Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

More Economics in the Movies: Discovering the Modern Theory of Bureaucracy in Scenes from Conspiracy and Valkyrie

Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

More Economics in the Movies: Discovering the Modern Theory of Bureaucracy in Scenes from Conspiracy and Valkyrie

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This essay describes how the elements in the modern theory of bureaucracy (Breton and Wintrobe, 1982), and in its application to the Nazi Holocaust (Breton and Wintrobe, 1986) and the 20 July 1944 plot to kill Adolf Hitler, can be integrated into the "Bureaucracy " portion of an undergraduate course in public choice economics using scenes from the movies Conspiracy (HBO Films, 2001) and Valkyrie (United Artists, 2008). In doing so, it builds upon the "economics in the movies "approach to pedagogy developed by Mateer (2004 and 2009), Dixit (2006), Sexton (2006) and Mateer and Li (2008).

INTRODUCTION

This essay describes how the elements of the modern theory of bureaucracy (Breton and Wintrobe, 1982), and its application to (1) the Nazi Holocaust (Breton and Wintrobe, 1986; Mixon, Sawyer and Trevino, 2004a and 2004b; Mixon and King, 2009; Mixon and Trevino, 2009) and (2) the 20 July 1944 plot to kill Adolf Hitler (Mixon, Sawyer and Trevino, 2004b), can be integrated, and in an innovative way, into the "Bureaucracy Theory" portion of an undergraduate course in public choice economics. Specifically, this article shows how the theory and its applications above are reconstructed in the movies Conspiracy (HBO Films, 200 1) and Valkyrie (United Artists, 2008), respectively, and it suggests scenes from each movie that can be incorporated into classroom discussion of the modern theory of bureaucracy.

Given the paucity of specialized undergraduate textbooks in this genre of economics, an "economics in the movies" approach to pedagogy like that described in Mateer (2004 and 2009), Dixit (2006), Sexton (2006) and Mateer and Li (2008) could be quite beneficial. As Mateer and Li (2008: 303) point out, among the pedagogical advantages to using short film scenes to introduce economic concepts are (1) increased student engagement, (2) an enhanced ability to critically analyze core content, and (3) the availability of an alternative to the lecture-discussion format. They also add that this new approach can, unlike some other pedagogical techniques, complement the traditional development of economic theory without sacrificing a significant amount of class time (Mateer and Li, 2008: 303).

This essay begins with a brief review of the relevant literature, including a summary of the modern theory of bureaucracy. This summary is followed by a description of how the theory has been applied to the Nazi Holocaust and other elements of the history of Nazi Germany. From there, some scenes from the movies Conspiracy and Valkyrie are presented as useful tools for teaching undergraduate economics students about the modern theory of bureaucracy.

A BRIEF REVIEW OF THE RELEVANT LITERATURE

It is not often that a new way of approaching a subject is accompanied by an example as compelling as that Breton and Wintrobe (1986) used to illustrate the applicability of their modern theory of bureaucracy (Breton and Wintrobe, 1982). The traditional theory of bureaucracy inNiskanan (1971) argues that government bureaucrats seek to increase their power, influence, and other job-related perquisites by engaging in the process of budget-maximization (Shughart, 2008; Olson, 2008). ' In this formal model, bureaucrats are able to capitalize on the lack of technical know-how exhibited by those in the legislature who provide resources for the bureaucracy, and on what Downs (1957) characterized as the "rational ignorance" of voters (the electorate), who represent the other principals (along with legislatures) who might constrain the activities of bureaucrats and bureaus (Shughart, 2008; Olson, 2008). At the same time bureaucracies seek growth, there is a general consensus that they are inefficient and inflexible, a conclusion that stems partly from a lack of information they confront as a result of their output being indivisible and unmarketable (Olson, 2008).

Breton and Wintrobe's (1982) modern theory of bureaucracy is based in large part on the ideas of "vertical trust networks" and "informal payments. …

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