GHOSTBUSTERS is probably the most subtly layered 80’s films in existence. Not only is it an expertly crafted comedic action horror, but contains an element of economic philosophy typically only found in lectures on college campuses. To illuminate, let’s first ask ourselves a couple questions…

Question 1: When Ray, Peter and Egon are first introduced, as scientists receiving federal grant money from Columbia University, how would you best describe them?

          Would you say sloppy pseudo-scientists? Or maybe inactive slackers? At best… completely unproductive.

Question 2: When their funding is cut were they worse-off? Or should I say, was Dean Yeager kicking them out a detriment to their overall work or did they actually benefit and prosper from losing their free money?

“I liked the University. They gave us money, they gave us the facilities and we didn't have to produce anything! You've never been out of college. You don't know what it's like out there! I've worked in the private sector. They expect results.”  --Egon Spengler (to Peter Venkman)

With that quote, the economic philosophy of the film kicks into gear. The gang is off the public’s dime and forced to make it on their own steam. Not only do they begin taking high risks; such as mortgaging Ray’s house and buying a broken down ambulance as their company, but they also begin to reap high rewards.

However, the first people who reap those rewards are not the main characters themselves, but the local community. This new small business called The Ghostbusters has an immediate positive impact on the economy by rehabilitating an old condemned firehouse building and ultimately turning it into a beacon of light for the entire neighborhood. They follow this up with creating jobs; taking on new hires like Janine as office secretary and, of course, Winston Zeddemore as a fourth member of the crew. Not only that, but The Ghostbusters are literally cleaning up the New York infestation problem, one nasty spirit at a time.

In other words, by providing a welcomed (and in this case much needed) service, the private sector small business is not only making an honest living, but also making themselves and their neighbors happier and healthier. Both parties benefit. But an even more important lesson from an economics standpoint is - Nobody spends somebody else's money as carefully as he spends his own. Nobody uses somebody else's resources as carefully as he uses his own. So if you want efficiency and effectiveness, you have to do it through the means of private property.

At this point in the film things couldn’t be better for the business or the community; the employees are happy, the locals are happy... all of the living people who are happy, so of course it only makes sense that conflict arise and the villain of the film now rear his ugly head. No, it’s not the destroyer of existence—Gozer the Gozerian, but the destructor of free enterprise and entrepreneurial spirit—the federal government.

And evil government, not too unlike evil spirits, can take many different ugly forms. In GHOSTBUSTERS the bloated form of choice is the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). First, an EPA pinhead named Walter Peck hassles Venkman about their unregistered storage facility, most likely attempting to tack on unnecessary paperwork and fees to pay into the wasteful federal system or possibly even shut them down for whatever made up reason they create. Certainly we should have organizations in place to monitor negative effects on the environment, but the Ghostbusters were not hurting the environment, nor was there any proof or even reason to assume they were. But because the government has the big stick they just have to wave it around, asserting their authority, so they can get a cut of the profits.

Walter Peck: How many ghosts have you caught, Mr. Venkman?

Dr. Peter Venkman: I'm not at liberty to say.

Walter Peck: And where do you put these ghosts, once you catch them?

Dr. Peter Venkman: Into a storage facility.

Walter Peck: And would this storage facility be located on these premises?

Dr. Peter Venkman: Yes.

Walter Peck: And may I see this storage facility?

Dr. Peter Venkman: No.

Walter Peck: And why not, Mr. Venkman?

Dr. Peter Venkman: Because you did not use the magic word.

Walter Peck: What is the magic word, Mr. Venkman?

Dr. Peter Venkman: [looking surprised] Please!

Walter Peck: May I *please* see the storage facility, Mr. Venkman?

Dr. Peter Venkman: Why do you want to see the storage facility?

Walter Peck: Because I'm curious. I wanna know more about what you do here! Frankly, I've heard alot of wild stories in the media and we want to assess any possibility of dangerous and possibly hazardous waste chemicals in your basement. Now you either *show me* what is down there, or I come back with a court order.

 

And despite the warnings of the private property owners, the people who know their product the best, the EPA pinhead shuts down the ectoplasm containment system and sends hundreds of captured apparitions up into the New York sky, completely infesting the city and initiating a cataclysm that borders on apocalyptic. An organization ran by the federal government, like the EPA, time and time again proves to do more harm than good. Perhaps an organization ran by the state government, one more intimately familiar with the conditions of the state would be better equipped for these matters? Or perhaps, private businesses who are experts in the field should regulate organizations like Ghostbusters. Many people want the government to protect the consumer. A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government.

Ray [to the Mayor]: Everything was fine with our system until the power grid was shut off by dickless here.

Government employee: They caused an explosion!

Mayor: Is this true?

Dr. Peter Venkman: Yes it's true… this man has no dick.

While the most heroic characters are motivated by justice or simply, by what is “right,” in reality, it is money that motivates. Incentive and competition can make a world of difference. It’s simple economics. When everybody owns something, nobody owns it, and nobody has a direct interest in maintaining or improving its condition. The Ghostbusters, because they didn’t have a vested interest in their own business took no care in it when the money was free and they didn’t truly own it.

            The firehouse is the ultimate metaphor for the economic message in GHOSTBUSTERS… An old decrepit government building that when it is infused with private ownership literally helps save the entire city from imminent destruction… imminent destruction that comes along again when the government re-enters the firehouse and it is only stopped when the private business owners are set free from their financial prison to do what makes them feel good… bustin’.