Doesn't Anyone Here Want to Make Money?

"You hungry?  I've been rationing protein squares."

That rather singular line comes from the 2010 Tekken film, helpfully reviewed by Spoony and Film Brain here.  The reason it's so remarkable?  It comes from protagonist Jin's mother Jun, a woman living in 'The Anvil', the sprawling and apparently lawless slums surrounding Tekken City.  The people there are poor, and there's every indication that they're going to stay that way until they die, with no apparent avenues of advancement available to them.  Which sounds pretty reasonable, right?  It's not unlike the way things are today, at least in certain areas.

Seriously, what was its last good product?  Eminem?

But here's the thing.  Tekken City is the headquarters of the Tekken corporation, one of just a handful of megacorporations that control the world.  And we're not really given any indication that circumstances in the other corporate-states are any better; if anything, the founder of Tekken at least seems to believe in doing the best he can by his people.  But, and this is a common failing among dystopian creators, economics do not work that way.

The problem is as simple as it is fundamental.  The only way to have a corporation in which the owners make ludicrous amounts of money and live lives of brobdingnagian excess is if there is real competition in the system.  The reason for that is that someone has to buy the corporation's product, and if it's not paying the workers enough to do it, then someone outside the corporation has to do it.  But in a corporatocracy, where it seems safe to assume trade and investment barriers are extremely high between the various corporate-states, all too often these massive corporations don't seem to sell anything at all, which is good, because nobody has enough money to buy anything.

"Supply and demand; if we don't do the former, they won't do the later."

This isn't an uncommon problem.  In fact, it's so common TVTropes has a pretty extensive page explicitly called You Fail Economics Forever, which has no small number of examples of just this kind of logical fallacy.  What's even worse in the case of something like Tekken, though, is that the corporation is also the state, and states have absolutely huge expenses unless they're the most minimalist institution possible.  So not only are the extensive clusters of poor people of no meaningful worth in terms of being customers, they're actually a net drain in terms of the levels of police and military spending required to keep those people, who have nothing to lose and no reason to support a system that's seemingly designed to put them on their knees forever, from running wild and destroying the goods and property of the people who actually have some.

Remember when I said the poor only make sense in a system with competition?  It sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but it's true.  Wal-Mart can afford to pay its workers peanuts, because there are other employers out there that pay enough to buy its higher-end stuff.  But if Wal-Mart were the only employer, and especially if it could only sell to its own customer/manufacturing base (that is, somewhere in between North American urban poor and Third World sweat shop labourers) it would fold almost immediately, because nobody in those groups actually have the kind of money necessary to keep something the size of Wal-Mart running, even taken as a collective whole.  The kind of extreme poverty you see in corporate-state dystopias simply would not work.

Of course, as often as not these systems aren't designed to work; they're designed to exaggerate the way people think and feel now.  But it's still maddening, this laziness in designing even the most rudimentary functioning economic system, because it's entirely possible to do that and still craft a searing indictment of corporate indecency and the brutal exploitation of the common man.

And his slightly less common choice of glove.

Or, y'know, whatever it was Tekken thought it was doing.

No comments:

Post a Comment