A short critique of Elysium’s economic tomfoolery
It takes quite the movie to present such stunning visuals, yet mired by a premise so ludicrous that I become distracted and do other things, turning my eyes away from the screen to check my emails or read a thread on a forum.
There are all kinds of ideas presented in this film that make no economic sense, but the one that frustrated me the most was the idea that these amazing health care devices that can cure anything in seconds would be restricted to a select group of people based on their membership in the Elysium “club”.
1. Artificial scarcity that makes no sense
Why does it make no sense? Because like with all medical advances, the people who invent these technologies stand to profit far more from making them widely available to everyone who can afford them. At first the prices would be high, just as the first cars were expensive. But the more people consume the product, the more it is mass produced, and the more the per/unit treatment cost falls. Never mind that with treatment that takes a few mere seconds queues would be non-existent even with socialized care.
Just look at the world of computers today. Two decades ago only wealthy people could afford to buy laptops, and smartphones didn’t even exist. Now you go into a poor neighborhood of a developed country and half the kids have smartphones. There’s absolutely no way Tech. firms could have made the kinds of profit they had if their technologies weren’t widely adopted by hundreds of millions of people.
2. Corporate health care is gone?
Now let’s talk about Max, the employee who was irradiated with a deadly dose. We are led to believe that in the future, he would have zero legal recourse, and that furthermore, it would be cheaper to just let a skilled worker die than heal him in a few seconds and get him back to work. For that matter, they could have healed his previous arm injury too.
None of this makes any sense. The corporation he works for could have easily healed him and benefited in three major ways:
1. They would not have to pay for the costs of retraining new labor.
2. They would have a PR story for the press about how they saved their worker with their amazing healthcare plan. (And PR does matter within the upside-down inside-out universe of Elysium, as we are reminded several times when it comes to President Patel.)
3. They would avoid any possible litigation or scandal.
Instead mister Blomkamp would have us believe that billionaires will throw away opportunities to make a buck and a positive impression for the media. In the 1910’s Henry Ford raised the wages of his workers to record highs to attract skilled labor to his corporation. But in the future of magical healthcare that can bring back people with end-stage cancer, suddenly everyone but the mega-rich are disposable?
Nothing rips me out of a Sci-Fi movie faster than people acting against human nature. You can show me miracle healing tubes and intelligent walking robots and I’ll suspend disbelief, but show me greedy businessmen making decisions that cause them to lose profit and the believability of your movie just went through the floor. Remember, we’re not talking about one businessman making a stupid decision, Elysium portrays the entire population of wealthy people as idiots.
In today’s world “greedy” corporations spend a lot of money offering their employees better health benefits than their competition to attract workers, but they wouldn’t use magic tech to almost instantaneously heal a dying employee?
3. Where are the charities?
Finally, the screenwriters would have us believe that in the presence of such awesome technology, no charities or businessmen (at least for selfish PR reasons) bothered to make a couple of these medical facilities available to cancer-ridden children? Seriously? Okay, well what about the President who cares so much about PR – why wouldn’t he make a program involving the exchange of healthcare for votes?
According to the makers of this movie, in the fascistic future the wealthiest people are all dumb-asses who hoard technological innovation for themselves rather than raking in massive profits, blatantly acting against their own self-interest. You know, it’s one thing to think up dystopian worlds that make sense (like a progression from freedom to fascism in America as the U.S. government continues to expand its surveillance and police state powers), and it’s another thing entirely to write this drivel.