The Hunger Games trilogy is about a dystopian future America (called Panem) where a central government, the Capitol, rules its colonies (districts) with an iron fist. It is fiction. More-or-less.

1.) Big Brother is Watching You.

The US National Security Agency has most emails that have ever been sent (1) and is listening in to everybody’s phone calls and recording them. (2) What if the NSA opened and read everyone’s physical mail? What if there were microscopic cameras in every nook and cranny, documenting everything? Is there a line that Washington, DC, would have to cross before its subjects revolted, as the subjects of Panem revolted against the Capitol? Are Americans apathetic? Or are they in denial?

In the Hunger Games, where children from the colonized districts in Panem fight to the death for the amusement of the Capitol, microscopic cameras are hidden all over the arena. The Hunger Games arenas are many square miles, and every square inch of them is caught on microscopic camera. It wouldn’t be any stretch of the imagination to think that cameras are sprinkled throughout Panem both inside and outside the Hunger Games arenas.

The President of Panem reveals to Katniss, the protagonist and narrator, that he knows a secret of hers. He caught her doing something illicit in the woods. In the following passage, she reveals her naiveté about the surveillance state:

“If he knows this, what else does he know? And how does he know it?…The real question is what he thinks goes on in the woods beyond District 12. Surely they haven’t been tracking us in there. Or have they? Could we have been followed? That seems impossible. At least by a person. Cameras? That never crossed my mind until this moment. The woods have always been our place of safety, our place beyond the reach of the Capitol, where we’re free to say what we feel, be who we are.” (3)

2.) Totalitarian Governments Keep Their People Disarmed.

In Katniss’ colonized district, people are not allowed to keep and bear arms. There is no freedom of speech or of the press. In the following passage, Katniss talks about District 12 (also known as the Seam):

“My bow is a rarity, crafted by my father along with a few others that I keep well hidden in the woods, carefully wrapped in waterproof covers. My father could have made good money selling them, but if the officials found out he would have been publicly executed for inciting a rebellion…the idea that someone might be arming the Seam would never have been allowed…When I was younger, I scared my mother to death, the things I would blurt out about District 12, about the people who rule our country, Panem, from the far-off city called the Capitol. Eventually I understood this would only lead to more trouble. So I learned to hold my tongue…” (4)

In most government districts i.e. countries of the world, the same is true. In many countries, criticism of the government will get you killed or jailed. Even in “free” Western Europe, there are very tight controls on free speech:

“Police and prosecutors are accused of being over-zealous in their interpretation of Section 5 of the Act, which outlaws threatening, abusive and insulting words or behaviour…What constitutes ‘insulting’ is not clear. It has resulted in a string of controversial arrests. They include a 16-year-old boy being held for peacefully holding a placard reading ‘Scientology is a dangerous cult’, and gay rights campaigners from the group Outrage! detained when they protested against Islamic fundamentalist group Hizb ut-Tahrir over its stance on gays, Jews and women.” (5)

In America, Switzerland, and Canada, where millions of civilians are armed, free speech is still respected by the government.

3.) Drones / Parachutes Carry Out Double-Tap Strikes.

A double tap strike is when a military strike is carried out, and then the first responders who arrive to provide aid are targeted in a subsequent strike. Katniss witnesses her sister, a first responder, killed by a double-tap strike. First, the government bombs a crowd of children. Then, they bomb the first responders who try to save the wounded:

“A hovercraft marked with the Capitol’s seal materializes directly over the barricaded children. Scores of silver parachutes rain down on them….The hovercraft vanishes, five seconds pass, and then about twenty parachutes simultaneously explode…medics…swarm in among the children, wielding medical kits….And that’s when the rest of the parachutes go off.” (6)

The Capitol’s tactics are similar to Washington, DC,’s tactics, droning schools and other civilian targets and then droning the first responders when they show up to the crime scene:

“…initial strikes are now followed up by further missiles in a tactic which lawyers and campaigners say is killing an even greater number of civilians. The tactic has cast such a shadow of fear over strike zones that rescuers often wait for hours before daring to visit the scene of an attack.” (7)

4.) Nationalism and Migration Barriers are the Tool of Tyranny.

