Free Markets

Joy and Bad Laws

Oscar nominees offer lessons on freedom and bad government.


According to, Jennifer Lawrence probably won't win best actress at the Oscars Sunday. I'm rooting for her, though—not because of her acting, but because the movie she stars in, Joy, celebrates the difficulty of entrepreneurship.

Lawrence's character is based on real-life entrepreneur Joy Mangano, who invented the self-wringing Miracle Mop and other "Ingenious Designs," as her company is known. Now she hawks them and other products on the Home Shopping Network.

The film accurately depicts struggles businesses face. Joy goes deep into debt to finance her idea, overcomes manufacturing problems, persuades skeptical marketers and deals with such menaces as patent trolls.

Patent trolls are usually lawyers/parasites who don't even come up with working prototypes for inventions they later claim as their own. They just grab someone else's idea, or buy a bunch of them, register patents with the government and wait. When someone with real technological and business skill creates something useful that's similar, the troll threatens to sue.

Often the inventor pays just to keep the business alive. It's extortion. But when lawyers do it, it's legal extortion.

In Joy's case, a lazy rival claims to have come up with her idea first; Joy risks a physical confrontation to defend her invention. I won't spoil the details of the movie—but since the real Joy Mangano went on to make millions, you can guess that it has a happy ending.

Writer/director David O. Russell, like many in Hollywood, has made movies critical of capitalism and businesspeople, so I'm glad he saw a spark in Joy Mangano, the driven businesswoman.

Hollywood may not understand economics or government regulation, but there are things Hollywood often gets right. Hollywood celebrates heroic individuals who fight injustice and corrupt establishments. Hollywood also has a healthy suspicion of the power of covert government activities.

Sure, the Mission Impossible crew and plenty of other Hollywood heroes are secret agents—and Hollywood consults with real cops, secret agents and military advisers to capture details more accurately. That helps the government shape messages to its liking. But plenty of Hollywood government agents end up being villains anyway.

The film Sicario, nominated for three Oscars, shows an ordinary cop, played by Emily Blunt, lured into the dark world of the CIA's cross-border drug war. She thought she was just going to be stopping bad guys a little farther from home but discovers that she might be part of an elaborate assassination plot.

I'm biased in favor of Emily Blunt movies because we both are stutterers, but I'd appreciate Sicario without that connection, too.

Sicario is informative because throughout the movie, even the cops aren't sure who the good guys are, and almost no one has any idea what the rest of the government is up to. It makes it clear that average citizens don't stand a chance of finding out. This is a realistic picture of the drug war.

Corruption and lack of transparency are inevitable when government takes on a mission as hopeless as a war on a substance that lots of people want. When there's demand, customers tend to get what they want, even if other people don't approve.

Hollywood writers and producers, who have also made plenty of movies about our failed attempt at alcohol Prohibition and the gangsters who rose to power in that period, sometimes understand that the drug war is unwinnable, too.
The U.S. can send helicopters to destroy coca plants in Colombia—or even build a wall between Mexico and America—but that just increases profit margins, so drug-sellers take even greater risks to get their product to customers.

The climax of Sicario involves underground tunnels used by Mexican cartels to move drugs (and illegal immigrants) across the border. None of the characters even consider the possibility of shutting down all the tunnels. They know they'd never find them all, and that if they did, the cartels would just build more. Even if they closed all the tunnels, the smugglers would use boats. And planes.

Things don't work out as well for the characters in Sicario as they did for Joy Mangano. In real life, government efforts don't bring as much joy as entrepreneurship.


NEXT: Multiple Reports of Chaos, Confusion, Possible Fraud in Tonight's Nevada GOP Caucuses

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  1. Damn your click bait title! I thought reason had beaten an indictment or something.

    1. Forida man…

      1. Or Florida

  2. The film accurately depicts struggles businesses face.

    From the ads, I assumed it was depicting the struggles women faced in business. As a member of the patriarchy I face no such struggles, such as dealing with the heavy drinking required at this time of year when I’m filling out that paperwork and have to face the fact (once again) the government made more money off my business last year than I did and I must be a retard to keep fighting to take care of myself when the government so obviously wants me to give up and stop struggling.

    1. I was at a bar last week and learned that you can use your welfare food stamp credit cards or whatever they are at the bar. So you are unnecessarily paying for all that heavy drinking yourself

    2. The Story of Alexander Graham Bell did it first, all the way back in 1939.

    1. I would also go see this movie.

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  4. Once again, John Stossel nails it.

    His show ought to be required viewing for every high schooler in America–oh, and force their teachers to watch, also!

    The problem with his relative lack of exposure is simple:

    He calls the media on their scare tactics and over-hype of everything’s a “crisis,” so how can he get significant traction in that corporate structure?

    I’m praying for the day that some rich folk get together and float a “Libertarian Channel.” That would be TV worth paying for!

    Keep up the good fight, John Stossel, some of us are out here really do get it…

    1. Stossel is aaight. He is a little too into defending corporations, which is not very libertarian when they are benefiting from cronyism, inside connections, and limited liability. For the most part, he is a good guy.

      1. Stossel is big into calling out out crony capitalism. I’m with levelplayingfield, I really like this article. I too would like to see this in school curriculums. Curricula? Especially college where the sociliast/big government koolaid is strong.

      2. He is a little too into defending corporations

        The alternative to incorporation is for the government to run businesses. Then you get cronyism, inside connections, and no liability.

    2. I do make my family watch Stossel. He is one of the bright lights in network journalism in my opinion. It shocks me that he is still on TV and has his own show.

      1. I was a Republican. Why? IDK, cause my parents were, I suppose. My dad thought Reagan hung the moon. I even became a cop like my dad. After years of dutifully fighting the drug war and voting Team Red, I started to see that it didn’t do any damn good. Then, I read Stossel’s “Give Me a Break”. Talk about opening my eyes! One of these days I got to get up to NY and thank him. Stossel’s is the fucking man!

    3. My own personal Libertarian Moment came when I was twelve or thirteen and saw his special “Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?”. The show basically talked about media hype over supposed dangers and how we should use logic and reason to determine actual risk. That led to me reading PJ O’ Rourke, Milton Friedman, and Rand when I was in high school and coming to understand the world in a different way.

      1. Stossel’s kind of the Marijuana of libertarianism. You get hooked and gateway to the harder stuff.

        1. Great line.

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  7. I’m biased in favor of Emily Blunt movies because we both are stutterers

    Yeah, sure Stossel, that’s the reason. There could possibly be some other reason to like her.

    1. Except that isn’t what she looks like in Sicario. Body armor and ponytail.

  8. “I’m biased in favor of Emily Blunt movies because we both are stutterers, …”

    Yeah sure Stossel. That’s the reason. Because of her stutter.

    1. Damn, I swear I didn’t see Loki’s post first. But know one is ever going to believe me.

      1. Troll alert (’bout me).
        (pay me some metal and I might let go some of my hard copies from V. Postrel days.)

        I’ma expecting ‘lotsa shit as dues here.

        But mostly I enjoy reading this little inter-webs cave.
        Yeah, some good articles, but the “toxicity*” of the comments makes it a come backer.

        * i’m going with: While words have mostly clear meanings in the dictionary, they invariably find their practical meaning within the context of which they are used.

        No one, like me, believe you either!

  9. Come on Stossel, everyone will vote for the actress in the “slave” movie even if they didn’t see it.

    Oh, that’s right. The Academy banned blacks from being nominated for awards.

  10. i’m all for jennifer lawrence and emily blunt being more involved in education and business. it’s the best revitalization plan i’ve yet heard.

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