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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/8256/wall-e-economic-ignorance-and-the-war-on-modernity/

WALL-E: Economic Ignorance and the War on Modernity

July 3, 2008 by

The Disney-Pixar film WALL-E is an assault on modern civilization, writes Gennady Stolyarov, borne of deep economic and historical ignorance. First, it makes the Marxian assumption that it would be possible for a single corporation to subsume the entire world. Then the movie shows humanity seeking salvation in abandoning a sustainable automatic food production system — which had apparently worked without fail for seven centuries — and suddenly resorting to traditional agriculture.

The creators of WALL-E, sitting in their comfortable Hollywood studios, do a tremendous disservice to the civilization that made their work and high standards of living possible. They glorify a lifestyle that would likely have killed them — and countless others — had it actually been revived.

FULL ARTICLE

{ 111 comments }

P.M.Lawrence July 6, 2008 at 3:52 am

Fundamentalist wrote “I see your point, but the increased demand for food from factory workers, and the larger population, was offset to a large degree by increased productivity from new farming methods and crops brought over from the Dutch.”

Leaving aside just where new crops and methods came from, there are two reasons why this didn’t help particularly. It preceded industrialisation, and to a large extent the gains had washed out from population growth. And, it increased the productivity of land a lot, but not labour very much. That is, switching a field from wheat to turnips gave you more food from that field, but switching a worker from ploughing/sowing/reaping/threshing wheat to ploughing/sowing/digging the same amount of food in turnips actually took more work.

“Also, the beginning of industrialization in England had to fight a very ancient attitude against working for another person. Until industrialization, working for wages was considered very close to being a slave, or a servant at best. It was very destructive to a man’s pride and many men would choose to earn less in his own business or farm than submit to the humility of working for someone else. In other words, it wasn’t always a purely economic choice.”

That is an accurate description of how the classical Greeks looked at it – only, there was no such prejudice against work as a servant in Europe two plus centuries ago, including in Britain. However, that was generally looked on as a phase in early life that allowed people to set themselves up (“servant classes” didn’t mean servants but classes from which servants were drawn). In fact, it was looked on as good work, since board and lodging was provided and cash wages were free and clear, indeed often the major single source of cash income for the servant’s family, which means the servant’s parents and siblings, not spouse and children. So there was a quite justified objection to wage labour with no prospects, but it was the “no prospects” part not the “wage labour” part that caused the difficulty.

Rtr mistakenly supposes that I am “…ignoring the division of labor specialization. Did these peasant farmer work in the nude, or did they trade for clothing produced by others? Did they build their own tools from scratch, or did they trade for ready made tools?”

Not at all. I merely pointed out that the needs of the peasants themselves weren’t what made them produce a surplus for sale. They also had to produce even more, to cover rent, tithes and (usually indirect) taxes. I never suggested that they would retreat into complete domestic autarky – although, as it happens, the few that could after late 19th century reforms moved a long way in that direction.

He also mistakenly supposes that I am ‘…in error assuming that the output production of factory goods was not demanded, was not separately subjectively valued.’

I did no such thing. I merely pointed out that the rural sector had to do more than it would have chosen on its own. See just above, and also my mention of the natural experiment in Russia after land reform, when peasants cut back on production until Lenin, shall we say, dissuaded them.

Rtr, without taking the trouble to enquire, jumps to the conclusion that I ‘…have fallen victim to the Marxist Labor Theory of Value that “food” production is somehow objectively more valuable per marginal unit of production than that of the marginal unit of factory goods production.’ I believe no such thing, though I do agree with Nassau Senior that when food supply is a constraint, a lower bound, it flows through to everything else (see also Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

So he is speculating on a spurious basis when he infers – incorrectly – that “This results in your wrong conclusion that specialization and the division of labor result in net poverty (having to work harder to maintain levels of production output), when the opposite is true.” Considering that I said nothing at all about specialisation and the division of labour, or net poverty, he has completely missed the point. The point was that a smaller rural sector had to work harder to feed the mouths that became otherwise engaged. Of course net wealth increased – only, the market distortions like evictions falling on the rural sector meant that they weren’t making the choices. The remainder became worse off than earlier generations had been.

“Sure we can speculate that people would have preferred to be farmers working the land just as we may speculate that service workers today would prefer to make their livings as highly paid professional athletes. But we would expect only the most productive farmers to keep working as farmers as their marginal output was more competitive, was producing more output per acre, making the marginal price for less productive farmers not worth their efforts.” Actually, the latter sentence is the speculation. As for the former sentence, the actual recorded fact is that peasants were driven off land. We don’t have to speculate about whether they would have chosen to stay, we only have to note that they weren’t allowed to. That is, we don’t have to use their frame of mind at all, we can see that there were fewer left to feed about the same number. And evictions didn’t relate to labour productivity; the Highland Clearances replaced people with sheep, which is to say, capital.

‘Thus, it was better for them to seek employment elsewhere in the factories. If farming were not producing vast surpluses, then it would have paid higher wages for extra surplus marginal farming production compared to factory wages. And any of that “harder work” would have been rewarded at “overtime” wage rates, assuming a free market and prices existing for food and factory goods.’

Where to begin on this. Mostly, they weren’t given the option, they were evicted. And labour wasn’t the bottleneck on farm production, except at peak seasons (which was why threshing machines were brought in). Land was the bottleneck. If you put more labour on improved land, beyond a certain point you don’t grow more – and they had reached that point. It made perfect economic sense to downsize the numbers on the farms and work the rest harder, because wages (including in kind) had a base level per person; lower numbers meant a lower total overhead to cover that. As the Tudor Enclosures showed, the rationale for eviction applied whether there were factories for the displaced to go to or not. (There’s an externality here, by the way, “vagrancy costs”.)

He finishes by claiming – without even correctly stating my reasoning – that “Your line of reasoning holds no merit whatsoever, unless you were to assume non voluntary trade assumptions, if were to hold assumptions that labor decisions were compelled by force and slavery, and not a free market.”

As it happens, the whole object of the exercise was to bring out and show the distortions that really were there. There’s no assuming going on on my part, it is Rtr who is assuming that there were no distortions. To take but one, Scottish clan lands were appropriated by clan chiefs, who then evicted clansmen. This is not a free market at work.

