Thanos, Socialism, and Economic Fallacy

Yes, Thanos the evil villain of the Avengers Infinity War has a very specific motive, and it is based on an economic fallacy. While his inspiration is quite different in the comic books, the Marvel Cinematic Universe attempted to give him a more weighty cause for his actions by giving him a plausible, but tragically flawed ideology.

In the film, Thanos explains his reasoning to his adopted daughter, Gamora, in this brief exchange:

Thanos: You were going to bed hungry, scrounging for scraps. Your planet was on the brink of collapse. I'm the one who stopped that. You know what's happened since then? The children born have known nothing but full bellies and clear skies. It's a paradise.

Gamora: Because you murdered half the planet.

Thanos: A small price to pay for salvation.

Gamora: You're insane.

Thanos: Little one, it's a simple calculus. This universe is finite, its resources, finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correcting.

Gamora: You don't know that!

The premise is that resources are finite. That may be true for any single resource, but what do we know about supply and demand? If the supply of an item falls while the demand stays strong, then the price rises. Rising prices drive conservation, causes people to seek alternatives, and alerts entrepreneurs that they can earn money by addressing a need.

What Thanos fails to see is the incentive for innovation. If a certain type of food becomes scarce and causes the price to rise, other entrepreneurs will have the incentive to make competing for alternatives to meet the demand. So long as the demand exists, the producers will seek to find the most efficient way to supply customer desires. This is an ever-changing system of price signals, which can spark the most ingenious inventions and innovations.

Thanos proposed that murdering half the population would solve the issue of scarcity, and save the remaining lives. Had he understood the law of supply and demand, price signals, and other economic principles, he wouldn’t have arrived at his genocidal conclusion.

And why is Thanos the only one allowed to decide who gets to live and die? What makes him a worthy judge to deal out death on a whim? Why should one person assume control over the choices of other people? This type of social engineering is something that Ludwig Von Mises wrote about in his book Human Action.

"Like planning, the term [social engineering] is a synonym for dictatorship and totalitarian tyranny. The idea is to treat human beings in the same way in which the engineer treats the stuff out of which he builds his bridges, roads, and machines. The social engineer's will is to be substituted for the will of the various people he plans to use for the construction of his utopia. Mankind is to be divided into two classes: the almighty dictator, on the one hand, and the underlings who are to be reduced to the status of mere pawns in his plans and cogs in his machinery, on the other."

The great tragedy is that the free will of the individual is subordinated to a central planner—a planner who cannot know the ever-shifting motives or desires of his subjects, and so is doomed to fail in his pursuit of fair judgments. Socialist governments share this terrible flaw as they attempt the erode the individual in the management of the collective.

Thanos' solution is morbid. But more importantly, it is based entirely on a fatal misunderstanding of economic truths. It is crucial that we see where he went wrong so that we are not tempted by fear to follow his logic.