The economics of Wakanda

I was never much of a fan of Marvel comics but their movies have been magnificent (except the Fantastic Four). The interwoven plots and character development have been commercially successful and  a delight to watch. Last month – on a plane – I watched The Black Panther and loved it as a story …

… but the economics of Wakanda were wrong.

In the story Wakanda is the source of a metal known as vibranium that came to Earth via a meteor strike millions of years ago. That’s all very well, but Wakanda is known to the outside world as being a very poor, isolated, and closed society. In actual fact Wakanda is a very wealthy economy with advanced technology and enjoys a very high standard of living.  The Wakandans conceal their wealth and technology from the rest of the world.

So the question is – where does the wealth come from? Implicitly in the story the wealth comes from having access to vibranium. But having stuff doesn’t make you rich. Exchange makes you rich. In the story Wakanda doesn’t do much trade. It could and should, but doesn’t. The wealth and advanced technology are unexplained (or poorly explained) but in the grand scheme of things its a science fiction story and heaps of other things are implausible too.

I mention this because FEE has a story about the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (where?) – an American territory in the Pacific.

Rixter envisions CNMI as a real-world Wakanda, a reference to the 2018 blockbuster film Black Panther, in which a small, technologically advanced nation exhibits great wealth and development. CNMI is a vacation paradise, and given its limited technological infrastructure, has much to gain from deploying new technologies at scale. In more developed areas, the established companies, networks, and ways of doing things present obstacles for widespread adoption of new technology. The uncertainty surrounding CNMI’s economic future allows it to trial advanced robotics and blockchain in a way that will generate the necessary data for other developing neighborhoods.

But that isn’t a story of unexplained wealth or access to a unique raw material – that is a story about regulatory arbitrage and attracting external investment and deploying technology developed elsewhere.

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31 Responses to The economics of Wakanda

  1. John Constantine

    Democrats introduced the economic wonder of the minimum wage to the marinaras.

    “Employment fell 35 percent in the CNMI from 2006 to 2009. Most of the phased wage increases are still yet to come; additional job losses are inevitable as the march to $7.25 continues. While much of the CNMI job loss resulted from the demise of the garment industry — which ultimately would have occurred anyway because of changes in international trade rules — virtually every other sector of the economy has been devastated as well.”

    https://www.spartareport.com/2016/03/economic-decline-corruption-northern-mariana-islands/

  2. John Constantine

    Many moons ago, before the message about corrupt countries sunk in, I had a nice little punt going on an Australian company that had been awarded contracts and leases to do New Zealand style geothermal electricity on the volcanic islands of the marinaras.

    Unfortunately, the chap responsible for signing electricity contracts for the government fled the country, after signing interesting contracts for diesel electricity generators instead.

    Islands will always win, Comrades.

  3. John Constantine

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-02-15/a-chinese-company-has-conquered-a-piece-of-america

    The casino settler complex has given the chicoms a backdoor into the American financial system.

  4. John Constantine

    The economics of Wakanda in the pacific are simple.

    They are exactly the same as the economics australias political quislings have sold us out for.

    “Per capita, there’s almost certainly more Chinese money moving through Saipan than anywhere else in the world. The unprecedented flow of capital has allowed Imperial Pacific to operate in ways that would be unthinkable within the 50 states. When laws have become inconvenient to the company, they’ve been flouted; when the requirements of its contract with the government have become onerous, they’ve been removed; when legislators have tried to interfere, they’ve been ignored. Imperial Pacific has made millions of dollars in payments to family members of the territory’s governor, Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres. Remarkably, the company has also enjoyed the support of a gold-plated roster of American politicos. Its advisers and board of directors have included former directors of the CIA and FBI and former governors of Mississippi, New York, and Pennsylvania.”

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-02-15/a-chinese-company-has-conquered-a-piece-of-america

  5. Brian

    I am a little confused by the suggestion that only trade with “others” creates wealth. Does that mean that planet earth cannot be rich because it does not trade with other planets? At what point on a scale of area/population do you shrink before a rich economy is not possible?

  6. So the question is – where does the wealth come from? Implicitly in the story the wealth comes from having access to vibranium. But having stuff doesn’t make you rich. Exchange makes you rich.

    Well, what about internal exchanges (if necessary) and production? Even a hermit can improve their standard of living by saving, planning, investing and production (and of course roundabout production).

    The Pitchford thesis implicitly assumes internal productivity pays for trade imbalances (capital account surpluses and links to FDI are doubly implied).