Newson (rather more open mindedly) continues “…and so we arrive at the point of disagreement. how can you establish that it is the peasants that suffer to provide the surplus food for the city workers, and not the greater productivity from the rationalization of small plots into larger ones? or perhaps the technical innovations? your conclusion is entirely speculative. and counterintuitive, to boot. it strains credibility to imagine somehow peasants withholding services (accumulating leisure) prior to the enclosures.”

Like I said, I’m not speculating, I’m drawing on what happened. We know that life on farms was hard – it was my critics who brought that out. So the question is, what made it hard? As it happens there are enough natural experiments on record that we can see times when it was not hard. For instance, after the effects of the Tudor Enclosures washed out, up until the Civil Wars, English peasants experienced the effects of New World silver inflation. Real rents and taxes fell (though tithes didn’t, as they were in kind). I’m not going to quote verbatim from Buchan’s Cromwell on this, but he summarises the consensus that there was a Golden Age for peasants on the eve of the Civil Wars. That provides a control. Fast forward to the 18th century, and you see more Enclosures, more evictions, fewer independent resources for the remaining peasants and more work for them per head to work the land fully. There’s your natural experiment. Oh, and “rationalising farms” doesn’t, in and of itself, boost land productivity, that sort of thing pays by boosting labour productivity so you can cut the workforce for the same amount of production (demand for food being inelastic, and mop up jobs opening up, total food production didn’t change much in the short term).

“…besides, as malthus had quite correctly concluded (at least correctly till the i.r.), populations swell continuously until constrained by the horsemen of the apocalypse. free time in those days quickly turned wives pregnant, and with extra mouths to feed, goodbye leisure.”

Well, no. As Mao Tse Tung remarked, each new mouth brings a new pair of hands. For a given set of techniques, and a given amount of land, working harder won’t grow more. So Malthusian constraints didn’t show as more work per person but as less food per person (you don’t see starving people in third world countries working harder, just starving more). New techniques, and more particularly new crops, allowed more work to produce more – but as Malthus pointed out, those came on stream slowly (basically, each innovation was a one off). By the way, none of these agricultural land productivity improvements owed anything to industrialisation until chemical fertilisers came in in the late 19th century. Industrialisation did improve transport, allowing new lands to come on stream, and created labour productivity improvements, which also helped total food production once those new lands had been opened up (because labour was the bottleneck there), but it didn’t boost food production on old lands, it rested on the boosts from new crops etc. itself.

newson July 6, 2008 at 7:07 am

to pm lawrence:
your argument has flipped. first you introduce the hard work theme – “This is what made a zero sum for food, so peasants had to work harder.”

then, when i express skepticism about peasants withholding labour, it changes to hunger -

“As Mao Tse Tung remarked, each new mouth brings a new pair of hands. For a given set of techniques, and a given amount of land, working harder won’t grow more. So Malthusian constraints didn’t show as more work per person but as less food per person (you don’t see starving people in third world countries working harder, just starving more).”

much as i find mao’s epithets amusing, i don’t think he had much insight into the farming life (great leap forward, sparrow hunt etc.)
babies are net food consumers, soaking up the labour of either mother, or other family members who could otherwise be involved in immediately productive chores. indeed the “payoff” point, in terms of what children consume to what they produce, was years away from birth, even in the dark ages.

to be perfectly candid, i don’t believe in any golden age for peasants prior to the industrial revolution, for the reason already mentioned. extra mouths always followed “good times” in short order, and then the culling through pestilence, famine etc.

with respect, there must have been productivity improvements you’re overlooking. if there were fewer peasants working the land, and the food output remained static, and hard work under land-constrained conditions will not increase production, and yet the national population didn’t drop, then necessarily productivity improved.
there’s no other way out of the rebus.

LibertyVini July 6, 2008 at 7:37 am

Agree with you Gennady regarding the opening scenes and the underlying premisr, however I found the movie to be visually stunning, dramatically interesting, and with a surprisingly profound anti-state, pro-liberty message, I blogged about it here;

http://libertyguys.wordpress.com/2008/07/06/disney-pixars-wall-e-breathtaking-maddening/

LibertyVini July 6, 2008 at 7:38 am

Agree with you Gennady regarding the opening scenes and the underlying premise, however I found the movie to be visually stunning, dramatically interesting, and with a surprisingly profound anti-state, pro-liberty message, I blogged about it here;

http://libertyguys.wordpress.com/2008/07/06/disney-pixars-wall-e-breathtaking-maddening/

David Demoise July 6, 2008 at 3:10 pm

Since the WALL-E critique was ended with a shout out to all thinking people to recognize the film for what the critic interpreted it to mean, let me just say that as a “thinking person”, perhaps Gennady Stolyarov II is not able to enjoy the film on the level it should be enjoyed at, which would maybe be entertainment and beyond that, sci-fi social fiction. Audiences are smarter than you think. Now if you think that kids are not smart enough to see the economic misrepresentations in the film, again maybe it wasn’t meant to be aimed at kids in the hope that they would digest it that way. Or do you think the writers were trying to brainwash the kids with propaganda? After all kids are impressionable aren’t they? Somehow I don’t see a threat that kids are going to come out of the theater retaining the inaccuracies of the film. You, Gennady Stolyarov II even pointed that out. So my point is, what is your point in trashing WALL-E as being propaganda when that concept is lost through the entertainment value? Oh wait, wait one second. I see where you’re going with this. Since kids can’t see this outright, on a subliminal level the entertainment value masks the true intentions of the film which is to fill kids’ heads with false perceptions that will be ingrained in their heads so as to remain instilled in them and therefore hardwire them to never be swayed back to the true realities of our economic history. Give me a break! Although, the kids in the theater did seem to be a sponge ready to soak up these elements within the film, especially that infant who at some point stopped making baby sounds long enough to fall asleep. I think to counter this you need to give your kids a good talking to and I’d recommend making them read George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ at least five times to hopefully counter what they may experience if they see WALL-E with your friends kids. One last thought. Kids in America are not usually subject to the same conditions other kids in communist countries experience while growing up. Where a child lives might determine what they absorb more than a movie would. But then, maybe WALL-E isn’t shown in certain countries. America may have it’s various social problems, but the weight you place upon this film doesn’t make or brake any of them. I would say that’s where parents come in. I would suggest watching Disney Pixar’s WALL-E without trying to observe all kinds of inaccurate social connotations, and maybe you’ll enjoy the film more; that is if you can drop the philosophical and economical glasses long enough to do that. Opps, that was more than one thought… sorry.

