An Economist at the Movies

Tyler Cowen


Tyler Cowen is an economist at George Mason University and a small-l libertarian. On his popular blog Marginal Revolution and in his new book Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist (Dutton), Cowen writes about life, art, economics, and the places where they intersect.

Below, Cowen picks the best and most libertarian movies, plus his bonus "sleeper pick" of Capricorn One, "the 1978 thriller about a government conspiracy to fake a Mars landing. The state doesn't admit to its mistakes in this one."

1. Star Wars, Episodes 1–3: Power corrupts. The first three installments of the story (the ones released in 1999, 2002, and 2005) trace how a republic—one with a representative legislature at that—can collapse into tyranny. If you don't find all of the characters convincing, it is because they are not the focus of the story. The more beloved and more optimistic Episodes 4­–6 adhere to the less libertarian theme that mystic forces can overcome the brute force of state power.

2. Paths of Glory: This 1957 Stanley Kubrick feature, starring Kirk Douglas, shows that neither war nor government law will offer much mercy or reason.

3. Battle Royale: Why do so few people know this 2000 Japanese cult classic? The underlying political theme is that totalitarianism can end only in a war of all against all. This classic of resistance and liberation shows how tyrannous circumstances degrade mankind.