Saturday, May 5, 2012

Avenging Principal-Agent Theory

You know you have been studying something too much when it comes to mind at the end of seeing Hulk smash, the Captain lead, Tony snark, Thor hammer, Hawkeye shoot, and Black Widow, well, kill.  But heaps of Principal-Agency theory in practice.

How so?  Let me count the ways after the break (to prevent spoilage):

  1. Obviously, Nick Fury disobeys what he thinks is a stupid-ass order to nuke Manhattan--another example of Hollywood encouraging troops to disobey the chain of command.  Not the only Hawkeye-M*A*S*H parallel.  Fury then grabs a stinger-esque missile to down one of his own planes to prevent such nuke-age.  A clear failure in civilian control of the military.
  2. Nick Fury at the end does not know where his agents went?  I think he is lying about not knowing where the Avengers are going or that he is not tracking them.  Who is this council anyway?  I did like noting in the credits that one of them was none other than Jenny Agutter from Logan's Run and American Werewolf in London.  Very cool.  This is a nice nod to some really influential and fun movies of his/my youth.
  3. Tony Stark.  Well, where does one start?  I guess it points out a basic challenge--that one can only apply principal-agent logic when the agent actually understands that he/she is an agent.  Only late in the game does Stark start thinking he is not the one running things.  And it takes a man most familiar with how principals need to control agents, to respect the chain of command--Captain America.  Indeed, that was quite the chill scene where Iron Man asks Cap to make the call, and Cap does precisely that, deploying his few assets as best he can.
  4. Thor.  Again, Gods do not make good agents.  
  5. Hulk.  One could ponder just who is the principal and who is the agent between Banner and the Hulk, but at least those who seek to employ him know that he is not easily controlled.  Ask Thor about that.
  6. Selvig, the scientist.  Even under Loki's control, the guy builds in a backdoor into the device.  Which reminds us that with extreme expertise and information comes agent slippage.
  7. The only reliable agents are Hawkeye and Black Widow, who are used to operating in a chain of command.  They follow orders, acting within their realm of discretion without much trouble.
  8. Loki as agent of the bad aliens.  They hired him to do a job, but they didn't trust him.  And for agents to work well for their principals, they need to trust them. Thor pointed out quite clearly that Loki was being used.  
  9. Earthlings are bad agents.  Something Thanos speaks of during the first epilogue--that we are unruly and thus dangerous.  Sure, the Germans kneeled before Zod Loki but not for long.  The Avengers have a hard time getting along, but against a foreign threat, not so much.
Anyhow, the movie was delightful.  Definitely one of the best superhero movies ever.  Will have to see it again to make sure.  


Jacob T. Levy said...

No Skrulls anywhere to be seen. And I think Loki had business partners, not a principal.

Mike Tierney said...

Epic post. Can't wait to see it. Can't wait to use it in class to demonstrate different kinds of agency problems.

caidid said...

Love this, but I will quibble with naming Loki as an agent of the Chitauri. I think it would be more accurate to say that Loki and the Chitauri are all agents of Thanos, working together roughly as partners.