What does the box office and publication smash hit tell us about the nature and temptations of Big Government?
In Panem, the central government controls utterly the twelve districts and the life of their citizens. In true socialist style, the economy of the nation is planned centrally, with regions being allocated particular industries to adhere to. Thus, like dutiful cogs in a great machine, the districts obediently churn out the required quota of their designated goods, which the benevolent technocrats in the distant Capitol distribute. In a further echo of authoritarian regimes everywhere, the most politically loyal, and thus most favoured areas receive comparatively more from the government. Even at the local level, the scourge of socialism is ever present. District 12 is a quintessential extractive economy focused on coal mining, the kind of sector where unskilled labour can be highly productive in light of the value of the underlying commodity. In a free society, market competition for coal, labour and innovation would drive wages up. But instead the Capitol imposes a single purchaser of coal and mine labour and offers subsistence wages. Emigration to other districts in search of better opportunities is forbidden, as is diversification; exploitation of the apparently bountiful resources of the surrounding forest is similarly forbidden. Wages are set by the government, and kept low to ensure dependency on the state (take note, Ed Miliband). If the market were free to do its job the Mellark family bakery would have more affluent customers and more incentive to invest in expanded operations. A growing service economy would grow up around the mine. But the dead hand of the state keep the entire District in a state of poverty, despite the obvious presence of surplus capital for investment trapped in the Capitol.
All powerful State
In Panem the government is big and the individual is small. Suffocating security apparatus combine with poverty to keep the citizenry in line. The ownership of weapons is completely prohibited in Panem within the ruled Districts. Even owning a bow for hunting is a capital crime. What media there is seems to be state-run, with a focus on the reminding citizens of the government’s power and generosity. Property rights are precarious at best, and subject to the whim and pleasure of the government. As a reminder of state power, the Hub, District 12’s black market, is periodically shut down, raided, or flat out razed by local authorities.
Of course the Hunger Games not only entertain the politicians, they’re also the Capitol’s way of, as Katniss puts it, “reminding us how totally we are at their mercy.” The overwhelming and unaccountable might of the state is personified perfectly in the form of the faceless Peackeepers.
Dependence on the state is perpetuated through the central control of food; agriculture, harvest, processing and distribution are all tightly controlled by central government. The only private elements are the black markets which seem to operate on a barter system which as mentioned before, exist only on the sufferance of the local authorities.
Through a policy Stalin and Mao would be proud of, the government operates a system known as tesserae, whereby citizens can increase their food ration at the cost of increasing the likelihood of being selected for the Hunger Games.
Emphasis on community and social harmony
Like socialist basket cases everywhere, the central government of Panem hammers home a paternalistic narrative of largess through obedience; keep your heads down, do as your told, and the state will provide. The Panem educational system (at least in District 12) is geared towered making children good citizens rather than free thinkers. These ideas necessitate a certain aggressiveness towered individualism in education and the promotion of the communal spirit. The Fabian Society must have been positively moist at the idea. As is the temptation of all Big Governments, Panem’s government has convinced itself that it is the only standing between the people and catastrophe. Only by the Capitol possessing a preponderance of power can society be held together and peace remain; to oppose the Capitol is to oppose peace, to oppose society. For a contemporary equivalent, one need only listen to MEPs claiming that the EU is the only thing preventing another European war. The language and imagery of Panem show importance of unity and the suppression of the individual; the soulless utilitarian naming of Districts by number, the stark of white of the Peacekeeper uniforms, monotonous calls for selfless sacrifice for the greater good.
As Progressives and Statists in Britain know, control language and you control thought. Control thought and you control minds. I’ll leave you with this from the first chapter of the first book, and ask you to ponder the direction we’re heading in.
“When I was younger, I scared my mother to death, the things I would blurt out about District 12, about the people who rule our country, Panem, from the far-off city called the Capitol. Eventually I understood this would only lead us to more trouble. So I learned to hold my tongue and to turn my features into an indifferent mask so that no one could ever read my thoughts.”