Fear the Repo Review

Peter Suderman at Reason Magazine reviews the latest Hollywood drivel, Repo Men. Set in a dystopian future in which almost everyone has a replacement organ from an evil, mega-corporation, people who can’t keep up on their payments are chased down and brutally killed, the organs repossessed.

There isn’t much to the story, and what there is doesn’t make much sense. Instead of plot, the movie’s got setting: a near future in which a decidedly non-union-like company called The Union sells sells artificial body parts using the line “the days of waiting and praying are over” (though desperately waiting and praying—for the movie’s end—is almost certainly what everyone in the audience is up to). The Union’s parts appear to be the only lifesaving solutions for many of their clients, so they charge exorbitant fees while offering outrageous financing terms to those who can’t pay up front. And in the movie’s world, that seems to be just about everyone.

I wonder what happened to make so many people need organ transplants in the near future. I also wonder why only one company has developed these artificial organs. Perhaps this tirade against an unchecked, evil, capitalism system has an element of fascism in it — does the government allow a monopoly by this company?

There’s a catch, though: After just a few months of non-payment, The Union reserves the right to send a blue-collar thug to hunt you down and “repossess”—i.e.: crudely cut out of your living body—the organ.

Uh huh. So, in our anti-free market health care hit piece, we are going to propose a world in which people can kill other people to take something back from them. Sure. Right. Whatever. Have these genius movemakers ever heard of collateral?

To say this is incoherent, both as story and critique, is an understatement. It’s probably too much to expect sci-fi screenwriters to understand economics, but even a little bit of basic common sense and logic would’ve sufficed. Even if regulators (nowhere to be found in the film) or social pressure (also absent) hadn’t put a stop to the practice of repossession-via-murder, competition probably would have, as organ companies would’ve quickly sought to attract customers by dropping the harshest contractual terms. Doctors, too, would’ve been unlikely to participate in The Union’s grisly scheme, knowing its eventual deadly outcome.

All very good points. No one in their right mind would allow such a thing to happen. Besides the fact that last I checked killing people is illegal in everywhere, no one would support a company that engaged in such practices. And we have the collateral issue as well. I can see people getting their houses taken for non-payment, not their organs.

And being a huge sci-fi fan, I’m forced to agree that many sci-fi writers do tend to gloss over economic. That’s why so many future societies are essentially socialistic — it’s less complicated to write about it. That’s why the science fiction that does address economic concerns tends to be far superior. Let’s face it, Trekkies, Babylon 5 has a much more complex and detailed story line than Star Trek in part because it deals with budgetary, funding, and worker issues, while Trek proposed a milquetoast world in which, well, no one pays attention to silly things like government and economics.

And even if you disregard that aspect, the business model—judging solely from a cold-and-heartless-for-profit perspective—doesn’t make any sense: Why kill potentially profitable customers when you could adjust the terms and settle? And why make the loans if they won’t be repaid? (Yes, in the real world, mortgage companies have done this, but in large part because of goverment programs encouraging such behavior and complicated financial instruments that incentivized making more loans rather than good loans. Such incentives appear nowhere in the film.) The Union’s organ repo men aren’t allowed to take payment when clients offer, and the repossessing of organs isn’t a practice of last resort, it’s something The Union seems positively eager to do! The movie appears oblivious to the idea that this would almost certainly result in a significant loss of profit (a live person could conceivably pay off all or part of the debt; a dead person definitely can’t pay off any of it), especially since its organ repo men are paid hefty commissions, and even allowed to repossess unpaid-for organs on spec, like roaming mercenaries. Why would any for-profit entity spend so much on literally murdering their best potential sources of income?

I think that what we have here is another example of the rampant leftism that has overtaken Hollywood. When you assume that capitalism is bad, and make a movie to illustrate that assumption, you’re less likely to be concerned with how capitalism actually works. Killing your customers is very bad for business.

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  1. #1 by maxFactor on Thu 28 Jul 2011 - 06:20

    … except that “killing your customer,” with a thousand nicks and endless delays in both preventative medicine and treatment, with most folks faced with exorbitant costs, is exactly what we have now. You can still make great profit off of a customer before they croak. And ‘competition’ in the market has done nothing to stop this.

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