Pethokoukis, Economics, U.S. Economy

Occupy ‘Elysium’: Why is the future so unequal in the new Neill Blomkamp film?

041013elysium2

“Elysium” takes place in 2154, where the 99.9% live in poverty and the 0.1% on a paradisaical space station with robots and medical pods that can cure cancer.

Wonder what the film’s explanation will be for such stark inequality? Bush tax cuts? Free trade? Given that Matt Damon is starring in the film, both are possibilities.

A more interesting twist would be to blame accelerating technological change. Over at EconLog, Bryan Caplan gives this answer to a question about what would happen if artificial intelligence researchers were able to “produce and patent a perfect substitute for human labor at zero [marginal cost]” and the technology was widely available.

Human owners of land, capital, and other non-labor assets capture 100% of all output. Humans who only have labor to sell, however, will starve without charity or tax-funded redistribution.

041013elysium1Better get those universal 401k plans up and running!

4 thoughts on “Occupy ‘Elysium’: Why is the future so unequal in the new Neill Blomkamp film?

    • If that movie is played in Paris’ cinémas, people will read its title as: “Occupy Elysée.” Either the film would be an incitation to nationalize everything which produces economic value or … to chase out of the palace of Elysée such sycophants and sybarites as Mitterand or his successors.

  1. James,

    On a light note: Note that Caplan’s thought experiment yields a bonanza of riches (in the form of all the super cheap products produced by the zero marginal costs AI’s) which could easily allow also for “zero opportunity cost redistribution” (this is my concept, not necessarily in Caplan’s experiment) ala “Star Trek”. So the above dystopia could only be a product of a more interesting pathology among the .1%.

    On a serious note: Caplan’s thought experiment is extreme, but clearly along the way to our future. Your conclusion should be stressed. In a world of decreasing relative returns on human labor, staking society’s welfare on the “Paradox of Thrift” is not only questionable, it is dangerous. Saving should be the default mode, since consumption would have huge opprtunity costs. If the individual can not save enough, then society must.

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