People in Panem root for the children from their own district to win in the Hunger Games. The districts the Capitol favors most, that are most loyal to the Capitol, are the districts where Hunger Games players are not drafted, but instead volunteer to bring nationalistic glory to their district. District 2 is one of these districts, and it is where the Capitol enlists most of its army/police (the peacekeepers) from.

As always, along with nationalism comes migration barriers: The people in the various governmental units are not allowed to travel amongst themselves. Nationalism is a divide-and-conquer tactic used to impose tyranny. Katniss, who becomes a hero for the rebels trying to overthrow the Capitol, gives an impassioned speech against nationalism aimed at inspiring the peacekeepers from District 2 to side with the rebellion:

“‘We blew up your mine. You burned my district to the ground. We’ve got every reason to kill each other. So do it. Make the Capitol happy. I’m done killing their slaves for them…It just goes around and around, and who wins? Not us. Not the districts. Always the Capitol. But I’m tired of being a piece in their games.” (8)

And in the real world, migration barriers and nationalism are used to control the population. People in America, inspired by nationalism, democratically vote to have migration barriers imposed on them. The result is an enormous imposition on people’s freedom:

“A fire department can’t depend on help from a few miles away. A short drive to pick up milk can bring unpredictable delays. A decade after 9/11, tightened security measures have divided communities on the northern border, where for centuries, people crossed back and forth to shop, work or visit relatives.” (9)

In the 1960s and 70s, many Americans maintained their freedom by dodging the draft and fleeing to Canada. Now, should enslavement by the military ever occur again, it will be much harder to escape. Migration barriers turn government districts into prisons.

5.) State Planning of the Economy Creates Presidential Power.

Much of the central government/the Capitol/the president’s power comes from central planning: The government monopoly coalmine simply slashes wages and imposes furloughs when there are dissenters in District 12. It consolidates its monopoly on livelihood and crushes verbal and physical revolt by outlawing black markets / agorism, destroying the local black market, known as the Hob.

“Fighting the Capitol assures their swift retaliation…The mines stay shut for two weeks, and by that time half of District 12 is starving…When the mines reopen, wages are cut, hours extended, miners sent into blatantly dangerous work sites.” (10)

And government monopolies function the same way, consolidating power for the central government/capitol/president. In Argentina, for instance, the government bought the newsprint manufacturers to silence opposition newspapers:

“The Argentine government has won control of the country’s newsprint supplies…Newsprint has been a key weapon in the battles between President Fernandez’s government and opposition media in Argentina, correspondents say… President Fernandez has long argued that Clarin, which has newspapers, television channels and radio stations, gives unfair coverage to her and her government.” (11)

It is never wise to criticize your employer publicly, and with central planning of the economy, the state is your employer: Criticism of the state is severely diminished when the state controls the economy.

In conclusion, I read The Hunger Games as an extremely libertarian screed: To the freer government districts on earth, it is a foreboding warning against wildlife refuges patrolled by peacekeepers prohibiting hunting and a completely disarmed public. For much of earth, it is a description of today’s political reality.

(1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfS2Op9l3nk

(2) http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/04/telephone-calls-recorded-fbi-boston

(3) pg. 24, Catching Fire

(4) pg. 5-6, The Hunger Games

(5) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/9616750/Rowan-Atkinson-we-must-be-allowed-to-insult-each-other.html

(6) pg. 346-347, Mockingjay

(7) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/outrage-at-cias-deadly-double-tap-drone-attacks-8174771.html

(8) pg. 215, Mockingjay

(9) http://www.cleveland.com/nation/index.ssf/2011/08/vermont-canada_border_towns_st.html

(10) pg. 122-131, Catching Fire

(11) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-16311344