Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Film and the Transmission of Economic Knowledge: A Report

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Film and the Transmission of Economic Knowledge: A Report

Article excerpt

Film is rapidly becoming in the twentieth century what the popular low-priced pamphlet was in the seventeenth century--an important and influential vehicle by which "special pleaders" (as Schumpeter called them) bring their case before the public. This article evaluates the economic content of a sample of a large and rapidly growing stock of viewing literature. Each film surveyed here is distributed and maintained in good repair by a highly efficient network of distributors. With the rapid diffusion of easy-to-use playback equipment both at schools and private organizations, I expect film to continue to grow in importance as one instrument by which the public stays informed about social problems and examines a range of possible solutions. In fact, a number of colleges have already included "media centers" in their libraries, and the day is rapidly approaching when all but the most traditional professors will include "assigned viewings" on their course reading lists. (1)

The films surveyed here are targeted at groups as diverse as elementary school children, church organizations, college students, community groups, and union locals. Many of these films were designed to acquaint the viewer with the "facts" about a certain issue while promoting a good image of the sponsoring organization. While these special pleaders light our screens with their points of view, it is still our responsibility as professional economists to monitor these developments before the "madmen in authority," which Keynes wrote about so perceptively, become the slaves of some "defunct filmmaker."

With this purpose in mind I have prepared a bibliography of (mostly) 16 mm documentary film that identifies each film by title and then lists the current (American) distributor followed by the producer and the date the film was released. A second listing of the distributors and their addresses permits any interested reader to track down the film for private viewing or classroom teaching.

When preparing the bibliography I was disturbed by the lack of any standard of generally accepted citation practice having to do with film. While it is too much to expect at this stage of technological development that scholars indicate a range of "frame" numbers analogous to a range of page numbers when footnoting film, it would be useful to identify the "author-equivalent" of a film, especially when it is a documentary and a particular point of view is being expressed. A large number of the films included in this sample announce the name of a Ph.D. consultant, and since this seems to be a prerequisite for films that are marketed among educators for classroom adoption, I have listed the names of consultants, narrators, script writers, and so on.

It is not clear, however, what responsibilities are assumed by the outside consultant. Did the consultant write the script? Did the consultant read the script written by others? Did the consultant choose the visuals? To the best of my knowledge there is no established job description for consultants in the documentary film industry. (2)

I have organized my discussion according to six general subject areas that seem to be of as much interest to filmmakers as they are to economists. In each one, I shall identify the special pleaders, their overall mission, the audience to whom the film is directed, and the quality of the economic reasoning employed.


The Serf-Interest Axiom

As a general rule, Hollywood has portrayed the impact wealth maximization has on human behavior as dehumanizing and corrupting (19, 56, 58, 59, 64, 91, 103, 136, 173). The POW camp entrepreneur King Rat (91) is certainly not credited with improving economic life among the prisoners. Instead his commodity arbitrage operations destroy him and those around him. In Fountainhead (56), however, integrity-maximization turns out to be (unexpectedly?) wealth-maximizing as Ayn Rand's entrepreneur-architect hero eventually triumphs within a malevolent economic environment. …

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