Co-blogger Tyler Cowen asks:
Did you know about the new summer Superman film?
Let's say we had an altruistic and incorruptible Superman, how should he allocate his efforts to improve the macroeconomy? He is really strong, he can fly very fast, leap tall buildings at a single bound, has incredible vision, and somehow he is immune from Einstein's theory of relativity and time dilation at near-light speeds (his most impressive achievement, if you ask me).
Yes he should save the world from evil madmen, but fighting ordinary crime hardly appears worth his trouble....
Tyler offers a few suggestions on what Superman should do to increase the social returns on his investments of time and energy. On a (slightly) less unserious note, I have to admit that one reason why I never much liked the Superman franchise is that the character seems to misallocate his efforts so severely! If you had his powers, would you spend your time chasing a third-rate villain like Lex Luthor (even if played by the great Gene Hackman)? Why not instead overthrow Kim Jong Il or stop the genocide in Darfur? Perhaps the first thing our hypothetical Superman should do is take one of Tyler's economics classes and learn about the concept of opportunity cost. If a Hollywood studio offers me enough money to offset MY opportunity costs, I would be happy to write that up as the screenplay for the next Superman movie!
UPDATE: Several commenters question my assertion that Lex Luthor is unworthy of Superman's attention, claiming that it is important to foil Luthor's plans to take over the world. I remain unpersuaded. Luthor's harebrained schemes for world domination are doomed to failure not only because of their inherent implausibility, but also because he uses morons for henchmen (e.g. - Otis, his right-hand man) and repeatedly ignores the helpful advice of the Evil Overlord List. Assuming that Luthor poses any real threat at all, it could probably be handled even by the dubiously competent Department of Homeland Security (despite its own serious resource allocation problems). A rational Superman committed to maximizing his contribution to the social welfare function should be going after bigger fish. He needs to take Tyler's class right away!