Foolishness on Film (Or, Wiping the Sheen Off of Silliness)

by Don Boudreaux on April 22, 2009

in History, Movies, Myths and Fallacies, Standard of Living

Tyler Cowen hits a home run with his review of Phillipe Diaz's movie The End of Poverty.  Here's one especially nice selection:

I can only report that The End of Poverty,
narrated throughout by Martin Sheen, puts Ayn Rand back on the map as
an accurate and indeed insightful cultural commentator. If you were to
take the most overdone and most caricatured cocktail-party scenes from Atlas Shrugged,
if you were to put the content of Rand’s “whiners” on the screen, mixed
in with at least halfway competent production values, you would get
something resembling The End of Poverty. If you ever thought
that Rand’s nemeses were pure caricature, this film will show you that
they are not (if the stalking presence of Naomi Klein has not already
done so). If you are looking to benchmark this judgment, consider this:
I would not say anything similar even about the movies of Michael
Moore.

In this movie, the causes of poverty are oppression and
oppression alone. There is no recognition that poverty is the natural
or default state of mankind and that a special set of conditions must
come together for wealth to be produced. There is no discussion of what
this formula for wealth might be. There is no recognition that the
wealth of the West lies upon any foundations other than those of theft,
exploitation and the oppression of literal or virtual colonies.

Or as I recall Peter Bauer's way of putting the matter: "poverty has no causes; wealth has causes."

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{ 49 comments }

Chris O'Leary April 22, 2009 at 10:19 am

I have heard great things about Ayn Rand from multiple people and tried to read "Atlas Shrugged" once. The writing was so heavy-handed, and the themes were so transparent, that I couldn't make it through 50 pages.

Of course, that doesn't mean she wasn't right about some things.

Don Boudreaux April 22, 2009 at 10:24 am

I am no great fan of Rand, either. I share most of her values, but her style doesn't do it for me, either. Of all her novels, I believe that her first — We the Living — is the best. (At least, it's my personal favorite.)

Ike April 22, 2009 at 10:36 am

This made my morning for the exposure to Bauer's quote alone.

Methinks April 22, 2009 at 10:49 am

Chris,

I couldn't slog through Atlas Shrugged either. I prefer We the Living and The Fountainhead.

Methinks April 22, 2009 at 10:49 am

I wonder why Martin Sheen isn't giving away all of his wealth since he came by it through exploitation.

MnM April 22, 2009 at 11:04 am

Likely because Sheen doesn't see his wealth as having been gained through exploitation. That's peculiar form of myopia. ;o)

I confess, I haven't read any of Ayn Rand. However, I have read a few of the authors she inspired, like Terry Goodkind.

BoscoH April 22, 2009 at 11:19 am

I slogged through The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. John Galt's radio speech took me 3 months, not because it was boring, but because every paragraph challenged my assumptions. It was a rewarding read. It did, however, take me much less time to figure out that garden variety "Objectivists" were an insufferable lot :-) .

Sam Grove April 22, 2009 at 11:40 am

BTW, George is resurrecting straw men at Thinkmarkets.

Randy April 22, 2009 at 11:41 am

"There is no recognition that the wealth of the West lies upon any foundations other than those of theft, exploitation and the oppression of literal or virtual colonies."

We should not expect the political class to recognize the true source of wealth because the sources of their wealth are in fact theft, exploitation, and oppression. It seems obvious to them because for them it is true. They don't like to think about how the wealth which they obtain through their chosen methods is actually created. I suppose that if I were a thief, exploiter, and oppressor, I would probably find a way to suppress the understanding of it too.

muirgeo April 22, 2009 at 11:50 am

"poverty has no causes; wealth has causes."

I guess the Kings and dictators and despots of old could have said the same thing… which isn't saying anything.

When 50% of the worlds wealth (or whatever it is ? 90%) is controlled by 1% of its population you have oppression by any definition… which indeed may be the normal state of man in the struggle to survive just as any other animals struggle to survive.

