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People need a place to live and work and that fact is equally true of superheros and evil villains. Given the choices made by the Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Lex Luthor, Joker and so on, they may need some advice.

The logic of Superman’s choice (Fortress of Solitude near the North Pole) and of Wonder Woman’s choice (Paradise Island, which is isolated in some ocean) seems incompatible with their primary (and unpaid) job of fighting crime. The orbiting space station used by the Justice League of America was inconvenient and silly.

Dormant volcanos on tropical islands were popular for a while, since the villain could hide until choosing when and where to act. More recently, dark dungeon-like places seem to be popular, perhaps because there is an excess supply of them at the market price and improved surveillance technologies have made it harder to hide.

James Bond’s villains seem to be particularly stupid, even if they usually start with more money than Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark and they can get more than 1 million dollars anytime they want. Bond is able to usually discover their hiding places (with only a little help from the high tech wizardry based at the home office plus an unlimited travel budget) and to destroy it single-handedly near the end of the movie.

So, it is time to apply the theories used by multinational to decide where to pick the locations of their headquarters and their factories. As a bonus question on the final exam in my Urban Economics (Fall 2015) class, I asked people for their advice. Even given the pressure of an exam, their advice was thoughtful.

Two theories are relevant. Median location theory tells us that the least cost location (for an office worker) is at the median location of their “customers” (not the average). The cost of travel is important when deciding whether to build a factory and ship manufactured goods from either Vietnam or Bangladesh and when the superhero has limited time to save the love interest.

Therefore, a villain should location at the median of their opportunities. Superheroes, who do not know where the next crime will occur, should locate at the median of the possible crime locations. This logic would seem to predict a paradox: that the superheros and the villains should be next door neighbours.

A number of students impressed me with their ability to think creatively when under pressure. They noted that Superman, who also has the benefit of being nearly indestructible, should locate at the middle of the earth since it is shorter than to go through rather than around the Earth. Of course, he can also go faster than the speed of sound, so maybe travel cost and location choice are less important for him than for a pizza delivery service.

Batman’s choice may seem to be best in part because he is limited in where he can fight crime, since some locations are so far that the crime would have ended by the time he arrived. Better to locate in downtown rather than at the estate far away.

Some students noted that superheros rarely capture villains in their hiding place. They need to think about other aspects of their business model if they want it to be sustainable.

PA and the Urban Economics class (Fall 2015)

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