It recently occurred to me that my favorite fictitious mother-daughter duo are not living in a free society.
I have seen every episode of the Gilmore Girls, in order, at least four times; that’s over 400 hours. For those of you who have not invested an equally ridiculous amount of time, you should know that Gilmore Girls is a fantastic escape show. The characters are smart and complex, and the dialogue is witty, goes at a breakneck speed, and doesn’t talk down to its audience. It is utterly bingeable. However, as a student of abysmal science, I cringe at my guilty pleasure’s economic policies.
Leading ladies Lorelai and Rory Gilmore reside in a tiny Connecticut town with an even smaller economy. The fictional Stars Hollow, CT has a comparative advantage over charm. The economy of the quaint, picturesque town is based largely on the consumption of goods and services by residents and tourists who spend their coins at cozy local inns, antique shops, and restaurants.
There is very little competition for the business owners in Stars Hollow. There is only one mechanic, one bookstore, and one grocery store. And true fans of the show know that there is one official town troubadour.
During a Season One town meeting, the town’s first troubadour uses his influence to pressure Taylor Doose, Town Selectman, into barring a competing guitar player from participating in the troubadour market. Doose designates the rent-seeker as “the official town troubadour” and socialist town policy forces the other troubadour-entrepreneur out.
Entrepreneurs are not risk-averse and will hazard the chance of being busted. Even in societies with severe trade and market restrictions.This is not the only instance of heavy-handed Stars Hollow economic policy. Taylor Doose, owner of two local businesses, ironically is both an entrepreneur and a socialist politician. In addition to running a market and an ice cream parlor, he uses his power as an elected official to interfere with the practices of local business owners. When the ex-troubadour-turned-farmers-market-entrepreneur sets up shop, Doose’s market begins to lose customers, and Taylor decrees that his competitor’s business is invalid because of invented licensing problems.
In Season Two, Taylor also uses his power to force the town to install an expensive and unneeded traffic signal, which everyone hates. In Season Four, he holds Lorelai’s construction on the Dragonfly Inn hostage. It isn’t until she makes a deal on Taylor’s behalf that he allows her to make the necessary improvements to her establishment.
In the recent revival, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Taylor is up to his old tricks. He launched a campaign to coerce everyone to switch from septic tanks to a municipal sewer system. And you might have noticed that a delightful street café has emerged in Stars Hollow. Aptly named the Secret Bar, this business goes dark every time Doose comes near.
This is what happens in societies with severe trade restrictions and barriers to markets. Entrepreneurs are not risk-averse and many will hazard the chance of being busted. We see this in the strictest of societies; for example, North Korea has a thriving black market economy.
North Korea aside, why should Lorelai have to sweet-talk Taylor into giving her permission to control the building that she owns? Why shouldn’t an aspiring troubadour be able to make sweet, sweet music? Why should Stars Hollow citizens have their money stolen in the form of taxation, to construct unnecessary street lights?
I know that it’s only a TV show. And yes, these are fictional characters, but that is the point.
Having single-seller markets may be enchanting and convenient for storytelling, but in reality, lack of competition is detrimental for the welfare of real-life townspeople, and not just for dramatic effect. Think Epi-pen. Without competition, businesses don’t need to lower their prices, innovate, or fight for their customer’s business.
In this case, art imitates life. While I enjoy watching the chaos that Taylor’s neuroticism produces, I would prefer that we confine heavy-handed government policies to the place where they belong: fictitious Connecticut towns. Only in the fantasyland of the Gilmore Girls are these policies cute, endearing, and only mildly harmful.