Disney’s ‘Coco’ Affirms the Social Benefits of Agency (Just in Time for Dia de los Muertos)

by Brenden Labrum


We’ve all decided. It’s time you joined us in the workshop!”

There’s nothing more frightening than having a central planning committee (Miguel’s parents and grandma) determine the future of your individual value and depreciate it in the process. At least, that’s all I could think about while watching Miguel, the protagonist of Disney’s Coco, be instructed to follow the traditions of his family in shoemaking. He hides his true talent of being a musician for fear of retribution – and there’s no doubt that the family means business.

Prior to Miguel being educated on his centrally planned fate, we see Abuelita – Miguel’s grandmother, the autocrat in power over the Rivera family – coercively enforce the family’s strict prohibition of all music when she finds Miguel amicably providing his shoe shining service to a Mariachi in the Plaza. She doesn’t stop there either, as she forcefully destroys the meager amount of capital (his homemade guitar) needed to pursue his dreams – just after he finds out that he’s destined to be a musician.

How depressing.

Fortunately for Miguel (and for us), he finds the opportunity to escape the “[leather] curtain” of the Rivera family and connect with his ancestors who have passed on to the Land of the Dead. Although, it’s not until Miguel meets Hector that he fully prospers from the freedom of voluntary coordination.

Naturally Efficient

In the process of pursuing their individual desires through the exchange of their specialized services which are unique to their personal attributes, Miguel capitalizes on the opportunity to compete with other musicians and prove his true value. Ultimately, he garners a strong positive response from the recently wooed audience. He received a clear signal from the market that he had the ability to produce what the people wanted – a level of efficiency that just can’t be planned.

It’s hard not to empathize with the Rivera family, considering the circumstances of their perceived curse that was bestowed upon them by the supposed influence of music. However, their good intentions to command and control the future of their posterity was the real curse.

FA Hayek eloquently affirms, “To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm.” Knowledge that, in the Rivera family’s case, was never attained regarding Miguel’s individual qualities and potential due to their authoritative disposition. Lord Acton wisely adds, “It is easier to find people fit to govern themselves than people to govern others. Every man is the best, the most responsible, judge of his own advantage.”

Miguel proved that he had the ability to produce what the people wanted with his performance in the Land of the Dead. As an emerging musician—and ultimately an entrepreneur—he exhibited a talent to create far more value for society through music, specifically within the Latin culture, than he ever could have as a shoemaker.

Fred E. Foldvary teaches, “Each person has his own unique personality and his own needs and desires, and moral equality implies that each person has the equal right to decide how he should live, including how he will work…”

The Social Benefit of Agency

In what was most likely an unintentional subplot, we find a clear illustration of basic economic principles and natural rights that emphasize the liberating beauty of free markets. Although this is clearly a fictional story, the principles remain true. What’s more, is the fact that even on a familial level in realistic terms, parents and grandparents cannot effectively control the complexity of individual interaction engendered by the agency of their posterity.

How then, would a small group of central planners of an entire nation accomplish such? The success of efficiently producing for and contributing to society is always determined by the individual. Our unique talents, abilities, and potential cannot be forced into a predesigned mold that merely represents the limited knowledge and subjective desires of a few.

To further emphasize this common sense economic and moral principle, Ezra Taft Benson proclaims:

“We put our own lives in the direction of success or failure. We may not only choose our ultimate goals, but we may also determine and decide for ourselves, in many cases, the means by which we will arrive at those goals, and by our industry or lack of it determine the speed by which they may be reached.”

At the end of the movie, we see a united family, both living and dead, enjoying the fruits of Miguel’s talents. Ultimately, highlighting his significant achievement in dispelling the emotionally charged, and failed family ideology to control the value of their posterity. Increased productivity and utility for all, is the result.

Overall, to perfectly summarize the free-market power of the individual that Coco manifests to its audience, through the wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Allen Mendenhall writes, “…if we all, each one of us, endeavor to excel at our favorite preoccupations and to expand the reach of our talent and industry, we will better the lives of those around us and pass along our prosperity to our posterity.”

* Brenden Labrum is currently harnessing the power of free markets as co-founder of Scout To Hunt, while seeking a BS in economics at Brigham Young University, Idaho. He’s also a very happy husband and fortunate father.


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