By Lana Harfoush, Special for USDR
For some, economics is intimidating. For others, it’s boring. But no matter the reason it’s avoided, economics is among the most important — and least understood — subjects. And thanks to a new web series called EconPop, it doesn’t have to be this way.
EconPop is based on the idea that economics can be lively, colorful, and fun. Created by the Moving Picture Institute and Emergent Order, the EconPop web series that teaches and discusses economic concepts through the lens of entertainment. Each 7-10 minute episode is based around a popular film or television show.
Hosted by New York-based comedian and Moving Picture Institute fellow Andrew Heaton, the series has featured Dallas Buyers Club, House of Cards, Ghostbusters, and WALL-E. Here’s a brief description of each:
Dallas Buyers Club In this Oscar-winning film, Matthew McConaughey’s character contracts AIDS, but an FDA ban prevents him from accessing the life-saving drugs he needs. He travels to Mexico for treatment, where he realizes he can sell those drugs to fellow AIDS patients back in the States. The episode shows how the protagonist’s pursuit of profit generates a social benefit for everyone. It also reveals the concept of regulatory capture. Specifically, when pharmaceutical lobbyists in the film campaign for regulations under the guise of protecting consumers, they actually seek to protect their firms’ own entrenched market position.
House of Cards This Netflix original series has captured the hearts of audiences in Washington, D.C., and beyond. It follows Frank Underwood, a scheming politician who does whatever it takes to gain more power. As Heaton describes the House of Cards series, “it’s like injecting Machiavelli directly into your ephemeral artery.” In other words, it’s a great opportunity to teach viewers how politicians do not become “selfless robots” once elected; they continue to act in their own self-interest and pass policies that will help them get re-elected. Their personal interests color “every law that’s passed and every dollar that’s spent.”
Ghostbusters Heaton describes this classic paranormal comedy as exploring “ectoplasm, Sumerian gods, entrepreneurship, and the pitfalls of overzealous government regulators.” Focusing on entrepreneurship, this episode shows how the film’s characters take massive financial and personal risks and devise innovative solutions in order to start their business. In the process, viewers learn that the market economy does not reward people for the amount of value they put in, but in the amount of value they create for others. But we also see that the mindset of entrepreneurs is at odds with others who are more insulated from market forces, such as university professors and government regulators.
WALL-E The latest EconPop episode covers a Pixar family favorite: WALL-E. The lovable robot’s mission is to clean and compact mountains of trash on a polluted, and uninhabitable, planet Earth. Humans — forced off of the planet by overpopulation, overconsumption, and resource depletion — live on a luxurious space station while they wait for the planet’s toxicity levels to subside. Heaton rightly responds that though we love projecting our problems into the future and imagining worst-case scenarios, we often fail to imagine the solutions that innovators will create. If engineers were wise enough to create a fleet of WALL-E robots, why couldn’t they recycle aluminum? He also discusses the “tragedy of the commons” and how private property rights can help preserve resources and advance sustainability efforts.
Next month’s EconPop episode features The LEGO Movie. All episodes can be viewed at EconStories.tv.
Lana Harfoush, J.D., is the Director of Communications and Marketing at the Moving Picture Institute
Lana Harfoush is MPI’s director of communications and marketing. Harfoush is a graduate of the University of Chicago and a former Fulbright grant recipient in Vienna, Austria. She earned her JD from Pepperdine University School of Law where she was the school’s Federalist Society chapter president and a lead articles editor for the Journal of Business, Entrepreneurship, and the Law.