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.