September 01, 2004

The Monetary Economics of Thurston Howell III In early episodes, we see Mr. Howell hiring various services from other castaways. We eventually learn he's been writing checks on a mainland (and therefore inaccessible) bank. This works while the group consider their condition temporary, but the checks are quickly devalued and eliminated when the castaways begin to prepare for the possibility of an indefinite stay on the island. Hey, it's not just a theoretical discussion, now that Gilligan's island is becoming a reality. Plus, author B.K. Howell manages to sneak in an informative discussion on some basic economic principles. BoingBoing>
  • weird. but it makes sense. personally i'd like to have seen a communist revolution on the island, redistributing thurston's wealth and making the pampered blue-blood work for his money. ha. that would have been funny. (not a bloody revolution mind you. just a nice friendly red menace.)
  • (not a bloody revolution mind you. just a nice friendly red menace.) I dunno frogs, a little Lord of the Flies action might make Gilligan's Island a hell of a lot more interesting to me.
  • Economics isn't called the "dismal science" for nothing. For an excellent (if lengthy) overview on how national macroeconomics works (and a few eye-openers, lemme tell ya), check out Secrets of the Temple by William Greider. Economics is part and parcel of daily modern life, and most people don't even remotely comprehend the least bit of it. I dunno, gents, a communist revolution would pretty much put Gilligan in charge, wouldn't it?Do we want that?
  • I think Mary Ann would end up on top through a combination of murder and pure Machiavellian terror. It'd certainly make an interesting episode.
  • Did I mention that, growing up, I was always annoyed that none of the characters in Scooby Doo got killed off and none of the ghosts were real? Perhaps I'm just a bloodthirsty critic of these shows of yesteryear.
  • I hear ya, BearGuy. I always wanted Wile E. Coyote to dissipate in a fine mist of blood and bone powder when he hit the ground after a 3-mile freefall, but it never happened. Taz never had a chestbursting explosion after eating TNT either. Is this the message that we want to send our children?
  • Fez, Thanks for that link! After reading comments from the readers, I'm definately going out and getting that book. It will probably increase my blood pressure, but I'd rather be in the know than not.
  • Very nice link. I'm a geophysicist yet I still feel too dumb to understand how money supply, interest rates, and lending are all tied together. I find it all fascinating, yet nearly all links I've surfed to are dry or over my head (sounds like I need Economics for Idiots). So this is a refreshing find. Thanks JacobW. Also just for grins and giggles I got the Monopoly add-on last week.
  • BK Markus says: This is why the castaways value Thurston Howell's paper dollars: because whatever absurd amount he may have brought with him for "a three-hour tour," that amount is now fixed. Dollars are the most stable currency available on Gilligan's Island, and the government has nothing to do with it. *shakes head* This man is mixed up twelve ways from Sunday. I. Why This Economic Argument is Flawed In the absence of any other source of reserve notes on the island, Mr. Howell *becomes* the Fed. He wouldn't dump all his money straight into the island economy any more than Greenspan would lower the federal funds rate to 0.00%. It would devalue his currency and make it useless. You don't get to be CEO of Howell Industries by doing that! Instead, he would form the First Bank of Howell's Island, and put Ginger and the Skipper on the Board of Directors as salaried but powerless sinecures. The bank would store the castaway's money and make loans to achieve useful goals. For example: The Professor wants someone to pedal the stationary bike generator to juice up the coconut batteries so the radio will work. He has better things to do than pedal a bike all day, so he asks for a loan from the bank to pay Gilligan to do it. Gilligan will now be able to buy one of Maryanne's coconut cream pies, while the Professor is able to earn a profit by selling tickets to listen to the radio that evening. Everyone gets something they want -- charged batteries, free time, a radio show, coconut cream pie -- and at the end of the day, Mr. Howell still has control of the money supply and is the richest man in the world. Or at least his world. The "Wizard of Wall Street" strikes again! II. Why This Analyis Misses The Point Of course, this never happens. What does happen is an economist's worst nightmare: a world without money! The castaways don't buy and sell to earn their livings -- they share. Whenever Thurston's cash does come into play, it's never used as anything more than an ironic, tragicomic prop, highlighting Thurston as a hilariously delusional old fruit. Only an economist could miss that the whole point of the Thurston Howell III character is to lampoon greed and the pursuit of wealth. The punchline of Thurston is that he still thinks he's a millionaire, even though he's a nothingaire, just like everyone else on the island. Sometimes his cupidity infects them all -- as in the gold mine episode -- but invariably the inevitable destruction it causes wakes them up and causes them to return to their prelapsarian ways. So why do the economics of Gilligan trump the economics of Howell? The answer is obvious: the castaways didn't really want to escape. They felt richer as a community of castaways sharing their fortunes and lives than as individual cogs in a mechanical, empty economic system. Gilligan shows us something we all know in our hearts: Friends are the true wealth. Take that, Ludwig von Mises Institute!
  • stimulantcaplets, that was the best comment ever.
  • Agreed. Nice.
  • Excellent commentary.
  • Praise for caplets enthusiastically, er, fourthed.
  • *clap clap clap clap clap* Friends are the true wealth. Too true!
  • From each according to their cliche-one-dimensional-character-traits, to each according to their cliche-one-dimensional-character-traits.