OPINION: The Lego movie got think tanks wrong

Rose Patterson

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Recently my partner and I sat down to watch the Lego movie; a thoroughly entertaining laugh-a-minute watch, typical of the style of today’s animated films that somehow manage to pitch the tone and humour at both adults and children alike.
For my partner, who grew up with Lego and can make incredible creations with a thousand tiny colourful pieces (biased as I am) it was a journey of reminiscence. But the story resonated for me too, despite a childhood devoid of Lego. Not only was it part filmed in ‘Middle Zealand’ but think tanks got a special mention worthy of a chuckle.
And while it was light hearted it also got us thinking on a deeper level about society, business and government control. The movie’s hero works as a builder who follows Lego instruction manuals to construct pre-designed objects. The ‘man upstairs’, aptly named President Business, achieves perfect social order by ensuring they follow these instructions. But soon the people start to fight back for control over their own lives. They want to make their own creations from the pieces of Lego. They want to be creative, deconstructing and reconstructing their own worlds, experimenting, creating, failing, and trying again.
However, what was both amusing but questionable in the movie was the way think tanks were portrayed. President Business lives in a lair constructed of pieces of red and black, which includes a ‘think tank’ that sucks the ideas out of people’s minds.
What’s ironic about this is that think tanks typically advocate for policies that liberate people from the shackles of a paternalistic government, and encourage creativity. They want to encourage power to the people – allowing people to live their own lives, to create their own businesses, to thrive and be free. 

In other words, think tanks don’t want people to be forced to follow an instruction manual. 
Yes, that might mean the world is more chaotic and unpredictable, but perfect social order designed from above is difficult to attain.  And suppressing human creativity will lead to revolt, or at least people voting for a different party.
And while President Business was more of a business person than a politician, he had a monopoly over all consumer products, hardly something a think tank would advocate. Certainly not The New Zealand Initiative anyway.
The latest Lego product is the Evil Lair, think tank included. It’s amusing, but I do hope that the kids playing with this Lego set, who are likely to grow up to be creative adults, come to question this dogma: are think tanks really the bad guys?  

Rose Patterson is the Research Fellow of the New Zealand Initiative

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