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Are X-Men Human?

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Dec 30, 2011

The U.S. government had to decide whether X-Men are human.

Our story starts with the U.S. Customs office. Included in a very long list of items that enter the U.S. are “dolls” and “toys.” According to Customs officials, any figure that clearly represents a human being is a doll; if not, then it is a toy. Importers care about the difference because the tariff on dolls (12%) is much higher than toys (6.8%).

And that takes us to Marvel Comics. While we all can agree that Barbie is a doll, what about action figures? The U.S. Customs office said action figures are dolls; Marvel disagreed. This Radio Lab podcast wonderfully describes the issues.

Marvel won its case in court. Similarly, because Luke Skywalker could resist the force and was captured by a Wampa, a court also said he was a toy. By contrast, G.I. Joe was declared a doll. 

The Economic Lesson

When looking at tariffs, as economists, we should check the cost of the jobs that were saved. This 2002 Dallas Fed report concluded that each year, a tariff on sugar costs consumers $1,868 million in higher prices. More specifically, each one of the 2261 jobs that was saved costs $826,104 annually.

An economic question: Explain why tariffs generate considerable support even when their cost is high.

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