statistical approach to field a winning baseball team on his club’s meagre budget. Watch it…if you’re a sports or a stats fan.

 

The Ascent of Money (2009)

This fantastic mini-series is based on Harvard professor Niall Ferguson’s book The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World. You can find the entire documentary on YouTube (it’s four hours long!) Watch it…if you’re a finance major and/or a history buff.

 

The views expressed within this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of the ESSA Committee or the Society's sponsors. Use of any content from this article should clearly attribute the work to the author and not to ESSA or its sponsors.

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