Crazy Rich Asians
By David Henderson
Some personal and economic reflections
My wife and I went to see Crazy Rich Asians last week and I liked it a lot. I’ve been thinking about why. The 2 main reasons are personal, the second one of which involves economics.
The two things I didn’t like, but they were minor, were economic in nature.
The obvious reason is that this is a love story. I’m a sucker for love stories. Enough said. Almost. One scene I particularly loved was the wedding scene, especially the special rendition of the song “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You,” by Kina Grannis.
The less-obvious personal reason is economic. A little background will help. When I was between the ages of 12 to 14, my family would sometimes, mainly during the winter, drive the 50 miles from Carman to Winnipeg on a Saturday. We would get there at about 11 a.m. and would split up with a plan to rendezvous at the Viscount Gort Hotel at about 6 p.m. for dinner and then the drive home. I don’t remember what my brother, sister, mother, or father did but I remember clearly what I did. I would go to Eaton’s and Hudson’s Bay department stores and wander around, looking at all the things I would like to buy that there was no way I would buy. I couldn’t afford most of them and even the ones I could afford I didn’t value enough given my slim resources. But in the mid-afternoon, I would go to a movie. The one that stands out clearly is the 3rd James Bond movie, Goldfinger.
When Shirley Bassey came on and knocked it out of the park with the Goldfinger song, I was hooked. Then there were beautiful women, great stunts, great wealth, and great gadgets. I was a very shy boy who had the guts to ask one young girl out exactly twice during that period and didn’t have the guts to hold her hand at the movies we had gone to in Carman. So just seeing all these beautiful women I could enjoy was special. But what was really special was the wealth: private jets, Lincoln Continentals, sports cars, etc. I was living in a town of 1,200 people and the temperature outside was probably about 20 degrees. Our family income was probably just at the median, but my father saved a lot because he was so worried about another depression, so we consumed as if were at about the 35th percentile. One example: Our first TV was a used 19-inch 1955 Philco–and we we bought it in January 1961. I think we were the last family in town to get a TV. So everything about the movie Goldfinger was glamorous to this prairie boy.
In 2018, by contrast, although co-blogger Bryan Caplan disagrees with me, I am quite wealthy. Our $900K house has only about a $62K mortgage on it and both of our relatively new cars are almost paid for. And they are, as co-blogger Scott Sumner has pointed out, luxury cars. My wife drives a 2013 Mazda and I drive a 2014 (I think) Camry.
If we want, we can afford to fly anywhere in the world and still not touch our retirement assets of over $1 million. (First-class would be a different issue. 🙂 Also, I gather that the stock market fell today and so I think my wealth is less than it was yesterday.) We can eat out at nice restaurants when we want. So the James Bond movies don’t quite do it for me any more.
Enter Crazy Rich Asians. The wealth–in cars, houses, boats, etc.–is incredible. So I get a few of the same positive vibes watching that movie, comparing what they have to what I have, that I got watching Goldfinger when I was 13. I love wealth, not only when I have it, but also when I see it.
Minor Economic Faults
Almost all of the action happens in Singapore. Remember that Singapore is a small island packed with people. So where the heck are the vehicles? Wherever they drive, they go normal speeds because there are zero traffic jams. Really? As I said, this is a minor fault.
The other minor fault is in one of the early scenes where Rachel is an economics professor teaching game theory by playing poker in front of her class against her teaching assistant. The moral of the story, she tells the class, after she beats her TA with a bluff, is that his mistake was that instead of playing to win, he played not to lose. What principle of game theory, exactly, does that illustrate? So just as in A Beautiful Mind, when movie writers wanted to lay out something even a little complicated in game theory, they messed it up.