Idiocracy: Dumb is Fine, Statism is the Real Problem

If you’ve never seen Idiocracy, much of the story revolves around how the future society is on the brink of famine because farms irrigate with the Gatorade-esque Brawndo sports drink instead of water. Average-intelligence cryo-time-traveler Luke Wilson orders that all farms switch back to water. The sudden decrease in demand for Brawndo causes tons of layoffs at the Brawndo corporation, so Luke Wilson is vilified. Then they find out that the crops are growing again, so everything is okay. The movie is always used as to say that our culture is becoming too dumb, and the movie blames the infertility of the rich and educated.

But what sticks out to me is that nobody stops using Brawndo until the government orders them to use water. In the future world of Idiocracy, the federal government apparently has total control over how farms are run. A corrupt partnership with Brawndo led the government to force those farms to irrigate with Brawndo.

Even though the people of Idiocracy are dumb, any farmer would still realize that their crops aren’t growing, and they aren’t making money. We are explicitly told that the people of Idiocracy “like money” so somebody would have tried changing anything to get their crops to grow again. That nobody did until the government ordered it means that all farms are run centrally.

After the switch is made, the president of Brawndo calls the White House panicking about how most of the country has lost their jobs. The talk of “jobs” is far removed from the fundamental idea of economics. The government-mandated use of Brawndo keeping the company profitable was on the verge of killing millions. Those jobs were obviously useless, and that labor should have been put to use doing something else.

Besides their lack of intelligence, and the corrupt centrally-run economy, there could also be a culture of complacency. At one point, Dax Shepard derisively says “some smart guy made it a long time ago” about a machine that is broken. At some point between current day and when Luke Wilson is unfrozen, most tasks were simplified by machines. At that time, the “smart guys” must have thought they had perfected how everything was made, and rampant corporate statism locked everything in place. Workers later blindly and clumsily do what their work machines tell them to do. The president of Brawndo didn’t even lay off his own employees, because “it did that auto-layoff thing.” People like Dax Shepard know that things don’t work, but are resigned to curse the “smart guys” of the past.

They’re probably right to insult those “smart guys” because, paired with their specific technological skills, the smart guys also had the force of the state behind them. They got things the way they wanted it, and forcibly kept anybody from trying to challenge their meal tickets. Their creations outgrew their usefulness, but there was no system to dismantle them.

It doesn’t matter that the Idiocracy people were dumb. because market economics doesn’t take IQ tests of the people trying ideas. The ideas are tried, discarded if they fail, kept if they work, and discarded as soon as they stop working. By brute force, solutions are figured out, and society is advanced and adjusted according to changing situations.