How 2005’s ‘Robots’ shaped my foundational understanding of economics

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The protagonist of the movie, “Robots,” Rodney, was born to a working-class family, the son of a dishwasher. He was a firm believer in the saying, “You can shine no matter what you’re made of,” introduced by movie character Big Weld. “Robots” is of the Keynesian belief that the right leader (in this case, Big Weld) can steer the market towards economic prosperity.  

Inventor and entrepreneur Rodney moves from his small town to Robot City to seek economic opportunity. Little to his knowledge, Big Weld, the figure who gave entrepreneurs like Rodney a chance for success and made market goods affordable, is no longer in office. He’s been replaced by Ratchet, the film’s antagonist. 

Aside from its generally positive view of entrepreneurship, one message that can be ascertained from Robots is crystal clear: Gentrification will kill you. The populous of Robot City struggles to survive while an elite few of businessmen, led by Ratchet, prosper. He describes “upgrades,” a concept allegorical to healthcare as “our big-ticket item,” seeking only profit from new models the public cannot afford.  

One major difference between Robot City’s economy and our economy is that “outmodes,” robots who cannot afford upgrades, are swept up on streets and sent to a place where they are incinerated and recycled into parts for other living robots. In mainstream, capitalist society, the human lower class sometimes perishes due to living conditions, but never through directly murdered by the government; no one is forced to donate a heart or a kidney to a rich person in need. 

When robots who have been outmoded come to Rodney for their health concerns, his friend, Fender, speaking for him says, “Only those with insurance … oh, I forgot. Everybody, come on.” Rodney then fixes all of those robots for free. An important detail to notice, Rodney didn’t utilize the free market to set up competition with Ratchet, selling cheaper products which were more in demand. Instead, he let Big Weld Industries exist as a monopolistic conglomerate, seeking to change who was in power instead of eliminating power, altogether. By refusing to work in a free market system, Rodney is making a political statement about power, government and Medicaid.  

“To me, having the company was all about making life better. With Ratchet, it was making money that came first,” Big Weld said about his role in the economy. The underlying theme is that government can best serve the people when those who are in charge actually care. Instead of the laissez-faire, erosion of government today, Robots takes an alternate approach. Best serving society is the ultimate goal and, with that, money will come to those who want it.  

Looking back on Robots, I often think of the lessons of economic ingenuity it taught. It definitely was one of the most underrated films of the 2000s, receiving 6.3 stars from IMDB. Lessons can be derived from the film, at any age, whether that is self-determination or ethical business production. The inventions and cinematic worlds within the movie were imaginative, seeking creative points. Robots poses questions about advanced theoretically surrounding markets which can still be applied to today.  

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