Hunger Games Makes the Case for Free Enterprise

Mar 23, 2012

Actors Jennifer Lawrence, left, and Liam Hemsworth star in ``The Hunger Games.'' Photographer: Murray Close/Lionsgate via Bloomberg.

In The Hunger Games, Panem is a post-apocalyptic country left after drought, famine, and war wreaked havoc on what was North America. Twelve districts, separated by industry, serve the Capitol. The districts and its inhabitants are a farm for the Capitol denizens. They provide goods, like coal and agricultural materials, but also serve as the anticipated annual entertainment that gives the book and movie its title.

In the Hunger Games, each district sends one male and one female tribute, 12 to 18 years old, to compete in a fight to the death. The games are considered a commemoration and reminder of the war that established the Capitol’s power. The winner becomes a celebrity, showered with wealth and food, but is forced to go on a tour of the districts mourning the less fortunate tributes.

Panem is hyperbole, but it clearly shows the consequences of a society devoid of free enterprise.

No opportunity for achievement or growth. The work that the district residents perform is dictated by the Capitol, not allowing natural talents to flourish. In one of the pivotal moments of the novel, central character and tribute Peeta contemplates how he could prove that the Capitol didn’t own him and that he was “more than just a piece in their games.”

No free trade, unless you count the black market. The wealth of the districts is sent to the Capitol, minus meager rations allotted by the government. Citizens looking for more than their rations are forced to go to the black market, a dangerous option. The lack of free trade insulates the districts from any chance to improve their prosperity, ensuring that they serve only the Capitol.

No competition to drive innovation. The industry of each district is mandated by the Capitol, removing competition—and any impetus to innovate—from the equation. “Entrenched monopolists have no interest in developing new technologies that shake things up,” Matthew Yglesias wrote in Slate. “It’s difficult to get real innovation-oriented competitive markets without secure property rights, and exceedingly difficult to have secure property rights without some diffusion of political power.”

In Forbes, John Tamny writes that, to a much less oppressive degree, there are parallels between Panem and the U.S. Following a line of free enterprise thinking, Tamny touches on a core theme, “The Hunger Games seems to channel this natural, and very American, urge to be free.”

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