An online event on science fiction and social science, starring Paul Krugman and Ada Palmer... and Jo Walton!

I have come across this online panel discussion, which seems really interesting. Of the four panelists, Krugman of course needs no introduction (I do remember his paper on The Theory of Interstellar Trade!). Palmer is an accomplished sci-fi author, though I am not sure she is that interested in Economics. I did not know Henry Farrell, he is a scholar of international relations. And @jolwalton we have met on this forum – I remember he and I disagreed in part about Spufford’s Red Plenty.

For Europeans, it is a bit inconvenient (middle of the night…), but the recording should be posted on the CUNY Graduate Center’s YouTube Channel.


Cool! Will try to tune in anyway.

Excellent! Actually it’s the OTHER Jo Walton – a very interesting and entertaining science fiction and fantasy writer (as is Ada Palmer). So that means I get to watch as well :slight_smile:

Wow, sorry, I though you two were the same person. What are the odds, eh?

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Not the first time! (Once we were both presenting at the same event and I got handed her itenary at the front desk … it was tempting to try to swap lives, but Jo Waltons are not perfectly fungible)



Thank you for introducing me to Jo Walton’s piece about Red Plenty, which brought in a lot of information which I know a little about, and synthesized it in what seems to me a very insightful way.

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I’m signed up. Here is Krugman’s article, from 1978, for anyone who wants to brush up.Krugman, Paul. the-theory-of-interstellar-trade, 1978.pdf (514.7 KB)

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Indeed, that was a great discussion. The Red Plenty argument is not completely dead: people have been making the argument that, as computing gets better and markets, if anything, get worse (because they are more perturbed by monopolies), at some point computers will outperform markets at allocation.

KSR’s The Ministry for the Future briefly mentions this, and it uses this very name, the Red Plenty argument.


That does sound interesting, though I’m not sure I’ll stay up that late.

Henry Farrell might be more familiar as one of the bloggers at Crooked Timber

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Aha. Good catch, Dan. How are you anyway?

That is what Asimov described in the last story in I, Robot, “The Inevitable Conflict” – that “the machines” will allocate resources in such a way as to lead to an economic model which will optimize human well-being.

I like Asimov a lot, and I’m not afraid of automation, but I think that this would be what mathematicians call “a very hard problem”. In the first place, an economy is what, again mathematicians call “a complex system”. It is not only complicated; it is made up of many interacting components, each of which is separately complex – biology, human brains, weather, geology and of course evolution – this last one is the hardest of all, because a machine would have to determine what type of economy would be best for a human society at each stage of its evolution. And of course as we know, human evolution will be in the hands of humans to an increasing extent in the very near future – who knows what evolutionary path for humans would be “best”? There is a wonderful, long, complicated description of the entirety of human evolution and various paths it takes over a billion years and more in the 1930 “First and Last Men”, by Olaf Stapledon.

Not sure who else made it to this. Felt very tilted to how to work on worldbuilding, particularly culture and politics, but next to nothing about economics.

My favorite part was when Ada Palmer talked about a good question to ask, while worldbuilding, is what has to fail for someone to die in the gutter. What institutions should be there, why, and why aren’t they?

What I liked from Jo was the pushback on “what is the best scifi novel” by saying the value is the plurality and multiplicity from many.

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