The Hunger Games: An economic perspective.
The Hunger games trilogy introduced the genre of dystopian young adult fiction to the 21st century generation. It set the benchmark for dystopian literature in the years to come. The book is set in the fictional country of Panem. A boy and a girl from each of Panem’s 12 districts are chosen to fight to death in a gruesome, televised tournament organised by its government. The tournament, called the ‘Hunger Games’, ends with a lone survivor as the winner.
The books resonate with people, making them remember the not so unfamiliar issues that are faced by the world. Despite what mainstream media projects, the Hunger Games is a lot more than a love story. It explores governmental oppression, classism, the politics of power-hungry people, poverty, the use of technology as a means of control and much more, leaving the readers a lot of fodder to analyse. As students of economics, why not make the professors proud and analyse it from an economic perspective?
Panem is located in North America and is run by a corrupt government known as the Capitol. It is divided into 12 districts, each forced by the Capitol to produce only one specific type of good. For example, District 1 produces luxury items like jewellery, District 7 is known for its textiles industry and District 12 mines coal. This is a classic example of specialisation. Each district specialises in a particular good. Though in this case, the Capitol’s aim is not to optimise for the growth of the economy, but to keep its citizens under control. Citizens have no economic freedom of choosing their own jobs forcing them to stay at the same jobs even if the earnings are meagre.
Thus, Panem is a classic example of a command economy. The central government i.e the Capitol, makes every decision of what and how much to produce while the citizens have little to no freedom to make their own choices. Command economies are often associated with communist countries and historically, they have not performed well. E.g. North Korea and the Soviet Union.
This highlights the effects of total economic control by the government. The government takes all the decisions, not allowing the market forces to determine the prices and the supply. This causes shortages or surpluses, leading to slow growth of the economy.
Same is the condition in Panem where a large chunk of the country’s population is poor and does not even have food to eat. This is the result of shortages, high prices and of course, the absence of their economic freedom.
The novels also reiterate what history has proved time and time again—wealthy and privileged people always have an upper hand over the ones who are not. The story is a representation of class struggle too. The massive distinction between the rich and the poor is quite conspicuous in Panem. Unlike the players (known as tributes) from the poorer districts, the tributes from the richer districts have a greater chance of performing better owing to better training facilities.
The economic analysis of Hunger Games would be incomplete without the mention of Game theory. Since game theory studies strategic decision making, it is but natural that it is going to be applied in the Hunger Games. The tributes need to make allies in order to survive for a longer time. Trust thus becomes very important in this situation.
Death could easily be the result of trusting someone.
Representation of Game theory between a Tribute and their allies:
|TRIBUTE||Trust||Both live||Tribute dies, Allies win|
|Don’t Trust||Tribute wins, allies die||Fight each other to death|
Thus, tributes ultimately have to use game theory to try and survive in the Hunger Games. Both the Tribute and the allies will gain the most by trusting their partners. But in order to save themselves in the likelihood of a betrayal, both of them would have to choose to not trust each other, ending up fighting to death.
The Hunger Games trilogy imagines a world that we could live in possibly, in the near future. It taught its readers to question everything that goes on in society— from power dynamics to societal evils like classism, poverty, corruption— because not asking questions could lead to a much worse society. While the chances of the world having an economy exactly like the Hunger Games novels are extremely low, history has seen some of these situations come true. In a world where economic inequality is rampant and the role of the government is questioned all the time, these books offer a glimpse of what could go wrong and makes us think more deeply about the economics of the world we live in.
- Megha Kajale
FY BSc (2022-2025)