I have just finished watching a movie with such a brilliant depiction of the state versus the free market that it brought me to tears and changed the way I will watch movies forever. I am speaking, of course, of the 1990 science fiction flick, RoboCop 2. For those of you who have not seen it, RoboCop 2 is a heart-rending tragedy about the insidious nature of government, represented by the terrifying RoboCop, and its corruption of the free market, represented by the visionary Omni Consumer Products company and the young drug dealer Hob, whom I find very reminiscent of the street urchin Gavroche from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. It is full of stirring scenes depicting the hope of the free market, but there is also an insightful message about how free marketers can be subtly turned against their own cause.
The movie begins in a future Detroit ravaged by socialist police protection led by the infamous RoboCop. Heroic entrepreneurs have developed a new recreational drug called “nuke” to help people momentarily forget the fear and hopelessness of their daily lives, but RoboCop mercilessly destroys the production facilities for Nuke and murders many innocent drug dealers.
Meanwhile, Omni Consumer Products, or OCP for short, has recently signed a contract with the city of Detroit to manage the police of the city. However, the OCP management has plans: they envision an idyllic entirely private Detroit and hatch a plan to realize this vision. They secretly mess with the corrupt and inept mayor’s finances so that Detroit cannot pay OCP’s bill and may therefore, as per the contract, foreclose on the city itself. This scene struck me as slightly unrealistic because I don’t think the mayor would actually be allowed to put up the city itself as collateral–but by this time I was so engrossed in the drama of the movie, I didn’t care.
The mayor secretly meets with the drug dealer Hob, who offers to give the city a large donation in return for being immune to the police. And here comes one of the movie’s stirring pro-market speeches from the mouth of the child prodigy Hob:
“The war on crime’s fine with us. It’s business we’re talking about here. Do you have any idea how many people we employ? So, the war on crime. You want to win it or not? We’re the only chance you have. Why do people do crimes? Because they want drugs–the kind that cost too much. Nuke gives high quality at a cheap price. But if you get off our backs, we’re gonna make it cheaper. We don’t go shoving our shit down anybody’s throat. And we don’t advertise it like they do with cigarettes or booze. So leave us alone and anybody who wants it, gets it. No more crimes. You get to be the mayor who cleaned up Detroit.”
Such gusto, such logic! Ayn Rand could only hope to write such speeches. Unfortunately, at this point, an OCP attempt to assassinate the mayor backfires and poor Hob is killed in the crossfire. I think this scene depicts how the use of force on the part of libertarians can only backfire in the end.
The next day, anticipating the successful takeover of Detroit by OCP, its CEO gives a speech about the free market and has an exchange with the mayor.
CEO: And so, people of the press, city officials, in a few minutes Omni Consumer Products and the troubled city of Detroit will join in a bold new venture. Now I’d like to explain just what this will be. Sometimes we just have to start over from scratch to make things right. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re going to build a brand new city where Detroit now stands. An example to the world. My friends, welcome to our city as it should be, and as it will be in the hands of responsible private enterprise.
MAYOR: You’ll have to tear down a lot of houses to build that. Lot of people will lose their homes!
CEO: We’re going to build towers of glass and steel. Everyone will have a place to live. Safe, secure, and clean.
(Let me point out here that it is shown earlier that OCP can only tear down those homes because the people in them defaulted on their mortgages, so OCP is not stealing those properties–they’re doing what any good entrepreneur should do and are turning misallocated capital to more productive uses.)
MAYOR: What about Democracy? Nobody elected you!
CEO: Anyone can buy OCP stock and own a piece of our city. What could be more democratic than that?
Honestly, these are the sort of arguments I wish I could think up quickly enough in conversation! However, just then, the mayor has his revenge, and his monstrous servant RoboCop enters and brutally does something or other–I don’t quite remember what–to prevent OCP from completing their plan. That scene gets me every time!
If I were to make one criticism of this movie, it would be that the movie’s depiction of free market police protection is not as realistic as it could be. We are shown lots of high tech weaponry–superior to that of the socialist police–that might be used to prevent crime on the free market, but we are not shown much of the other aspects of free market police work, such as restitution, crime insurance, and private adjudication between a criminal and his victim to find some agreement by which the criminal can pay back his debt. It would have been more complete to depict this part of the process as well. In addition, it would have been great to see the private proliferation of OCP’s private robot weapons in the hands of ordinary people. This would have made them very safe indeed.
Over all, I give the movie a rating of four gold bars out of a possible five.