The question is can we actually evolve to be different and rise above our animal instincts and create a society, a world where 2 billion people are not living off $1 dollar a day. Certainly those 2 billion people are no better off then the independent noble savages of pre-colonial times. So it's arguable that we've created no net wealth. Of course those of us born into their wealth will often scoff and turn up their nose at such ideas believing they alone are responsible for their own wealth conditions more then mere happenstance.

Yeah wealth has causes like mostly where and to whom you are born to.

Randy April 22, 2009 at 12:02 pm

M,

"When 50% of the worlds wealth…is controlled by 1% of its population you have oppression by any definition…"

Not true. What matters is how what one has is obtained, not how much one has. If obtained through productive means, it is not oppression. If obtained through political means, it is.

BoscoH April 22, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Oh Randy, how wrong you are! What matters is if political means fail to adjust for unequal outcomes. People like George despise wealth and accomplishment. Why, you ask? What's their opportunity cost of taking such a position? You'll find the answer there.

muirgeo April 22, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Not true. What matters is how what one has is obtained, not how much one has. If obtained through productive means, it is not oppression. If obtained through political means, it is.

Posted by: Randy

We've just seen the world economy explode off of financial products that produced nothing but made massive wealth far out of proportion to any contribution they made.

So yeah a good hunk of the wealth is accumulated from non-productive coercive means.

We all live under the ruiules of multinational oligarchs that control wealth and the economy. So again wealth has causes… but the phrase means nothing with out context.

muirgeo April 22, 2009 at 12:53 pm

People like George despise wealth and accomplishment.

Posted by: BoscoH

I despise ill gotten wealth while you make excuses for it and assume it fairly taken. You hold no moral high ground or superior position or opinion over me.

The idea that using political means to "equal the score" is something done out of spite holds no sway when it is political means which ultimatly created the unequal wealth. I see your position as no different then justifing the wealth of bank robbers and drug lords. As long as they don't get caught they must have earned it right?

Rich Berger April 22, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Muirgeo-

How about "You're not the boss of me!"? That's a fave among the kiddie set.

geoih April 22, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Quote from muirgeo: "… and create a society, …"

Here is the crux of your problem: what society are you going to "create"? Who decides what it is and what it isn't? What about the people who disagree? What will you do with them? What if you end up one of those people? What will you do?

Your utopian "society" is a fantasy in your mind, and the people you think you're following to it are conning you. It's nothing but the tyranny and corruption, only it's your tyranny and corruption.

S Andrews April 22, 2009 at 1:17 pm

can we actually evolve to be different

If that is not a rhetorical question, then the answer is no one knows! You will have to give evolution a chance, may be over the next million years. Everything else is an attempt to scuttle evolution.

S Andrews April 22, 2009 at 1:19 pm

So yeah a good hunk of the wealth is accumulated from non-productive coercive means.

That is entirely possible. The non-productive coercive force is called government. While it is possible to accumulate wealth this way, it is, as good as impossible, to create wealth this way. It is a merely a transfer or rent.

S Andrews April 22, 2009 at 1:21 pm

geoih,

The answer is "majority" decides. It could be 51% of the those who go out and vote, or if we had a strong third party, it could be even lower. If you are not in that "majority" tough luck. Which is the reason why "liberal" is an inaccurate description these groups.

S Andrews April 22, 2009 at 1:22 pm

For the rational Muirgeo, I am moving a part of my comment from a thread posted a couple of days ago:

I "know" you "weigh" both sides of the argument. If that is the case, you must have some points of agreement with the Cafe on matters relating to economics. List a few of those. If you can't come up with it, I would have to call your bluff: I will have to conclude that you have a prejudiced mind, your mind is made up and is not open to any new ideas or thoughts. Let's take it from there.

BoscoH April 22, 2009 at 1:23 pm

I assume wealth is fairly created by private individuals until there is proof that it isn't. Just like I would assume you don't bugger your patients unless there were credible evidence that you did. We have due process to hold cheaters accountable. That is a morally superior position than, for example, to assume that those who earn money or accumulate wealth should be taxed to account for what we feel must be ill gotten about their gains.

