"Some Men Just Want to Watch the World Burn": The Economics of Batman

Image courtesy of Gerry Canavan “You and your friends better batten down the hatches because when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us”- Selina Kyle a.k.a. Catwoman, The Dark Knight RisesThis was the famous quote from The Dark Knight Rises that zones on in the economic implications of the Dark Knight trilogy. Many watch Batman for the heroism, the colourful characters and the intriguing world of Gotham, but if you were to re-watch the trilogy you would see more to it than that. The Dark Knight trilogy are movies centred around economics and political economy, culminating in the Dark Knight Rises and the classic question of anarchy versus capitalism: is there ever a right answer?The theme is expanded throughout the trilogy. The first of the three, Batman Begins builds the story of how Bruce Wayne became the Batman, and in this movie he becomes the symbol of traditional, wholesome, idealistic capitalism. His moral duties combine with his wealth and he uses Wayne Enterprises to fund social innovations. Batman represents what capitalism should be, and what it was meant to be. Capitalism at its root has little to no state intervention, and is a free market. Christopher Nolan, the director of the trilogy, shows that society needs capitalism as there is little faith in the ability of the government. Gotham needs Batman because the government struggles to protect its citizens, even at the most basic level.The police struggle to enforce the law, unable to arrest the Batman himself. Through Batman, capitalism is shown as a much more noble and humble protector of Gotham; he acts because of his love for the city and not for his want to destroy it, such as Bane’s motives in The Dark Knight Rises or Falcone’s organised crime.However Nolan does show that capitalism can fall easily and the trilogy asks the questions of the line between capitalism and fascism. The Dark Knight sees Batman transform from Gotham’s hero to a ‘Big Brother’ figure. He hacks the phones of every citizen in the city, and even though it’s for their own safety, it shows the dangers that capitalism can descend to. Without state intervention, should individuals take it upon themselves to serve justice?The movies also ask the question over whether capitalism can stay in its purest form or does it have to spiral into corruption? Batman, the pure capitalist, holds a fundraiser for Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight for his campaign. The sole purpose is to ensure that Dent never needs another penny. Batman is using his wealth to place an incredible amount of power into one man’s hands; is this capitalism at its worst? This action only fuels the system that Batman is so desperately aiming to reform.The entirety of the second film of the trilogy, The Dark Knight, is game theory in essence. Game theory is an economic model that is essentially the study of strategic decision making. In the very first scene we are given a pirate’s game, introducing us to the core economic concept of incentives. The first scene is a bank robbery that the Joker has coordinated with a team of bank robbers. Each robber has an incentive to kill another to increase their share of the loot. However, each robber fails to realise that others have the same strategy and falls victim to the Joker’s game. In the end, the Joker is able to keep all the stolen money due to the greed that reduced his team’s logic.Throughout the film, the joker uses game theory to test the strength of the citizens of Gotham and their loyalty to one another. Towards the end of the film, he fills two ferries with people. The first is full of innocent citizens and the second is filled with criminals from the prison. Each ferry is wired with explosives that the other ferry controls. The joker wants to see what morality the individuals show and what strategy they will use. If neither ferry blows up the other the Joker will detonate both so for the ferries it’s all or nothing. In the end, moral duty wins over and neither ferry detonates the other and Batman stops the Joker before he has the chance to detonate both of them. This demonstrates that even at the lowest points in society, moral obligation can win over; that despite great breaches of inequality, people don’t have to be self-interested, they can care for each other too.The Joker, like Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, is also an anarchist. He breaks order to create chaos – that is his objective. He has no aim of killing the Batman – “Kill you? I don’t want to kill you. What would I do without you? No, you complete me.” The Joker purely wants to test the limits of order in Gotham. He wants to break down the bureaucracy. Most people believe that The Joker is insane and a terrorist, but in fact he’s not. “See I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve”. He’s taking the first step to break Gotham away from the status quo of corruption and offer it an alternative: anarchy. He is building a revolution of chaos against order.It’s no surprise so that the citizens of Gotham began to get a little tired of the endless corruption in their city; their government is weak, their police force unable to protect, their city run by corrupt mobs, and those they viewed as good are now gone. The citizens of Gotham believe that Batman killed Harvey Dent, Gotham’s knight in shining armour, resulting in Batman being branded a thug and Dent is dead.In the final movie of the trilogy, there are many comparisons to be made to the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Dark Knight Rises looks at inequality in its most modern form; it’s the modern day version of Robin Hood, with Bane, our ‘villain’ being Hood. Bane speaks for the oppressed against the upper classes. He is the revolution for Gotham. His objective is to kill corruption and greed and to remove inequality between citizens, but his actions say something else. He has already decided the fate of Gotham’s upper class: death.Is this much better than the previous system in place? This film highlights the government’s inability to govern and kill corruption. It looks at the theme of the one per cent versus the 99 per cent. The Occupy Wall Street similarities are seen when Bane literally occupies Gotham’s stock exchange. The police force, like in many of their actions, are unsure as to what to do. On one side, there is the class argument: that it’s not their money but the money of the wealthy Gotham traders. However, a trader explains that in fact it is also the police’s money; that every citizen’s money is part of the financial system. Authorities are confused as to which side to choose: anarchy or the free market?Gotham city is representative of our society today. It demonstrates the chaos and disorder that is rebelling against the status quo every day and it shows the unjust inequality, and the high levels of wealth held by so few individuals. The trilogy offers us alternatives to the capitalist world we live in but shows that these other options have their flaws too. In The Dark Knight Rises, a reference is made to Harvey Dent’s Two Face: the city faces two extremes, the left or the right. There’s two sides to every coin but neither side will ever win, and not everyone can be happy. In The Dark Knight, the co-existence of Batman and the Joker shows the unity society can and will endure: the unity between opposition, and the two extremes of the left and the right.