Sunday, August 2, 2009

DuckTales Economics

When I was younger, I really enjoyed watching Disney cartoon series like Aladdin, and TaleSpin, and DuckTales. You know, until Disney got greedy and moved them to a premium channel (but I’m not bitter). These days, an episode of DuckTales sticks out in my mind: the episode “Dough Ray Me”. While not the best episode by any means, lacking any time travel or airplane crashing, it does have an intriguing storyline about the production of money that seems relevant in the U.S.’s economic situation.
The episode starts out with the nephews short on cash after spending their coins at the arcade. Scrooge McDuck being as he is, he refuses to give them any extra allowance. The boys go on a job hunt search that leads them to Gyro, the inventor, who has invented a ray gun that can replicate any object. They use it repeatedly on the one coin they do have, but leave Gyro’s place before he figures out that replicated objects continue to double with every bell chime.
The boys spend the replicated money, which doubles as the cashier rings up the sale. By the next day, the whole town is a wreck. Money, once a valued object, has become a total nuisance. There are so many ever-increasing coins everywhere that it creates a snowstorm-like hazard that drivers get trapped in, kids are told to wipe their feet before going inside to avoid tracking money into their house, and Scrooge’s vast fortune has become worthless. Eventually the good guys manage to get rid of all the replicated money through implausible means and return the place to normal.
This is an episode in a children’s cartoon series. The story was written by Brooks Wachtel and Gordon Bressack, both veteran writers for kids’ shows. You’ve probably never heard of them. And yet, they managed to pull off an episode of DuckTales that displays a better understanding of economic concepts than does the current President of the United States.
There’s a similar episode in Darkwing Duck called “Easy Comes, Easy Grows”, which involves a tree that grows money. Instead of dealing with the subject of inflation, this one is about counterfeiting. Because, really, using money produced by a tree can’t be legal if you think about it.
I suppose a situation uniquely relevant for our time would deal with the property side of replication. Instead of replicating money, suppose the nephews used their one coin to buy one ice cream cone and then replicated the food to feed them all. On the one hand, the vendor didn’t actually lose sales because they didn’t have the money for more anyway. On the other hand, they are getting more for their money than the vendor intended. Had he known about the ray gun, he probably would have raised the price or not sold to them at all.
It would be nice to see a cartoon handle this issue intelligently. Maybe there’s one out there I don’t know about, but the only one I can think of is a crummy episode of The Proud Family called “EZ Jackster”. In this unintelligent take on promoting capitalism, Napster is demonized as a corrupt organization that brings about the downfall of the entire music industry through its free downloads of copyrighted music, with the guy who introduces it to Penny portrayed as a drug pusher and file-sharers as junkies. This is just a scare tactic to frighten kids into not illegally downloading anything without offering any good well-thought-out explanation about its real impact in society, much like drug PSAs.
Anyway, I thought I’d write down my thoughts on the DuckTales inflation thing. A quick Google search shows I’m not the only one who thought of comparing the two. I suppose that’s good because now instead of just being a total geek, I’m just one in a total geek community. :)


Seefra said...

You only posted this after it was on Reddit. How about coming up with original content. Then you can be on Reddit and get the "Slashdot Effect" and others will regurgitate it.

Dragonclaws said...

I'm afraid I've never heard of Reddit, and I don't remember what Slashdot is. I was talking with my dad about capitalism and Obama's misunderstanding of it, and then I thought of an old cartoon I used to watch. I decided to blog about my thoughts on it, and it seems someone else posted about it before me and it became well known. I also posted my thoughts about the feminist message of A Doll House, a play written in the 1800s, and I'm sure thoughts identical to mine have been published many times before. I post mostly to influence peoples' thoughts, get them thinking the way I do or start a conversation about why I'm wrong, and if I'm adding my voice to a common line of thought it will only help my goal to make that message stronger. Seriously, though, no plagiarism intended.