And here you are railing against the multinational corporations, but aren't you the resident TARP and stimulus defender here? I don't get it.

John Galt April 22, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Stupid libs.

If half the people in the world were dying because their governments made it illegal to breathe, our useful idiots would be blaming us for "hogging all the air."

Such is the mentality that sets policy now.

Methinks April 22, 2009 at 1:49 pm

can we actually evolve to be different

If that is not a rhetorical question, then the answer is no one knows!

Of course we know. The whole reason I'm in the United States right now is because of a grand experiment to change man. What we know is that despite the slaughter of tens of millions of people and brutal "re-education", the next generation is born just as self-interested and acquisitive as the next.

The only people who still indulge the idea that man can be remade are low IQ idiots like Morongeo. Unfortunately, there are plenty of those about.

muirgeo April 22, 2009 at 1:52 pm

"Here is the crux of your problem: what society are you going to "create"?"
geoih

What society have we created? We used to live under Kings and despots and serfdom. The people decided they didn't like that and revolted around the world. Do you deny their right to revolt peacefully or otherwise. Why should the 99% revolt against massive concentrations of power?

"Who decides what it is and what it isn't?"
geoih

Hopefully not the 1% who own all the wealth and power. Why… are you happy with the world they've created? I think we can do much better.
I'd prefer for the 99% of people to have a greater say in how society is run and ultimatly they will.

Again I just see people like you making excuses for kings of a different name. Maybe you are OK with living under the rules set by "modern day kings"…. I am not.

Methinks April 22, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Likely because Sheen doesn't see his wealth as having been gained through exploitation.

What? But ALL wealth is exploitation. Certainly Marty even employs people – the ULTIMATE form of exploitation.

Really actors should be issued muzzles for their own good. A few days ago Jackie Chan expressed the enlightened view that the Chinese need to be controlled because without control they can do whatever they want and life in Taiwan and Hong Kong is "chaotic" because of it. I realize Marty was just narrating but the man is another Sean Penn when he's not.

SteveO April 22, 2009 at 1:55 pm

A) Can we stop feeding the troll? The responders here are like goldfish, with a memory of 3 seconds. He gets you every time.

B) Does this movie have anything to do with Jeffrey Sachs book by the same title? I haven't read the book, but based on the Amazon write-up and reviews, it sounds like Sachs may not necessarily be Austrian, but he seems to be sane, and pro-globalization.

Has anyone read the book, and can they say if this film seems to be based on that work? If it's nearly opposite, I'm curious to know if Sach's will take legal action.

MnM April 22, 2009 at 2:06 pm

I realize Marty was just narrating but the man is another Sean Penn when he's not.

Oh, I agree 100%. My point was that Sheen has a kind of cognitive dissonance with regard to his own wealth and wealth created by others.

He won't see his wealth has having been taken (stolen), but he'll see other wealth that way. That's why I called him myopic.

Randy April 22, 2009 at 2:08 pm

M,

"Maybe you are OK with living under the rules set by "modern day kings"…. I am not."

But you do. And you spend considerable time on this blog, and presumeably others, playing the role of their apologist.

S Andrews April 22, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Why should the 99% revolt against massive concentrations of power?

Irony in that statement! Only George can possibly miss it. LOL.

BoscoH April 22, 2009 at 2:18 pm

George isn't a troll. But he's now in the unenviable position of having to explain how a guy who has earned almost $8 million in the past three years is in any position to help those of us less fortunate.

S Andrews April 22, 2009 at 2:23 pm

I have chased Muirgeo for several days with the following comment:

For the rational Muirgeo, I am moving a part of my comment from a thread posted a couple of days ago:

I "know" you "weigh" both sides of the argument. If that is the case, you must have some points of agreement with the Cafe on matters relating to economics. List a few of those. If you can't come up with it, I would have to call your bluff: I will have to conclude that you have a prejudiced mind, your mind is made up and is not open to any new ideas or thoughts. Let's take it from there.