David Demoise July 6, 2008 at 3:16 pm

Since the WALL-E critique was ended with a shout out to all thinking people to recognize the film for what the critic interpreted it to mean, let me just say that as a “thinking person”, perhaps Gennady Stolyarov II is not able to enjoy the film on the level it should be enjoyed at, which would maybe be entertainment and beyond that, sci-fi social fiction. Audiences are smarter than you think. Now if you think that kids are not smart enough to see the economic misrepresentations in the film, again maybe it wasn’t meant to be aimed at kids in the hope that they would digest it that way. Or do you think the writers were trying to brainwash the kids with propaganda? After all kids are impressionable aren’t they? Somehow I don’t see a threat that kids are going to come out of the theater retaining the inaccuracies of the film. You, Gennady Stolyarov II even pointed that out. So my point is, what is your point in trashing WALL-E as being propaganda when that concept is lost through the entertainment value? Oh wait, wait one second. I see where you’re going with this. Since kids can’t see this outright, on a subliminal level the entertainment value masks the true intentions of the film which is to fill kids’ heads with false perceptions that will be ingrained in their heads so as to remain instilled in them and therefore hardwire them to never be swayed back to the true realities of our economic history. Give me a break! Although, the kids in the theater did seem to be a sponge ready to soak up these elements within the film, especially that infant who at some point stopped making baby sounds long enough to fall asleep. I think to counter this you need to give your kids a good talking to and I’d recommend making them read George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ at least five times to hopefully counter what they may experience if they see WALL-E with your friends kids. One last thought. Kids in America are not usually subject to the same conditions other kids in communist countries experience while growing up. Where a child lives might determine what they absorb more than a movie would. But then, maybe WALL-E isn’t shown in certain countries. America may have it’s various social problems, but the weight you place upon this film doesn’t make or brake any of them. I would say that’s where parents come in. I would suggest watching Disney Pixar’s WALL-E without trying to observe all kinds of inaccurate social connotations, and maybe you’ll enjoy the film more; that is if you can drop the philosophical and economical glasses long enough to do that. Opps, that was more than one thought… sorry.

Geoff July 6, 2008 at 3:18 pm

Stolyarov = Scrooge.

rtr July 6, 2008 at 3:34 pm

P.M.Lawrence: “I merely pointed out that the rural sector had to do more than it would have chosen on its own.”

That just doesn’t make sense on economic grounds. You are again making non free market assumptions, which is fine from an analysis perspective, as long as you demonstrate such. The rural market choice to produce surplus output *in spite of* its always existing preference of less work for more reward, or they were compelled by violence. Compelling by violence does not generally increase the productivity per acre, as can be seen by per acre farming productivity results from many socialist and communist countries. Violence doesn’t magically increase productivity. It begs credulity that more people can be supported by less farmers (by definition of more people subsisting as factory laborers), without there necessarily being an increase in farming productivity.

However, you are abusing words that denote free market voluntary *choices* (which are always constrained). If they didn’t choose to till the land, then they would have voluntarily left the profession of farming, which is exactly what happened with the industrial revolution.

P.M.Lawrence: “They also had to produce even more, to cover rent, tithes and (usually indirect) taxes”

Well taxes aren’t voluntary free market institutions, so we can ignore those. Landlords could only charge more rent if productivity increases alone afforded that possibility. And indeed increased marginal productivity makes the land more valuable, is a win-win for both landlord and farmer.

P.M.Lawrence: “Considering that I said nothing at all about specialisation and the division of labour, or net poverty,”

Yes you did. You said farmers had to work harder for the same output. Working more for less or the same output is worse off than working the same for the same output or working less for more output. By definition of productivity, people would be working less for more output or the same for more output or less for the same output. This is the opposite of “harder”.

P.M.Lawrence: “The remainder became worse off than earlier generations had been.”

How would you be “worse off” if you no longer had to grow your own food but could instead rely upon the marginally more competitive surplus of fewer farmers to produce enough food for all, and instead concentrate on other pursuits? It’s win-win, society is net wealthier. This is no different than making claims people are worse off because they can’t do what they want to do because of competition, people are worse off because they can’t make their livings as professional athletes rather than service workers. I could be Wimbledon champion if only the tennis players better than me weren’t allowed to compete! But all the viewers of the event would be worse off as they only got to experience poorer quality play, poorer quality entertainment.

P.M.Lawrence: “we can see that there were fewer left to feed about the same number.”

Which could only occur if fewer people farming actually could feed everyone by increases in labor productivity. Otherwise excess food production would only be wastefully rotting, and adding to the supply of food which would be bringing the prices for food production down, thus causing all farmers to be poorer rather than everyone being richer by producing other stuff such as factory goods. Society no longer produces just food, but now produces food *AND* factory goods. This is win-win for everybody.

P.M.Lawrence: “Mostly, they weren’t given the option, they were evicted.”

That’s a *good* thing. Land owners were behaving as good entrepreneurs, doing them a favor saving them wasting their efforts on unnecessary duplicating output. Just like I’m synthetically “evicted” from competing in the Wimbledon tournament. Those less efficient farmers would be strictly economically *better off* working in the factories, just as those more efficient remain farmers would be strictly economically better off with unnecessary surplus production from those less marginally efficient farmers. It’s win-win. And win-win-win when you include the land owners who can now charge higher rents for more marginally productive land, or use the land saved on producing food for other uses, such as your sheep herding example.

P.M.Lawrence: “it is Rtr who is assuming that there were no distortions. To take but one, Scottish clan lands were appropriated by clan chiefs, who then evicted clansmen. This is not a free market at work.”

So a more free market would have benefited everybody, would have made everybody better off, would have mode society net wealthier. It was only anti-free market, anti-capitalism distortions which were causing people to be poorer than they otherwise would have been.

newson July 6, 2008 at 8:19 pm

to rtr:
weren’t you writing a book?

newson July 6, 2008 at 8:23 pm

to paul marks:

perhaps it’s all those george clooney movies i’ve been watching, but i recall nothing of the “blacklisting” by the hollywood left.

rtr July 6, 2008 at 10:25 pm

newson: “to rtr:weren’t you writing a book?”

