Three of the most powerful science fiction films without the words “Star” and “Wars” in their title, at least in terms of critical review, have been “Elysium”, “The Hunger Games”, and “In Time.”
Those three films, or franchises in the case of The Hunger Games is simply this, the world exists for rich people to excessively party on the backs of the poor and downtrodden. In fact, the rich choose to deliberately maintain an unjust and inequitable system to keep the party going, and screw the poor.
One of the most talked about supposedly non-fiction books in the last few years has been Thomas Pickety’s “Capital in the 21st Century” which paints almost the exact future of those three movies. And yet Pickety fails to point to any single system where capitalism failed to raise the standard of living for everyone over time.
The world of divergent wealth, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, is more fiction than reality. Thomas Edison couldn’t place a cell phone call. Albert Einstein couldn’t use the internet. John Moses Browning never flew in a commercial jetliner. The spread of technology, and growth of technology, makes things unthinkable to past generations accessible to more and more people. But why?
Because if you want to have a luxurious life, it makes sense to make luxury affordable. If you want a world where every car company has a luxury line, you need car companies that create enough high quality low cost cars to do that. If you want a world where cell phone usage has almost universal coverage, you need a system where people opt in to the system making it economical to put up new towers, upgrade older networks, and invest in new technology.
And that is very interesting when you think about technology as an investment. In Elysium technology was horded. Rich people don’t horde wealth, they invest it. This is why charitable contributions by rich people go down with the stock market, the market is the source of their income and when it doesn’t grow they have less to give. The rich have a vested interest in growing the economy, and making more consumer goods available to a larger audience.
Why is this? Because Karl Marx, as wrong as he was about many things, was right about capitalism always needing an expanding market. In Marx’s day the world had finally been explored, mapped out, and all the markets reachable by sea tapped into a global economic grid. The world isn’t getting bigger, there is no more land mass to find and populate. No, now capitalism must create new products, new services, new demand for things that don’t yet exist.
This is why Elysium, or The Hunger Games, or In Time, or any other society that requires economic scarcity to maintain the evil rich folks at the top, will forever be fiction when blamed on capitalism. Sure Imperialism, Socialism, Communism, Fascism, etc can create that massive inequality, forced onto the peasants by armed government thugs, but capitalism relies on the peasants being good little consumers. Buying GMO corn and wheat that has a higher (therefor more profitable) yield (and it’s a good bargain for the consumers and environment too, same nutrition for less farmed acres). Get those consumer buying personal computers, right now you are reading this post on a machine with more computing power available to GEN Eisenhower in all of WWII.
Technology, research, it’s an investment into the future, and as long as our society remains capitalist Elysium, The Hunger Games, and In Time will just be dystopian fiction.