He never responded. Muirgeo has no reason for being on this blog. He disagrees 100%, yes that is not 99%, it is 100%. If there is no common ground at all. He can't see even 1 area where he disagrees with the seekers of the concentration of power, then there is no point in his posting here. There is no common ground at all. So muirgeo should. I am sure he is an unemployed doctor with plenty of time on his hand, but he is nothing of interest to contribute here.

Disagreements should be welcomed and are welcomed here, unlike at other blogs hosted by insecure, partisans like deLong. However, drone like followers of Marxist philosophy should be recognized as who they really are: useful idiots, nothing more.

BoscoH April 22, 2009 at 2:37 pm

I have chased Muirgeo for several days with the following comment…

Yeah, after the second time, it's stalking. So he won't answer. Get over it. I don't think we'll ever convince George of the superiority of our views or even just the problems with his. But he has definitely become more challenging (in a good way) since he first appeared here. I bet he no longer thinks we're a bunch of Republicans :-) .

Crusader April 22, 2009 at 2:44 pm

muirgeo claims that all he wants is to "reform evil capitalism" to something "more humane".

Methinks April 22, 2009 at 2:47 pm

My point was that Sheen has a kind of cognitive dissonance with regard to his own wealth and wealth created by others.

I Know, MnM. I'm just being sarcastic.

But he's now in the unenviable position of having to explain how a guy who has earned almost $8 million in the past three years is in any position to help those of us less fortunate.

It's only an unenviable position if you are intelligent enough to know what position you're in. Since Muirdiot doesn't know which way is up, I doubt he finds himself in the position you think he does.

But he has definitely become more challenging (in a good way) since he first appeared here.

Only if you happen to have lost a significant number of IQ points due to a severe head injury.

S Andrews April 22, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Found on the internet:

"Under Republicans, Man Exploits Man; Under Democrats, It's Just the Opposite."

BoscoH says Yeah, after the second time, it's stalking.

yeah, I probably was. I was ensuring that he has seen my comment. On the other hand, clearly, Muirgeo is a stalker on this blog.

mateoflate April 22, 2009 at 2:54 pm

I liked Cowen's little reference to what happened in the so-called "Water War" in Bolivia a few years ago. The private company that was going to provide water was kicked out, yet the public company is as corrupt and inefficient as ever! Anybody been to Bolivia?

S Andrews April 22, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Only if you happen to have lost a significant number of IQ points due to a severe head injury.

well said…

Fabio Franco April 22, 2009 at 3:30 pm

This film should not be regarded as "foolish" and "silly". Those who denounce it in this fashion — or even for its "errors" — cannot see the real dangers that this type of propaganda poses.

Here is a comment left on Amazon for the book "Hollywood Party: How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry" by Lloyd Billingsley

"Lenin himself recognized the power of cinema, saying "Communists must always consider that of all the arts the motion picture is the most important." His successor Stalin viewed film as "not only a vital agitprop device for the education and political indoctrination of the workers, but also a fluent channel through which to reach the minds and shape the desires of people everywhere."

Unfortunately, libertarians are blind to this kind of analysis. They think the best ideas will somehow prevail. This is why I stopped reading so much Hayek, who described himself as deaf to the spirit, and started reading Eric Voegelin, who knew that socialism can be defeated only if it is first recognized for what it is: a demonic religion.

I_am_a_lead_pencil April 22, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Fabio Franco said:

"Unfortunately, libertarians are blind to this kind of analysis. They think the best ideas will somehow prevail."

So your view is that the best ideas do not prevail. But then…

"…started reading Eric Voegelin, who knew that socialism can be defeated only if it is first recognized for what it is: a demonic religion."

That socialism is a demonic religion is also "an idea" – and one that has to be both argued and accepted in order to prevail. How is this different from a libertarian relying on other moral and consequential economic ideas as Hayek did?

Chris O'Leary April 22, 2009 at 4:04 pm

"What matters is how what one has is obtained, not how much one has. If obtained through productive means, it is not oppression. If obtained through political means, it is."