Strict Barter: The Epistemological and Economic Implications of Trade, or something like that. I estimate I only have about two thirds of the demonstrations I’m looking for, though they are of course exhibited and marked “out there” on the internet (the so-called 99 independent NP quality demonstrations :P), just in case any others were to independently accidentally stumble upon the methodology. It tends to be simultaneously written with various disparate free wheeling intellectual sparing. So maybe hopefully done in another three of four years. Then a year or two to tie the book together. But currently it just doesn’t feel like I’m done discovering and ready to work on mere summarization yet.

Syren123 July 6, 2008 at 11:29 pm

We just got back from seeing the film. I fully expected a not-so-subliminal global warming panic attack and was pleasantly surprised to the contrary. Yes, the premise of the trash filled world and the pitiful humans on the Axiom were ridiculous, but as others have pointed out, they were artistic devices to create a setting for the premise of the story.

The creators threw in some funny jabs at corporatism and overt consumerism (which is odd considering those are the sources of their considerable wealth), and there was a definite anti-environmentalist smack. But the overriding theme was one of liberty, self-determination, love, and the power of good to overcome evil. Most importantly, no overt socialist/collectivist/global warming messages that I could see. It’s safe for kids and susceptible adults.

A charming movie.

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magnus July 7, 2008 at 9:43 am

I wish everyone would stick close to the nature of the movie rather than repeating libertarian cultural critiques that have very little to do with the subject itself.

I wish you would stop telling people what to do, say and think.

In any event, I have seen the movie.

It is a message movie. It is a rather blunt one. Ham-fisted. Subtle as the proverbial ton of bricks.

But its message is not about economics per se. (It has economic assumptions and implications, of course, but that’s because economics is the study of all of our practical, material world.)

The overt message is the fad du jour — environmentalism. The MacGuffin in the movie is a plant — the sole plant that has ever been found to exist on planet earth 700 years after all humans evacuated. I even think the plant in question is a soy bean plant, for the love of God.

The message is that we are burying the planet in garbage. Wall-E is a garbage-cleaning robot.

Anyway, the meta-message is a little more subtle. And it’s more freedom-oriented and therefore laudable. This meta-message is addressed in the second half of the movie, when we meet the humans living in space.

Life onboard the AXIOM is Brave New World. Babies are raised in incubators. People are fed constant electronic entertainment. Robots do everything. Everyone lives on levitating recliners, wearing zip-up tracksuits, such that they all are morbidly obese and incapable of walking. It is a hellish prison, made more insidious by the fact that it is a nice, all-too-comfortable place to live. The people in the prison don’t know it’s a prison. They literally think it’s an endless all-you-can-eat cruise.

Brave New World is the reality of modern, post-WWII socialism. It is the scientific socialism we live with today. Socialism has not come to America by looking like 1984 or Eastern Europe. It has succeeded by mimicking the aesthetics of free enterprise. The all-encompassing, global government in Wall-E is nominally a discount retailer. (BNL, aka Buy ‘n Large, is Wal*Mart, obviously.)

So, the hero of the movie is the libertarian, loner individual. He almost dies, symbolically, in Act III, but the way the filmmakers expressed this death is very interesting — the robot temporarily loses his individuality. After he is severely damaged and repaired, he becomes a shell, a mechanical automaton, a mere machine that resumes work without any warmth or curiosity. Then, a robot-kiss from Eve restores him to his quirky, defiant self, complete with a genuine personality and free will.

The other hero is the AXIOM’s captain, who smashes the technological, corporatist state. Literally smashes it — the scientific, corporatist state onboard the AXIOM is run by a computer (that has a flat, machine-like voice and a red eye that is exactly like the HAL-9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey). He casts off his floating Barc-a-lounger and walks, for the first time in his life, and sets a new course, a free man.

So, the movie is mixed in terms of libertarianism. On the one hand, it’s cheap, environmental hysteria-mongering in the tradition of Al Gore. But on the other, it portrays the state as unequivocally evil — it provides all physical comforts and creates an apparent paradise, as long as you submit to slavery by never asking the big questions or challenging the system as a whole.

ajax July 7, 2008 at 10:48 am

Star Wars, The Phantom Menace was reviewed on this site and lauded for its economic brilliance(see Mark Thorntons review). But,… but…. that did not make it a good movie, in fact, it was really, really bad. I watch movies to be entertained and that’s it. Wall-E was entertaining.

Bob Kaercher July 7, 2008 at 11:41 am

I just took my kid to see “Kung Fu Panda” this weekend, and now I’m wondering what kind of subversive socialist ideology I unwittingly exposed him to. It did take place in China, after all!

Seriously, some of you need to get a little bit of a grip. A person’s political ideology/philosophy is hardly set in stone by a film they saw when they were a young child. It’s a bit more complex than that, isn’t it?

I haven’t seen “Wall-E.” Does the film condemn technology per se, or just how certain organizations use some applications of certain kinds of technology? Does the film try to claim that FREE MARKET capitalism has laid the Earth to waste? If it doesn’t, why assume that it does make that claim? Perhaps one could just as easily make the inference that state-socialism combined with government-protected big business is responsible for the ruin? Or perhaps various state-run enterprises were responsible? (I seem to recall that the Soviet regime’s attempt at running a nuclear power plant met with a fair amount of wide-scale disaster.)

Patrick Ford at The American Conservative’s blog had an interesting take on this movie that addresses some of the concerns expressed by some conservatives that appear somewhat similar to those of this article’s author, and he reached somewhat different conclusions:

http://www.amconmag.com/blog/2008/06/30/wall-es-conservative-critics/

Here’s a snippet:

“In the film, it becomes clear that mass consumerism is not just the product of big business, but of big business wedded with big government. In fact, the two are indistinguishable in WALL-E’s future. The government unilaterally provided it’s citizens with everything they needed, and this lack of variety led to Earth’s downfall.”

Did Patrick Ford see a completely different movie than Mr. Stolyarov? I guess I’ll just have to see for myself. But judging from the two very different responses, it seems as though there is some room for interpretation.

treekeyjoke July 7, 2008 at 12:54 pm

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UrMawm July 7, 2008 at 12:57 pm

Regardless of entertainment value, Hollywierd is the world’s biggest propoganda machine.

UrMawm July 7, 2008 at 12:58 pm

Regardless of entertainment value, Hollywierd is the world’s biggest propoganda machine.

UrMawm July 7, 2008 at 1:00 pm

Regardless of entertainment value, Hollywierd is the world’s biggest propoganda machine.

