Econ-scifi: can we imagine a completely different economic system?

[Edit: we now are working on a wiki of Econ-SF works]

A research network need not only be about chasing research funding. Edgeryders being what it is, it is only appropriate that some of our effort goes into “blue sky” thinking. This can inspire the way people in the broader community build their lives (myself included), and tends to draw interesting crowds. Plus – and importantly – it is in general a lot of fun.

There is an important idea that is not receiving enough attention: the economic foundations of a modern society (let’s say late 21st century). All I am seeing being discussed is minor tweaks on capitalism-with-state-corrections. This was not always the case: in the 19th century we had attempts at sweeping paradigm design (Marx, Proudhon, anarchic collectivism and mutualism), as well as prototypes (Fourier’s Phalanstères, Owen’s New Lanark, and, later, Adriano Olivetti’s Ivrea factory as the economic engine of the Community Movement).

We seem to have lost this alliance between top-notch economists like Marx and bold entrepreneurs like Owen in imagining possible alternative organizing principles for the economy. And that’s a shame: even if we do not want to change our economic system, there’s something wrong in not even being able to imagine anything else. It makes society more fragile.

The one exception I am seeing is a small cadre of science fiction authors. Exhibit A is Cory Doctorow, who is definitely economics-literate (see here). His recent Walkaway (see here) comes closest to painting a picture of a completely different economic system. There are a few others: Bruce Sterling; Neal Stephenson; and, partially, William Gibson and Peter Watts.

I would like to organize a “blue sky” seminar bringing together some of these authors; some professional economists willing to play ball; and some entrepreneurs who are experimenting with enterprise-scale economic models. There is no immediate goal other than the pleasure of having an interesting conversation with interesting people. It should probably be crowdfunded; crowdfunding is itself time- and resource-consuming, so we can only afford to go ahead if we find a lightweight way to get it going. I, however, would be willing to do work on it.

I suggest this would be a smart move for Edgeryders now. As mentioned above, it can draw an interesting crowd, among which we might find new partners or clients; it can help raise our profile; and it can help us think more outside the box. Anyone would be willing to help me? Any other thoughts?


If there is something I could help, according with the time I have, I would be happy. It’s really important to think about the alternatives in economy, because if all is related to money, there are no human exchange and those that cannot afford to fit in our capitalist society model is lost, may come to the obscure force of the universe.

As human beings, we are (mostly ) all glued in the train bandwagon of "if you don’t work hard, you don’t exist socially (the “I have” syndrom, “oh, my new neighbour have this car, this pool, I want the same”.

For my point of view, I don’t want this for my life, next year I’m going to sell my house just to allow me more finance freedom.

Let’s stick in the topic. About the economy, there are a lot of alternatives, not only about blockchain & crypto currencies, but also about time currencies (LETS/SEL), exchange (troc), etc

What is the purpose of our lives. What is the meaning of money? What is the world we want to promote, for ourselves and the next generation?

Mostly, when you realize that, in population average, 60 to 80% of our energy (our money, the work we do to gain it) goes to big group multinationals, families, and also at the end, all the countries governments… It’s also the syndrom of “I want to pay less for products”. Your body becomes what you eat. Economy must be profitable for local producers. I saw someone posting a photo of 2 packs of strawberries, one from Spain at 1,80€ and one from Wepion at 4,69€. We have to choose the quality over the quantity. And it’s not easy because in our pattern, we just want the cheapest.

I am definitely very interested. I have good experience in organizing seminars and events, as well as a knack for economic experimentation. There is an interesting book I read few by Marjorie Kelly, who coined the term “generative economics”, called: Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution. It set me on a path to explore the ways in which new economic systems could develop. So count me in. Would love to see this effort come to light.


It’s a fine idea. I wonder what Cory charges these days for appearances when he isn’t on a book tour. A lot I bet. I could find out.

Ok, thanks for your input @oliiive, @Azraq and @johncoate. Here is what I will do now: I am going to have a chat with @anique.yael once she is back at The Reef. This will be a kind of due diligence, to see if it is realistic for the ResNet to go off in a fun (but not profitable, at least not immediately) project, and what we could reasonably commit. Based on this, we will plan our next moves. There will certainly be some space for people to volunteer to do some work in it.

John: yes, please. That number would help the planning quite a bit.


I asked…will see what he says.

Thanks. Make sure you mention the Econ Sci-fi context – we had a Twitter exchange on that a while back, and he seemed positive. I am quite sure he is genuinely interested in the matter.

His reply, edited…

The short answer is “a lot” – in the sense that I have had to come up
with SOME way of limiting the amount of travel I do, because I’m still a
freelancer, so I stop earning the minute I get up from my desk…


Very useful. Thanks!

Ok so next steps:

  • I will share a post on the philosophy of the Research Network’s scaling that has been in the making for some time early next week

  • @alberto and I and whoever else is interested will do a co-design session on this next Tuesday 1 May, 14h30 - 17h CET. Please let me know if you want to join in person or via hangouts.

@yannick @ireinga would you be interested in taking part?

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definitily, i have some articles laying around about alter-economics, but will need a couple of days to shape my vision. But agreeing 100% to the idea, excited to see if i i can be of any use :slight_smile:

Great then @yannick. Will you join us Tuesday?

14h30 - 16h30 is ok for me then i have to go to another appointment


Great topic, I remember about a conversation exactly on this during a Reef brunch :relaxed:
On Thursday I’m also going to Bxl Laique for this event: Pour en finir avec les alternatives dérisoires. Definitely not Econ-scifi but might be some crowd to include in the discussion.

I will pass by on May 1, sounds like a good activity for the international workers day!
Looking forward!

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It’s a date. I also invited @mariekebelle, though she will only be just back from a long journey, so maybe she will be too tired.

Or very energised from it?:wink:
Count me in.


Counted. Wow, very happy! This is shaping up to be great fun.

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Ok, here are some items we are going to be discussing.

  • Format(s). Lecture with 500 people? Seminar room with 20 people and many whiteboards? Role-playing interactive theater, like the one dreamed up by Annette Mees? What else? (Remember: financing and format are very closely related).
  • Keeping it simple. Can we do this well, yet in a light-hearted fashion, in a fun sort of way, without too much heavy structure? How?
  • Partnerships. Related to the above, maybe we can partner up with existing events, and reduce the complexity of venue-scouting, marketing etc.?
  • Money. I doubt this can be done without raising some. It would be great to understand, even roughly, how much we need, and how we could go about getting it. I have some ideas, looking forward to yours.
  • Mixing the crowds. SF-lovers, utopians and restless folks might be immediately attracted to this idea. Should we make a conscious effort to mix in people from academia, too? Who? How?
  • Being locals. This is just my preference, and I am open to changing my mind. But I would like this thing to take place in Brussels. It would be a contribution of our own to the whole (utopian?) vibe of this city.

If you have read Walkaway, you have a good idea of how SF can “do economics” in a very radical, out there way. If not, here is the man himself explaining how his book is all about how networked tools might solve in new ways the problem of coordinating human labor to address human needs – i.e. how you organize an economy: Coase’s Spectre — Crooked Timber


Goes without saying that @oliiive, @Azraq and anyone who cares about this, really, is welcome to join us tomorrow, May 1st, at The Reef. We will provide some strawberries, a whiteboard, wi-fi, and as much coffee as you can drink. If you prefer to decamp to a café, that’s fine too.