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Monday, January 20, 2020

Netflix Original - Downsizing and its parallels with FIRE

If you have not watched the Netflix Original Downsizing starring Matt Damon, I would not recommend it unless you really have nothing better to do on a (very) slow weekend afternoon.


SPOILER WARNING



NO REALLY.





MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD.








YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.




The story's premise starts off interesting enough.

To address the global crisis of depleting resources and overpopulation, scientists have invented a technique to shrink a person down to about 3% of their original mass (or something like that).

Companies start selling residency memberships in small communities for the shrunken people, touting sudden amplification of wealth (due to reduction of cost) as a major benefit.  In one scene, Neil Patrick Harris cameos as a salesman for one of these communities, wherein his "wife" buys herself a full set of diamond jewellery for $83.

Matt Damon plays a struggling physiotherapist who did not manage to complete med school due to financial difficulties. He and his wife decide to undergo the irreversible procedure to allay their financial woes.  However, after waking up from his procedure, he was a tiny-bit shocked that his wife had chickened out last minute. They end up getting a divorce and he attempts to eke out a new living on his own in the brave, new, and miniaturized world.  No small feat. Heh. 

When your wife leaves you and sues you for everything you got


But that was as interesting as the story got. It did touch on a number of relevant social, economic and political implications of "shrinking" but only very superficially. Instead the story focused needlessly on a banal love story between MD and a Vietnamese refugee (diversity points scored!) who was forcibly subjected to the shrinking procedure by the Vietnam Government as punishment for her activism.  What a waste, I thought.

For example, in one scene, Matt Damon and friends get heckled in a bar when a nearby patron overhears that MD is contemplating shrinking.  The rowdy patron contends that "small persons" who are mostly living large as a result of economic arbitrage at the expense of "regular sized people" should not have the same rights as those actively working and contributing to society.  That part struck a raw nerve with me because the accusation felt similar to those commonly thrown at the FI movement. 

"You should only get 1/8th of a vote, if at all!" he taunted. 

The underlying debate is a non-trivial one, which I felt the movie should have explored further. Should those who choose to cease "active" economic production by reducing consumption be penalized for making such choices?  Of course, the movie cannot be considered a critique of the FI movement (I think) since shrinking and FI are not directly comparable.

The economic benefits associated with shrinking requires a certain degree of arbitrage.  In Downsizing, the arbitrage can only exist if the regular sized people continued to exist and that they work and produce goods in the "normal size" for the "usual costs". If everyone shrunk, the economic arbitrage will immediately cease to exist.  In contrast, FI works even if you do not reduce consumption, as long as you have accumulated sufficient income-producing assets. That is, the FI community does not need to live at the expense of people who actively work. 

It was not that bad a movie, and the acting (for the most part) was not cringe (props to Christopher Waltz).  Except when Hong Chau (actress for the role of the Vietnamese refugee) tries to pass off short, terse, badly pronounced English sentences as an "accent".  Er... apparently that two-bit "performance" earned her a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actress. Which tells you a bit of just how far SJWs have hijacked the entertainment industry with their diversity-at-all-costs tokenism.

If you have 90 mins to burn and you are waiting on your Grabfood delivery man to press your doorbell, sure, give Downsizing a go. But don't say I never warn you.

Onward to FI friends!








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