UrMawm July 7, 2008 at 1:01 pm

Regardless of entertainment value, Hollywierd is the world’s biggest propoganda machine.

Jack Skylark July 7, 2008 at 10:41 pm

Magnus: “I wish everyone would stick close to the nature of the movie rather than repeating libertarian cultural critiques that have very little to do with the subject itself.”

I asked people to stick to topic because it is very difficult for me to follow the flow of argument due to the layout of the comment section of the Mises website. When I was “telling people what to do and think”, I was merely putting forward a proposal which I hoped would be voluntarily accepted. This, of course, is a handicap on my part, and I ask as a favor to myself that only the topic would be discussed (this means that it does no good to talk about thermodynamics in a debate concerning metaphysics).

As far as WALL-E is concerned, I disagree that the central message is environmentalism. It is more, in my eyes, a warning against government and I believe can be called a very anarchist film. In the first fifteen minutes of the film we are greeted with the destruction caused directly by a purely command economy. I find it peculiar that other Austrians did not instantly see the blueprint Zwangswirtschaft (German for “compulsory economy”) system personified in the BNL Corporation. With the monopoly power over the use of force as well as a nationalized economic base, property rights (in the pure sense) were completely trampled. To the common layman a trashed earth may be synonymous with free enterprise and libertarian ideals but this film does not set out to provide explanation but to tell a story.

I’ll respond more later.

IMHO July 8, 2008 at 6:24 am

Hi Fundamentalist,

I see you recommend Rand’s fiction. Do you also recommend reading her non-fiction about capitalism, selfishness, for the new intellectual, etc.?

Thanks.

fundamentalist July 8, 2008 at 8:11 am

IMHO, I haven’t read too much Rand, just her fiction and a compilation of columns. I like most of what I have read, but disagree with some things, like her take on selfishness. I haven’t read anyone I agree with completely. Although the only thing I have found I disagree with Mises on is his attitude toward religion and that changed in his later life.

In mentioning Rand, I was mostly recommending that libertarians follow her approach in putting her ideas into fiction. I think her fiction has probably helped convert more people to libertarian thought than all of her non-fiction.

magnus July 8, 2008 at 8:26 am

I disagree that the central message is environmentalism. It is more, in my eyes, a warning against government and I believe can be called a very anarchist film. In the first fifteen minutes of the film we are greeted with the destruction caused directly by a purely command economy.

My point was not that environmentalism is the “central” message, but rather that it is merely the film’s most conspicuous, overt message.

There is a meta-message, a slightly hidden one, one that, as I said, is more subtle, even if it is perhaps more important. That less overt message is the one you referred to — the danger of crony, state capitalism, the fusion of business and government.

This economic message is not as obvious as the one about the biological need to protect plants.

It is not at all clear, I think, to the average moviegoer that the movie condemns the practice of a command economy. In the popular mind, a command economy is the old Soviet Union. It is Eastern Europe. It is China in the 1950s. It is North Korea. In short, something right out of 1984 (which most people only remember because it was copied in Ridley Scott’s famous commercial for the Macintosh computer.) This version of socialism is portrayed as a consumer nightmare. Nothing on the shelves. No convenience. No nice, new clothes. Everything gray.

This is not the command economy of Wall-E (nor of contemporary America, incidentally). Here, we see the Brave New World version of socialism. It is a consumer paradise (at least superficially). There are no problems of food shortages, just the opposite — too much food and an obese population. Too many conveniences, not too few. Not a stern military-style commander with goose-stepping armies on parade, but a smiling, cheesy CEO, standing behind a presidential podium emblazoned with a retailer’s logo instead of an eagle.

I agree that this part of Wall-E is a condemnation of fascism, and one I agree with, of course. But it is a somewhat hidden message, because I do not believe the general public recognizes this as fascism.

IMHO July 8, 2008 at 10:51 am

Thanks again, Fundamentalist.

Jack Skylark July 8, 2008 at 1:32 pm

You hit the nail on the head, magnus. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you posted.

DESU July 8, 2008 at 10:18 pm

No. It’s about capitalism. Even more offensive, it’s about greed and selfishness. And why they’re wrong. Don’t pretend this is about someone else. This film is directed at the American consumer. It is saying: You are disgusting and evil.

We’re done arguing. With the democrats in complete control, we will begin the dismantling of capitalism in America.

Jean Murphy July 9, 2008 at 9:26 am

I found this blog looking for someone, anyone, who found Wall E to be undeserving of the unrelenting praise that is has received. I agree with all points made in the blog, but I simply yearn for the interesting characters, funny dialog and sheer entertainment of Toy Story and The Incredibles! I found Wall E to be tiresome, boring and way too heavy handed in its message.

P.M.Lawrence July 9, 2008 at 10:13 pm

Testing (to see if it’s me or my links keeping things from being posted).

Aaron July 10, 2008 at 4:55 pm

I think you missed the point entirely.

First, if you compare this world view to THX, 1984, or other fictional works (Neil Stevenson comes to mind), then a world view like this isn’t far off the mark. One could consider this a “what if,” were it not for my second point:

It’s a frackin’ cartoon. It’s an imaginative work. It’s cleverly done. It’s an engaging storyline. It’s FICTION. Why does it have to be propaganda?

Tracy Saboe July 11, 2008 at 1:17 am

I guess to me, I saw the station as sort of a “Brave New World” crowds CAN be brainwashed into complacency, boredom, and lethargy.

There are some inconsistencies, yes. And in most movies those praxeologically unsound problems would have bothered me. (In addition to the biological ones — like how did those people learn to walk again after 700 years of devolving bone mass, etc.)

But unlike other movies (like Robots for instances which was blatantly a Marxian fairy tale.) the economic illiteracy isn’t their to indoctrinate, and isn’t the point.

The point is individualism. 1 person — following his own dreams (even if it’s a Robot) can make a difference.

But the point of the movie is that 1 person can make a difference.

Lets give Pixar the benefit of the doubt. They’ve made some blatently libertarian, pro-market movies in the past (A Bugs Life, Monsters Inc, Incredibles, Ratatuie)
Tracy

magnus July 11, 2008 at 8:10 am

It’s an imaginative work. It’s cleverly done. It’s an engaging storyline. It’s FICTION. Why does it have to be propaganda?