According to them, capitalism is oppression and exploitation by its very nature.

Therefore, all wealth is tainted.

JP April 22, 2009 at 4:06 pm

The movie sounds awful, even worse than 2003's "The Corporation," if such a thing were possible.

As for Rand — I've read The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and Capitalism (essays). I enjoyed Capitalism the most. The Fountainhead was torture. IMO, Atlas is redeemed by two magnificent passages: the tramp's story about the Twentieth Century Motor Co. and the public demonstration of the Xylophone.

Chris O'Leary April 22, 2009 at 4:09 pm

"We used to live under Kings and despots and serfdom. The people decided they didn't like that and revolted around the world."

Yeah, and that turned out really well in the worker's paradise that was the USSR.

Muirgeo, you're a fool on a quest to find Unobtainium. You will never find your Philospher's Stone that will magically transform human nature because it doesn't extist. While you might be a great person, some/many/most people aren't.

The world's best bet is to be realistic about human nature and harness it.

muirgeo April 22, 2009 at 4:10 pm

The only people who still indulge the idea that man can be remade are low IQ idiots like Morongeo. Unfortunately, there are plenty of those about.

Posted by: Methinks

Wow I didn't take you for a creationist. That's sad.

Methinks April 22, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Lead Pencil, you make a good point. I like Fabio's characterization of socialism as a demonic religion, however. This largely the reason for the modern day rebranding of socialism as "environmentalism", etc. It is precisely a religion and is as man-made as any religion.

muirgeo April 22, 2009 at 4:19 pm

George isn't a troll. But he's now in the unenviable position of having to explain how a guy who has earned almost $8 million in the past three years is in any position to help those of us less fortunate.

Posted by: BoscoH

I guess you are talking of the actor Martin Sheen. I have NO problem with his wealth. He only takes money from me if I go and see his movies.

People on Wall Street have fraudulently set up and abused the banking system and the government to steal trillions from hard working productive Americans. BIG DIFFERENCE!

Randy April 22, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Methinks,

If you've never been to Unqualified Reservations, Mencius Moldbug makes a pretty good case that modern progressivism is a direct descendant of the New England Puritans. They've dropped the god, but kept the universalism.

BoscoH April 22, 2009 at 4:27 pm

George, I was speaking of President Obama.

muirgeo April 22, 2009 at 4:30 pm

For the rational Muirgeo, I am moving a part of my comment from a thread posted a couple of days ago:

I "know" you "weigh" both sides of the argument. If that is the case, you must have some points of agreement with the Cafe on matters relating to economics. List a few of those.

S Andrews

I mostly haven't replied because it is a good question that requires some thought for a fair reply. Also it's off topic and I've been trying to stay on topic and cut down on the number of posts I write.

Anyway one major thing… I'm convinced the common ground between us may be a legitimacy to the position that the federal powers should be drastically diminished and reserved to the states. Sometimes I think that would be a really good idea but I don't presume to know if it would work out better or result in a civil war. But the idea that the people could choose from the state that most fits their ideology seems to have some merit.

My guess is the well run states (Like California) would exploit the poorly regulated states and then they'd have to figure out how to keep out all the illegal libertarian immigants sseeking handouts and refugee in California.

But that's kind of what's happening now. The highly productive liberal blues states seem to put far more into the federal government then they get out of it.

California could do so much better if it weren't putting so much money into propping up the red welfare states.

S Andrews April 22, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Anyway one major thing… I'm convinced the common ground between us may be a legitimacy to the position that the federal powers should be drastically diminished and reserved to the states.

That was a good start, later spoiled by the following hyperbole.
they'd have to figure out how to keep out all the illegal libertarian immigants sseeking handouts and refugee in California.

Spoken like someone truly seeking a common ground. LOL

California could do so much better if it weren't putting so much money into propping up the red welfare states.

Probably True. Whose fault is that? California or Federal government?

My guess is the well

How would they do that? Why is California well run? Is Michigan well run? Will you ever be able admit that Progressives can screw something up? Could you ever be that honest?

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