Breaking Bad, Season 5, Part 2

What Larry Summers and Ben Bernanke Would Think of Breaking Bad
Talking television.
Aug. 12 2013 9:00 AM

Breaking Bad, Season 5, Part 2

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Why on earth did Hank confront Walt?!

Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) and Walter White (Bryan Cranston).
Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) and Walter White (Bryan Cranston).

Photo by Frank Ockenfels/AMC

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Damn. That was a tense episode of television. But while I’ve made solemn commitments to Slate editors to stop boring people with monetary policy coverage, I feel compelled to point out two moments deeply relevant to contemporary debates. The first is Skylar’s insight into Lydia, which comes directly from Lawrence Summers, who famously quipped, “in the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rental car” as an example of why secure property rights bolster investment and ultimately long-term prosperity.

The second is Jesse’s joyride tossing money out the window. Back when he was an academic economist, current Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke liked to observe that in extreme conditions a central bank could always reflate a depressed economy by printing money and dropping it out of helicopters. This turns out to not actually be quite legal, but I’m on record arguing that Congress ought to change the Federal Reserve Act to authorize this kind of helicopter money. Pinkman’s money-tossing gives us a great example of how it would work. If we believe Albuquerque has no idle economic resources, then throwing money randomly on people’s lawns is only going to lead to inflation. But in depressed economic conditions, when the recipients of Pinkman’s largess go out to spend their bundle, stores will have to add staff and inventory to match the increased demand. In the long run, more money alone can’t make Albuquerque a more prosperous place—only more real resources can do that—but in the short term, Jesse is doing his part to fight unemployment.

And so, in his way, is Walt with his plans to expand the car wash business. Publicly traded companies seem to underinvest thanks to myopic focus on day-to-day stock prices, so we need our privately held money-laundering operations to step up.

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But enough about economics. Why did Hank confront Walt with his suspicions?!?! It was nice to see Hank sucker-punch his brother-in-law rather than get sucked into his web of lies. On the other hand, Hank has good reason to believe that Walt is a cold-blooded killer, capable of pulling off the simultaneous execution of 10 different prisoners and ingenious enough to destroy evidence inside police custody to cover his tracks. Hank, meanwhile, is alone in his garage and still limping from injuries. At worst, a strategy of confrontation is going to get Hank killed. At best, a strategy of confrontation is going to end with Hank killing Walt and facing one heck of an internal affairs review. Of course this way, with Walt tipped off, we’ll get seven more episodes’ worth of action rather than watching Hank quietly building the case and taking Walt unawares. But still, it seemed like a foolish move.

Deep breath.

The flash-forward that began the previous batch of episodes really bugged me. But I loved this one. Not only was it well executed on its own terms, but I think it really set the tone. I am now super curious as to what happened to Walt’s house! And I really want to know how Walt evades Hank for long enough to grow that hair and beard! I’m just not sure I can actually stand to have this dragged out over two whole months.

Pull up a bong and take a seat,

Matt

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