Why do you believe that fiction can’t be propaganda?

If you read Edward Bernays’ classic text, Propaganda, you’ll find that he includes in his definition any form of communication that has the ability to persuade.

Bernays knew what he was talking about, too. He was a major figure in the engineering of public opinion for the White House, made bacon and eggs a common American breakfast, and helped engineer the overthrow of the government of Guatemala for the benefit of the United Fruit Company (aka Chiquita Brands International).

He believed that fiction can be an excellent vehicle for propaganda, because one feature of propaganda is that it is less effective the more overt it is.

P.M.Lawrence July 12, 2008 at 12:33 am

Since this blog won’t post my rebuttal, Kevin Carson is going to.

P.M.Lawrence July 15, 2008 at 1:47 am
thorsmitersaw July 15, 2008 at 9:24 am

While I do not agree with Mr.Carson or P.M. Lawrence on quite a bit, including the assumptions about the choices between work on farms and factory with the farm winning out, (especially when trying to apply his theory to the American landscape as opposed to the British) it should be obvious to anyone that the enclosure acts DID indeed theft land and herd people into positions they otherwise would not have chosen. Any defense of these acts is abysmally statist in nature.

I do think it is far fetched to say when the writers of this movie conjured up the story they were thinking about the neo-mercantilist partnership of business and state. It is not a popular analysis of market ills to blame states interference with market process, but to blame legitimate business practices. I also cannot see how anyone would come to the conclusion that the movie is not equally following popular economic ignorance about environment and legitimate business (and property rights). It is the same vulgar blindness to state intervention that the “vulgar libertarian” is guilty of and it is exceptionally pervasive in the western world. That the makers of WALL-E had any of these free market critiques presented here or elsewhere in mind I find highly doubtful. So I do not think it is so wise to defend the film, at least no more so than zealously berating it.

If you REALLY want to find a true piece of child propaganda look no further than a particularly Marxist segment in “Ant Bully”

fundamentalist July 15, 2008 at 12:53 pm

American Spectator has an interesting review of the movie on its web site today.

rtr July 15, 2008 at 3:25 pm

thorsmitersaw: “it should be obvious to anyone that the enclosure acts DID indeed theft land and herd people into positions they otherwise would not have chosen.”

No, Enclosure was turning socialist common land into private property. Sure, there may be some complaints that privatization didn’t occur fairly (large land owners were entitled by monarchy political bequething), but there is no doubt enclosure privatization led to increased productivity. If there was any theft of land, it was giant land tracts being awarded by the King to become manor estates.

A quick overview can be gleaned at:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enclosure

“commons (a piece of land owned by one person, but over which other people could exercise certain traditional rights, such as allowing their livestock to graze upon it),”

So if you want to complain that walking my dog on your lawn to do “his business” is a theft of my rights, maybe we could work out a compensation plan that let’s you pay me for all the free fertilizer your lawn receives. :P

Obviously that’s not efficient for specialized division of labor or increasing productivity gains.

“The focus shifted to implementation of new agricultural techniques, including fertilizer, new crops, and crop rotation, all of which greatly increased the profitability of large-scale farms.”

Marginal per acre productivity drastically increased. Those are productivity gains from privatization of property overcoming the so-called “tragedy of the commons” independent of technology gains from the Industrial Revolution.

“In 1515, conversion from arable to pasture became an offence.”

Relatively more profitable sheep pasturing was being artificially restricted by government interference. It’s similar to the American story of cattle ranchers versus farmers, with the distinct difference that American farmers favored enclosure while cattle ranchers favored commons; in England sheep herders favored enclosure while the farmers there favored commons. It’s classic economic and political instability caused by ill defined individual property rights. This was back and forth rent seeking political warfare for centuries, with the Tudors originally in favor of the commons so as to quell vagrancy and rebellion. All sides avoided a free market solution economic solution.

“Both economic and social factors drove the enclosure movement. In particular, the demand for land in the seventeenth century, increasing regional specialisation, engrossment in landholding and a shift in beliefs regarding the importance of “common wealth” (usually implying common livelihoods) as opposed to the “public good” (the wealth of the nation or the GDP) all laid the groundwork for a shift of support among elites to favour enclosure.”

“Enclosed lands normally could demand higher rents than unenclosed,”

Solely because of increased productivity on enclosed lands versus inefficient productivity on common lands.

“Common rights had included not just the right of cattle or sheep grazing, but also the grazing of geese, foraging for pigs, gleaning, berrying, and fuel gathering. During the period of parliamentary enclosure, employment in agriculture did not fall, but failed to keep pace with the growing population[8].”

“From 1347-52, plague (mainly the ‘Black Death’) devastated European society, initially killing 25 million people—a third of the total population. Labour shortages led to depression and revolts as peasants demanded higher wages but were denied them. Smaller outbreaks of plague continued until 1600 or so—in 1556-60 a bout of plague reduced the English population by 6%—but in the late fifteenth-sixteenth centuries there was an immense overall population increase. By 1500, England had recovered from plague deaths so that the population was about 5 million again, as it was in 1300. By 1700 England’s population reached 9 million.[dubious – discuss] From 1500 to 1600, the City of London grew 400% to a high of about 200,000 people.”

There you have dynamically changing population figures which fly in the face of an alleged Utopian static agrarian population myth. If all those people had remained farmers they would have truly lived in abject poverty, fighting for scarce land, flooding the market with food over production causing low crop prices and low rents for use of land to be collected.

“In 1544, Henry came up with a new answer. He reduced the silver in minted coins by about 50%; this was repeated to a lesser extent the following year. This, combined with injection of bullion from the New World, increased the money supply within England. The increase in money supply led to inflationary pressure on prices, therefore causing a long term inflation crisis, resulting in enclosures. Enclosures followed because the landowners’ wealth was under threat, which forced the landowners into becoming more efficient.”

