We’ve always loved this little show, not merely because it was brought to TV by an old friend of LB’s (Rick Sigglekow: Hi, Rick!) but also because of the important life lessons it teaches. Including this one about – cronyism?
The Baffling Economics of the Island of Sodor
by Alex Knapp
Being the father of a toddler, I spend a lot of time watching Thomas the Tank Engine. As a writer for a business magazine, my mind can’t help but be puzzled by how the economy of the Island of Sodor actually functions. It seems to me to be dreadfully inefficient, and for the life of me I can’t figure out how anyone on the Island turns a profit – especially the railways. Here’s just a few questions I’ve had while watching the show:
How does Sodor make cronyism work?
There’s clearly a bit of cronyism on the Island of Sodor helping to line the pockets of Sir Topham Hatt. Although reference is frequently made to elected officials such as a Mayor, Sir Hatt seems to be in charge of virtually everything on the island. In addition to running his own railroad, he’s often in charge of projects – like building a Search and Rescue station inMisty Island Rescue – that should properly be the purview of government. Indeed, the Island of Sodor bears no small resemblance to Boss Hogg’s Hazzard County, with Hatt seeming to own most of the businesses around and able to get the government to back those industries.
Usually, though, this type of cronyism leads to massive inequalities of wealth (like in povery-stricken Hazzard County) as established businesses use the power of government to thwart competition. On the other hand, the Island of Sodor seems to have a thriving middle class is generally prosperous. It’s not clear how this is possible.
Why do the trains have drivers?
One of the most remarkable things about the railways of the Island of Sodor is that they are managed by intelligent trains. These trains are capable of reasoning and planning out their own workdays. They also drive themselves – it’s made clear that they can move on their own power. So why do they have drivers? That seems remarkably inefficient All of the money spent on their payroll is pretty much a loss for Sir Topham Hatt. For a guy who has the ambition to turn 300 square mile island into his own personal fiefdom, that seems to show a remarkable lack of avarice and foresight. Surely he has some other economic operation he could hire those drivers for. Or else not keep them around at all.
Why aren’t the trains used more efficiently?
For the most part, the freight trains on Sodor only haul one car at a time – occasionally, they’ll haul two. Even more inexplicably it’s not uncommon to see two engines being used to transport one freight car. This level of inefficiency is simply insane. The Island of Sodor isn’t that big. There’s just no reason why one engine can’t be used to haul multiple cars. The engine fleet of Sodor’s rails could easily be cut in half, at least, and its regular costs cut accordingly. Of course, this represents the economic danger in Sir Topham Hatt’s monopoly. Through Hatt’s cronyism, he’s clearly keeping trucking out of Sodor, making his rails the only place to turn for businesses that want to transport freight.