Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Next Economic Bubble

We've all heard about the dot-com bubble and the housing bubble, but any time there is a speculative frenzy, a destructive bubble can develop. The next bubble, I postulate, is zombie movies. The chart below shows the number of zombie movies released per year since the genre was started in 1932. Below that is a detail of the same chart, only showing years since 1990. (Raw data from this page.)

(click for larger)

The zombie movie genre was birthed in 1932 with Victor Halperin's White Zombie. It remained a fringe artistic movement, with such titles as King of the Zombies (1941), Ed Wood's inspired, but budget-constrained Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), and Ray Steckler's The Increidbly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964). The genre's first breakthrough came in 1968 with George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, which grossed (get it?) $42 million with a budget of $144,000. (Adjusted for inflation, it grossed nearly $700 million.)

From the beginning of the zombie movie in 1932 through 2002, there were an average of 3.23 zombie movies per year. From 2003 through 2010, there were an average of 103.88 zombie movies per year. I think much of this growth was driven by the success of 2002's 28 Days Later, which grossed over $82 million, with a budget of only £5 million. Next, 2004 brought us a re-make of Dawn of the Dead, which grossed $102 million with a budget of $28 million. After that, the market was flush with zombie-dollars ready to fund the next 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead. Unfortunately, for every 28 Days Later, there were dozens more like Diary of the Dead (2008), which had a budget of $2 million and grossed $5 million, despite being directed by George Romero, who had 39 years of zombie movie experience.

Like all bubbles, this is doomed to crash. I think we see signs of it already, with studios pumping out dozens of zombie movies a year, like desperate gamblers, trying to make up losses. It isn't a perpetual motion machine, though. Eventually, the public's taste for zombie movies is going to fade, and somebody is going to be left holding the bag. My guess is it's going to be the US taxpayers.

Ryan asks: "Is your graph adjusted for total movie market output? It's only a meaningful statistic if viewed as a percentage of all releases." Good question, Ryan.

Ask, and you shall receive, that's what we say down here at the Prestigious Internet.

First, I had to find the total number of movies released each year. I went to IMDB and did a year by year search for movies. (It isn't a perfect data set, but it should show whether or not zombie movies are constituting a higher percentage of movie output.) That resulted in the following graph, which illustrates my point even better than I thought it would. In 2009, zombie movies constituted over 0.5% of all movies, up from 0.06% ten years earlier. Of the movies slated for 2010, over 2% are zombie movies.

Fig. 1.3: Zombie movies as a percentage of total movies, 1932-2010.

In the period 2003-present, which I call the Zombie Bubble, zombie movies averaged 0.62% of total movies, as opposed to 0.05% in the period 1932-2002. All years taken together, zombie movies averaged 0.11% of movies.

Also, here is a bonus graph of movie output over time.

Fig. 1.4: Movies per year, 1932-2009. Source:

Newsweek irresponsibly pumps the bubble a little bit more. Haven't they seen Jon Stewart eviscerate Jim Cramer?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cap and/or Trade

Did anyone else notice how we went from "any climate change legislation is off the table" to "cap and trade or nothing else" without any public discussion? Rep. Boehner (R-Crazytown) says this to cap and trade legislation: "Hell, no!" For once, though, I think he may have a point. Annie Leonard, of Story of Stuff, has this to say about cap and scam:

She's so casual and well-spoken.
She must be right. (Transcript with references.)

Some environmental groups are behind this, though. Should we let perfect be the enemy of good? I think in this case this is another system that gives control of our world to corporate interests. Like allowing them to patent naturally occurring genes. Further, it hasn't been shown to decrease the bad stuff. Carbon emissions actually have gone up (or gone down) in Europe since they instituted cap and trade. (Remember when PGE left the Chamber of Commerce over the latter's opposition to cap and trade? What they didn't tell you is that under the current bill, utilities like PGE get free permits! This is true in Europe as well.)

Whenever I find myself agreeing with Sarah Palin on something, I pause to reconsider. Which is another part of how clever this plan is. No environmentalist wants to find themselves in the same camp as the pro-pollution crowd. Thankfully, some have seen through the (deliberate?) obfusation and are doing something. Common Dreams has a good article about it here.

Cap and trade worked for sulfur dioxide, though, which is the reason you haven't heard about acid rain in a while. (Acid rain levels are down 65% since 1976.) In addition to the government auctioning off fewer pollution permits, environmental groups have purchased more than 14,000 tons of sulfur dioxide permits, which is clever. (It's like a temperance advocate buying booze to keep it out of the hands of would-be imbibers. Except it makes sense.)

There are a couple differences between sulfur dioxide in the groovy 1990's and greenhouse gases today. In the 1990's, if you ran a coal plant, you could listen to Nirvana's latest album and install scrubbers (a technology that already existed), or switch to low-sulfur coal. Further, the sulfur market only a applied to a few hundred plants, not the entire economy. I stole those points from this article, by the pro-business Institute for Energy Research, so they are probably wrong.

Lastly, balance your view with this article from the generally respectable Grist in favor of cap and trade. As a bonus, they have not one, but two articles replying to "The Story of Cap and Trade." One of them compares it to a "circular firing squad." Now I'm really confused. A lot of this falls into a familiar scenario: Leonard argues against what cap and trade will likely be, while Grist defends what it could be, in its best incarnation. Both important sides to consider while you plant trees, make biochar, bicycle to work, and blockade coal plants.

(As a post-script, I've heard it alleged anti-environment lobbyists pay people to search the Internet for any article about global warming and post lies. I don't get many comments here, so any pro-pollution comments will be suspect. That seems reasonable.)

Bonus articles: Cap and trade will work, won't work, it depends, and won't work.