There’s some monetary theory nonsense, nonetheless an interesting (provably false) economic claim.

ian July 16, 2008 at 5:43 am

i had no idea this film had any sort of anti-capitalist or anti-civilization themes. with this in mind i have a new found eagerness to see.
as for your review.. reads like the rambling of some some of obscure ‘gaming’ community member.
(dungeon and dragons anyone?)
the world was complete and healthy before your predatory inclinations..and will return to health soon after your moment has blinked away.
it is, in particular, hilarious that 90% of the commentators posting here seem to pretend to be both anti-state and pro-capitalism,.. as if capitalism would last 10 minutes without the coercive police and military forces. (speaking of fairy tales! )
that in mind, perhaps you could take this wild imagination of yours and make your own cartoon?

ian July 16, 2008 at 6:13 am

mike says:
“As a left-libertarian, what I saw on board the cruise ship was the very essence of the nanny state…”
and then “n” asks;
maybe it’s just that i grew up in a different country, but i don’t get “left-libertarian”. it seems a contradiction in terms. left, to me, means aversion to private property in favour of coerced collective ownership.

easy, just drop the word ‘coerced’ and you’ve got it..
libertarian collectivism.. (the quite natural tendency that capitalism had to raise armies and police to suppress.)
peter kropotkin, in “The Place of Anarchism in Socialistic Evolution” showed how absurd predatory capitalism appears to those who are sharing their resources ,labors, and their products;

“”How comes it that millions of men thus allow the Rothschilds and the Mackays to appropriate the fruit of their labor?” Alas, they cannot help themselves under the existing social system! But let us picture to our minds a city all of whose inhabitants find their lodging, clothing, food and occupation secured to them, on condition of producing things useful to the community, and let us suppose a Rothschild to enter this city bringing with him a cask full of gold. If he spends his gold it will diminish rapidly; if he locks it up it will not increase, because gold does not grow like seed, and after the lapse of a twelvemonth he will not find £110 in his drawer if he only put £100 into it. If he sets up a factory and proposes to the inhabitants of the town that they should work in it for four shillings a day while producing to the value of eight shillings a day they will reply — Among us you’ll find no one willing to work on those terms. Go elsewhere and settle in some town where the unfortunate people have neither clothing, bread, nor work assured to them, and where they will consent to give up to you the lion’s share of the result of their labor in return for the barest necessaries of life. Go where men starve! there you will make your fortune! “

Amy July 16, 2008 at 11:13 am

I thought it was an anti-war film, especially when the BNL CEO insisted on “staying the course” in spite of the obvious destruction around him and people literally shouting in his ear that they’ve “got to get out of here.” Meanwhile, when I asked my six-year-old what he thought the movie was about, he said: “Wall E loved Eva and he would have done anything for her, and in the end they kissed.”

P.M.Lawrence July 17, 2008 at 11:03 pm

Thorsmitersaw wrote “I do not agree with Mr.Carson or P.M. Lawrence on quite a bit, including the assumptions about the choices between work on farms and factory with the farm winning out”.

The whole point is, those weren’t assumptions but descriptions of what actually happened, historically, when free choices were available. I even cited the Leverburgh natural experiment in support of that. As for “especially when trying to apply his theory to the American landscape as opposed to the British” – I didn’t, just there. If I had wanted to describe what actually happened there, I would most likely have drawn on Henry George’s descriptions (not his theorising), but I didn’t do that because I didn’t have to. Stolyarov made a general statement about people preferring factories; in order to refute it I only had to look at particular situations to get counter-examples, so I looked at ones I was most familiar with. My understanding of the US situation is that land became dominated by the effects of land grants and taxes, directly for new farms and indirectly for transport access to it, and by mortgages and tax structures encouraging smaller farmers with a dependence on outside finance over larger self-financing ones. When the noose tightened, people were squeezed out because they had become dependent on outside resources they no longer had.

Rtr believes that “Enclosure was turning socialist common land into private property. Sure, there may be some complaints that privatization didn’t occur fairly…” He misunderstands. It wasn’t socialist, any more than if I make a lease of my land to someone else, that person has a socialist connection with it. Just as he owns the lease and I no longer own the land free and clear, the commoners had property rights on the common – restricted, non-transferrable ones, just as a lease might have a covenant stopping the renter transferring it, but property rights all the same. The “privatising” was in fact seizing without compensation, expropriation. Sure, you can complain that stealing isn’t fair – but if you only put it that way, people won’t get the point.

The wikipedia entry has repeated a common American mistake, thinking that “commons” is singular. It isn’t; there were lots of commons, e.g. the famous Wimbledon Common in England and Boston Common in the USA. This isn’t just a quibble, because it relates to just who had rights where, and whether the Tragedy of the Commons could happen (see below).

It’s important to make it clear just which period is involved, because different things happened to land use and to the evicted at different periods. Likewise it is important to be clear just which kind of productivity is involved. When Rtr writes “…but there is no doubt enclosure privatization led to increased productivity. If there was any theft of land, it was giant land tracts being awarded by the King to become manor estates.”, this is wrong. This is the Tudor phase, and it led to a drop in food production as arable land was turned over to sheep. Net cash yields rose, but that is not an increase in production per unit land, it is an increase in production per unit labour of the remaining peasants. Net gains came largely from cost cutting, externalising the costs of the new vagrants.

“The focus shifted to implementation of new agricultural techniques, including fertilizer, new crops, and crop rotation, all of which greatly increased the profitability of large-scale farms.” is drawn from the part of the wikipedia article about the later phase. The actual Enclosures did not cause these gains; small farms could also have used these techniques, with a different system of enclosure keeping the land in the same hands – only, that didn’t happen. Even so, it’s a precondition, not a cause; and, in fact, you could probably have made it work on the Lammas Land system of common, with grazing etc. only in certain seasons but allocate planting etc. at other times.

‘Those are productivity gains from privatization of property overcoming the so-called “tragedy of the commons” independent of technology gains from the Industrial Revolution.’ This is a widespread mistake. There never was any Tragedy of the Commons on actual English commons, except when commoners’ rights had already been destroyed! Precisely because there were property rights, only commoners could use each common, and only on their own common and only as far as the rights allowed. Buchan’s life of Cromwell describes how one of Cromwell’s relatives was had up before the magistrates for going beyond his entitlement on Putney Common.

‘”In 1515, conversion from arable to pasture became an offence.” Relatively more profitable sheep pasturing was being artificially restricted by government interference.’ Er… this is actually a common mistake made by governments, trying to undo their own harm by regulation. But the “more profitable sheep pasturing” was itself artificial!

Rtr is wrong in the first part and right in the second of “…the Tudors originally in favor of the commons so as to quell vagrancy and rebellion. All sides avoided a free market solution economic solution.” Originally, the Tudors were indifferent, not having realised what was happening – the regulation came in once they did, and later still they favoured Enclosures.