    Of course, the Wakandan story assumes that they can pay for inefficiency or at least have a comparative advantage in everything.

  7. Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Wakanda looked like it only had about a million people, so comparative advantage might not exist. If they sold stuff other than Vibranium, perhaps they use shell companies and import through them. Still, it’s hard to imagine such a place being able to hide, especially in today’s world, with all those satellites looking for thermal imaging.

  8. a happy little debunker

    Wakanda, Zamunda, Gilead & Lego world, they are all the same – they are fictional!

  9. Entropy

    Having recently watched the movie, I would observe there must have been some trade: the dudes living in the mountain needed their carbs and timber from somewhere it wasn’t snowing all the time, and I do believe I noticed one or two of the wakandan babes had cowry shell necklaces. Pretty sure they don’t come from Wakanda.

  10. John Constantine

    Wealth is relative:

    ” In 1995, partly in response to the problem, the Federal US Government issued a regulation prohibiting U.S. Welfare recipients in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marinara Islands from employing housemaids. You read that right: welfare recipients employing housemaids.”

  11. Myrddin Seren

    …but in the grand scheme of things its a science fiction story

    You have crushed Stimpy’s hopes and dreams……

  12. areff

    Likewise the kingdom of Rohan, which has no visible basis for its economy and evident wealth.

    Unless, of course, Cate Blanchett approved some Elvish enviro grants to support their pointless galloping about the plains all day.

  13. Sinclair Davidson

    Does that mean that planet earth cannot be rich because it does not trade with other planets?

    It does mean that we are not as wealthy as we could be due to a lack of trade with other planets. So too the Wakadans would have some level of prosperity under autarky – but a very low level.

  14. Sinclair Davidson

    Likewise the kingdom of Rohan, which has no visible basis for its economy and evident wealth.

    Yes – and why isn’t there a massive food preservation economy in Westeros.

  15. John Constantine

    Those of Westeros that preserve food reserves are the first butchered when those reserves become valuable.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qX04wQ4PN0k

    Lannisters sack Highgarden.

  16. John Constantine

    The economy of Rohan can be reverse engineered, the existence of vast herds of battle condition horses in a snow covered environment proves the existence of vast fodder reserves and the growing/harvesting/storage infrastructure to support it.

  17. John Constantine

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2NPhK4-ois

    In Westeros, the hound buries the bodies of the old farmer and his daughter that had stores of food and money when he had none.

  18. Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Come to that, what sort of economy does Lothlorien have? Were all those trees fruit-bearing trees? Or do they make magic trinkets and special bread for less-advanced races to use? It’s a worry! Especially as Mordor has a slave-run economy, as mentioned in the book.

  19. John Constantine

    Wakanda doesn’t trade vibranium in big amounts, because it is a monopoly and keeps the price high, and the wonder metal is the source of their comparative advantage, plus they are advanced enough to avoid the curse of the dutch disease of resource wealth corrupting the economy.

    The cure for cancer that Wakanda has developed, but will not share with the world, because the rest of the world is not worthy of it, reveals much about their totalitarian State. No Wakandan sympathised enough with the dying wealthies or worthies of the world to break ranks with the hivemind and share or sell the cure?.

  20. Chris

    Well, I think the existence of Wakanda in Malcolm Turnbull’s head suggests that his Jobson Grothe appears magically in response to Parliament introducing new market distortions.
    Creating new holes in the giant circular money pipe for Government and union mates to hoove subsidies out through is what Government does.
    All money exists to be taken by the looter class.

  21. Walter

    I think the n in Wakanda is in the wrong place!

  22. Sydney Boy

    So Wakanda is anti-immigration; a certain race has legal advantages over others; they have trade restrictions; and are in league with Big Pharma in hiding the cure for cancer. And pro-black lefties identify with this place?

  23. Paridell

    The point is, Wakanda is a superior black civilisation. Vibranium is not the cause, but the proof, of its superiority, the equivalent of the immortality in Lost Horizon’s Shangri-la. Wakanda is also a ghetto fantasy. To expect cause and effect to operate there, and economic cause and effect at that, is white man’s thinking. By contrast, cause and effect do operate in science fiction, which is why it is so named. Black Panther is manifestly not science fiction.

  24. Entropy

    areff
    #2754617, posted on July 4, 2018 at 1:59 pm
    Likewise the kingdom of Rohan, which has no visible basis for its economy and evident wealth.

