Wednesday, November 07, 2007

American Gangster

So I saw American Gangster last night and it hands down is one of the best films I've seen in a long time. However, American Gangster is more an appropriate title than you might think in that Frank Lucas (the gangster and now my new favorite anti-hero) is truly "American" in his entrepreneurship.

The whole movie is about economics and how Frank, who I doubt had his degree in economics, intuitively knew more about markets, supply, demand and business than most Harvard MBA's.

Most impressive was he was probably the first globalization drug-dealing pioneer shopping around the world for the best price of heroin, which landed him in Vietnam. This got him the goods at a mere fraction of the cost it was costing his competitors.

Also impressive was how he immediately established a brand name (Blue Magic) for the heroin packing it in little blue bags and didn't cut the heroin with flour or what have you. It was 100% pure and at 50% the price, which made it an instant hit on the streets. In one scene he even stops in at one of the dealer's club who had been diluting Blue Magic, repackaging it and then selling at as Blue Magic keeping the spread for himself. Rips him apart, not for trying to make a buck, but for destroying a "brand name." He says, "Pepsi is a brand name. Blue Magic is a brand name."

Throughout the movie, though I doubt the writers intended it (I think it was just how interesting this Frank guy was) lessons in economics are abound. There is supply chain management. How do you get the dope from Vietnam to the states. There is competition from other mafias and dealers resulting in cartels and monopolies. Quality management and insurance. Labor negotiations and, ahem, "working conditions."

So for all you educating economists out there, that seem hell bent on making the study of economics seem boring and dreaded by all college freshmen, do them and yourselves a favor. Instead of teaching from the book, have your students watch American Gangster. They can only learn so much from text books, they can learn a lot more about economics through the drug trade.


Bill Gilles said...


I haven't seen American Gangster yet, but if you want a good Economics lesson via an awesome show about underworld economics versus a politically charged bureaucracy - rent seasons 1,2 and 3 of HBO's The Wire.

They even have overt nods to economics as the kingpin is enrolled in classes and does his best to translate his professor's jargon into street language his goons can understand... much like this website!

Anonymous said...

When McNulty is looking through his apartment after he dies, he finds a copy of Adam Smith's A Wealth of Nations. But I dont think the show is very complementary to capitalism

Anonymous said...

It's hard to imagine that someone could have had $250 million in assets from running a drug trade back in the 1970's. Incredible...