We have an inaccurate understanding of English history in “in England sheep herders favored enclosure while the farmers there favored commons”. The “sheep herders” (shepherds, actually) were the impoverished survivors of the peasants who had lost their property rights on commons; they did not favour enclosure, the new landlords did. Likewise the farmers did not favour commons, as they had separate farms; it was the peasants who were not farmers who needed their rights on the common.

Rtr made up ‘”Enclosed lands normally could demand higher rents than unenclosed,” Solely because of increased productivity on enclosed lands versus inefficient productivity on common lands.’ Because of increased capture of the value of economic activity on the land by the landlords. The common land approach tended to route much of that straight to the peasants in kind, bypassing the cash economy let alone the landlords. Productivity only looks worse if you don’t/can’t count it, but actually there wasn’t much in it either way. But see also the role of the pig in peasant capital accumulation, as described in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe or as happened with the Creole Pig in Haiti until the USA intervened.

There is a strange mixture in “If all those people had remained farmers they would have truly lived in abject poverty, fighting for scarce land, flooding the market with food over production causing low crop prices and low rents for use of land to be collected”. It appears to be describing late 18th century conditions. Before Malthusian constraints hit, if people had had their own access to resources, none of this could have happened (in real life, the Enclosures happened and people could suffer before the limits were hit). Once Malthusian constraints hit, there would have been widespread poverty, but:-

- shifting people off the land wouldn’t have changed that, only where the poor were; and

- leaving them on the land would have left them poor, but not overworked the way Stolyarov described.

Also, there would not have been food over-production – if you have hit Malthusian limits you can’t produce enough food, and with a peasant population doing most of the producing and consuming, crop prices don’t relate closely to production since so much isn’t in the cash economy (prices can go high or low depending on a lot of other things – including levels of rent and tax).

rtr July 18, 2008 at 12:37 am

P.M.Lawrence: “The whole point is, those weren’t assumptions but descriptions of what actually happened, historically, when free choices were available.”

So they were free market choices. Got it.

P.M.Lawrence July 18, 2008 at 2:56 am

Rtr wrote “So they were free market choices. Got it.”

Wrong, in general. I wrote “when free choices were available” [emphasis added]. I did not say they were free market choices – mostly, they were not.

To recap, things like the Leverburgh situation were free market, and people stayed out of the factories. Things like the English Enclosures, the Highland Clearances and the Irish Evictions weren’t, so people going into factories and mines during the Industrial Revolution don’t tell you anything about free market choices because leaving rural lifestyles wasn’t a free market choice.

Please try not to line up my descriptions with things they don’t describe. That’s misrepresentation.

Kevin Carson July 18, 2008 at 1:48 pm

Is rtr “Person” posting under a different name? He displays, in spades, Person’s almost preternatural inability to grasp a point.

rtr July 19, 2008 at 9:22 pm

P.M.Lawrence: “Wrong, in general. I wrote “when free choices were available” [emphasis added]. I did not say they were free market choices – mostly, they were not.”

So they were the result of coerced non free market non choices. Got it.

P.M.Lawrence: “Is rtr “Person” posting under a different name? He displays, in spades, Person’s almost preternatural inability to grasp a point.”

Whomever that “Person” is should take that as quite a compliment. But I, in fact, have only ever posted here as “rtr”.

David Ch December 2, 2008 at 2:43 am

Having seen this film with my kid, I just don’t see the allegedly egregious attack on capitalism. What I DID see is a satire of the Welfare/nanny State. Didn’t the reviewer notice that ONE COMPANY DOES EVERYTHING? And doesn’t any self respecting Austrian understand that an absolute monopoly is only possible through the power of the State? This film contained no market capitalism to lambast!

To be sure, there was an element of economic ignorance in the depiction of the off-earth human colony: It was way too efficient and technologically slick to be plausible – no State ( or monopoly) could achieve that. The story would have been much improved had the colony been shown to have suffered the technological hamfistedness and mindless bureaucracy depicted in, say, the dystopian sci-fi film Brazil.

But that caveat aside, the movie in sum reflected a triumph of the human spirit, in the form of the victory of choice over the force of Authoritarian compulsion ( albeit a sugar-coated ‘benign’ authoritarianism), even ( or especially) when the choice entails the rejection of compelled comfort and mindless conformity, in favour of pioneering adventure and a return to a long-missed home.

My son, of course, saw little of this deconstructionism. He was most entertained by the antics of Wall E and his indestructible cockroach sidekick.

regeya December 27, 2008 at 1:29 am

Yeah; not really an anarcho-capitalist or even what you folks seem to term a Libertarian, but I’m finding it hard to believe so many people posting to mises.org actually have a problem with Wall-E. Amazing, really.

Ignoring the ridiculous nature of the story, what do we have?

Well, on one end, we have a future version of Earth, wrecked by rampant consumerism, fed by a single corporation. As many commentators are fond of pointing out (though I’m not sure I agree), corporatism could not exist without government intervention.

The interesting twist, of course, and one you don’t get until you see the AXIOM, is that the single corporation is ALSO the government…and they’re here to help.

The ship has been in space for 700 years, when it was only meant to be out for five while the Wall- droids cleaned up the Earth. And to keep the populace happy and sedated, B&L chose to use–you guessed it–rampant consumerism.

It took a moment of rugged individualism on the Captain’s part to fight against the state and start a revolution, ultimately ending with the people of the ship being freed of their virtual slavery on board the AXIOM, and deposited on the Earth to be free to build a society as they deemed fit, and at least at the moment they left the AXIOM, they were free–free, even, to fail.

That so many of you seem unable to grasp this strengthens my resolved that your movement is a sad, confused lot who can’t even come up with a definition for free-market capitalism or for Libertariansm that more than one person can agree with.

Knowles March 7, 2009 at 4:21 pm

It is great to read other people identifying themes in WALL-E. But the article takes the plot out of proportion.
Any Pixar/Disney film is targeted for a young audience. Children, and their parents seek entertainment and simple fun. My family found it highly entertaining, superbly done, and worthy of its Academy Award.
To presume those involved in WALL-E were making a definitive and affirmative statement on socio-political-economic doctrine is, absurd.
I totally agree with David Ch, the film is a satire,- its purpose is to ridicule that what it shows. The article and some, not all, of the comments seem to be a bad case of not seeing the forest through the trees.

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