    Unless, of course, Cate Blanchett approved some Elvish enviro grants to support their pointless galloping about the plains all day.

    A diet of horse meat and fermented mares milk is nought to be sneezed at. And then there is the lucrative mercenary trade for orc and goblin slayers.

  25. Entropy

    Paridell is completely right of course, the spoilsport.

  26. rickw

    Rixter envisions CNMI as a real-world Wakanda, a reference to the 2018 blockbuster film Black Panther, in which a small, technologically advanced nation exhibits great wealth and development.

    I travel regularly to CNMI, there again next week. What is this guy smoking?

    CNMI suffers from a whole range of issues. The whole economy was wrecked around 15 years ago when the US mainland cracked down on Chinese run garment factories. In fact probably the biggest problem for the place is the imposition of US labor laws and regulations combined with indigenous land ownership issues.

  27. rickw

    Chicoms doing the economic miracle with a settler /casino complex.

    If anyone wants a photo of the Chicoms casino as of 3 weeks ago, let me know.

    FYI – The lid came off this when they had a scaffold collapse and one of the “tourist” construction workers landed in the street and subsequently died.

  28. John Constantine

    Gday Rick, I have had a horrid fascination with Saipan since being lucky to get out near even from a financial punt there.

    The Island Way will always win, but this time it is up against the chicoms, so something will have to give.

    “Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd., was somehow handling more than $2 billion a month in VIP bets. And at the construction site, it was building a gargantuan casino with a crew of hundreds of Chinese, scores of them working illegally on tourist visas. So many laborers were getting hurt that Rohringer’s colleagues began keeping an unofficial spreadsheet, separate from standard hospital records: a grim catalog of broken bones, lacerations, puncture wounds, dislocated limbs, and eyes penetrated by flying metal. The dead man Rohringer saw was not, of course, a tourist who’d stumbled over a railing—he was a builder named Hu Yuanyou, and he’d plummeted from a scaffold. His colleagues hadn’t called 911; instead, they’d pulled the work clothes off his broken body in a clumsy attempt to obscure his identity. The less that outsiders learned about the casino, the better.”

    Comrades

  29. John Constantine

    Building the most opulent edifice on a typhoon and earthquake prone island would usually call for something other than hiring the cheapest workers with a disregard for safety and quality and a fatalistic hope nothing goes wrong.

    “Imperial Pacific’s activities in Saipan are overseen by the Commonwealth Casino Commission—a body funded by a $3 million annual payment from the company. It holds meetings in a backroom at the public library, just past a rack of atlases. At the session I attended, questions that might otherwise be red-alert items were dispensed with briefly. The Marianas are in an active seismic zone—2016 saw a 7.7 magnitude earthquake—and one commissioner asked Imperial Pacific’s representatives if they’d installed seismic bracing on the still-not-functioning sprinkler system. The answer: Only in the basement; the other floors were getting worked on. ”

    “Last May, after Imperial Pacific requested permission for its “soft opening,” a special body appointed to supervise the development delivered a scathing private report to Governor Torres. According to a person who saw the document, it warned about metal debris scattered on the casino roof, which could turn into deadly projectiles in one of the typhoons that regularly batter the island; structural steel that appeared to be missing bolts; and columns with kinks that could indicate a risk of catastrophic collapse. The report urged Torres to keep the public out until Imperial Pacific could guarantee safety. But the governor rejected the advice, according to the person familiar with the report. The government later removed the supervisory body’s oversight. “

  30. John Constantine

    https://calvinayre.com/2018/06/18/casino/us-military-china-cnmi-casinos-threat/

    https://www.casino.org/news/china-backed-pacific-island-casinos-threat-to-us-military

    Two massive chicom command and control centers built on the marinaras islands without oversight.

    Actually one does oversee an American military base.

    “The report notes that some analysts believe Chinese investment in the region is a deliberate attempt to “erode US influence in the region to weaken the US military presence and create an opening for Chinese military access,” although it stops short of making this assertion itself.

    It does, however, quote Lieutenant General Wallace “Chip” Gregson, former commander of US Marine Corps Forces, Pacific.


    “The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas and Guam are critical to our position in the Pacific,” Gregson said. “China seeks to control our access and limit our military presence through influence operations based on suspect casino operations.

    “Energetic involvement by our law enforcement and financial agencies is needed to ensure these US territories are not ripped away,” he added.”

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