Econ-SF: a selection of works and authors

Breaking news: we are rolling out the Science Fiction Economics Lab. All contributors to this resource are warmly invited! Updates are coming in email form. This is where you sign up to receive them:

@matthias @alex_levene @jolwalton @sz_duras @joelfinkle @Kaibeezy @LStewart @anonandon @OmaMorkie @Enro @ralmond @rachel @GrahamCaswell @JGG @kevin_carson @phm @petussing @oliiive @Azraq @johncoate @yannick @mariacoenen @filip @jaycousins @danohu @amiridina @OmaMorkie @Caszimir

Yes following this up @alberto, i hope to find the time to partake in these sessions. I like the mindset of it and I hope I can find time to look into star trek deep economics sub reddits because there is some real gold in that :wink:

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Actually, @yannick, I was thinking about you. Do you think your BIFFF crowd woiuld be interested in the Sci-Fi Economics Lab? How can we get the word out to them?

@alberto serious, we could look into a masterclass in salle 3 at the festival around that thematic, depending of course if that thematic emerges in one of the main selections. :slight_smile:

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Ping @irene_1

It is so bloody complicated. It is useless to say “capitalism good, socialism bad” or “communal land good, enclosure bad”. All these institutions are part of human social evolution; they have positive and negative effects, they generate unexpected and varied responses from people. The enclosure movement enabled the large-scale agriculture which allowed Europeans to feed themselves. Small farms are not very productive. Obviously there was a lot of destruction as well. Hardin in his paper “The Tragedy of the Commons” in 1968 advocated privatization to save common resources. He was right… sometimes. Elinor Ostrom later talked about negotiating communal strategies – that also works… sometimes, and she defined propitious circumstances. Attaching “good” and “bad” labels just remove essential options from the table.

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I like your approach, @petussing. I, too, feel the duty to refuse to oversimplify. And actually there is a difficult argument to make here, which is that the health of a system does not necessarily imply the well-being of its components. In your example, the system is food production, which is made more effective by enclosures. Its component are individual farmers, who might have fared better under pre-enclosures conditions. If you are a humanist (and we all are, according to Harari), your ideology demands that you put the well-being of individual humans before that of the economies they create.

And yes, I am aware this “system-vs-component” stuff looks suspiciously like a rerun of social Darwinism in complex systems sauce. But I see all those power law distributions and positive feedback dynamics everywhere, and wonder: is it not true that being able to support predators is a definition of robust ecosystems? Social Darwinism 2.0 must be falsified or outcompeted, not simply assumed away.

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So it seems to me that we need to think in terms of a system that uses the talents without being harmed by the predations of predators. And it needs to differentiate the varied roles of actors in the system – it is much too over-symplified in the 21st century to think on the basis of a dualistic economy of capitalists and workers, or workers and their vanguard. I’m not an ecologist at all, but maybe without getting bogged down in detailed correspondences we can find a way to think of an economy as being a kind of ecosystem. It’s something I have been playing with, but had not previously put into writing.

What I am supposing we mean by “predators” is people with strong personalities – “natural leaders” is another, more complementary designation for pretty much the same people. They are leaders of a government, of a Socialist revolution, or of large companies – only the details are changed. Their impulse is to take over, because their self-confidence propels them to believe that they have the answers. What is needed is to constrain their desire to dominate by ensuring the framework is oriented toward service. “The one who leads is the one who serves the rest best.” This must be baked into the system.

Roles easily come to mind: those who have the personalities of workers – do a certain amount of work a day, which fulfills the need to contribute to society – otherwise spend time with family or rest. Many of them would become artisans – they would find an affinity for metal or wood or code, or for making their production more efficient. Perhaps someone would listen to their ideas. There are many people are like this – there is no blame – such people are the bedrock of production. There are dreamers, who create art and literature, but also think about possibilities of how to organize society. There are researchers, who are oriented toward doing science, physical or social scientific research. There are entrepreneurs, who are happy to spend 80 hours a week trying to create a new product and find people who want to use it. People who want to serve others directly, as nurses or social workers or psychologists. People who don’t get along with other humans but have an affinity for animals, or for plants, or for fish in the sea. They are our links to the world around us. Explorers.

One sets up an education system around finding and expanding these qualities in individuals, instead of educating industrial workers in one part, and elite leaders in another part, like the old one. Not sending people down “tracks”, but allowing them to explore their own feelings about what they want to do. Really, dreadfully simple. Expensive, because differentiated, but digital technology should reduce the cost. Ultimately the reward in terms of increased productivity would be enormous.

Naturally discrimination on the basis of the normal criteria, such as so-called “race” or other tribal identifications such as religion, or sexual orientation or culture, would be an insidious virus inside such a system which would have to be strenuously prevented. The more problematic kind of discrimination – that of subtly supposing any particular kind of person to be “better” or “more important” – would also have to be suppressed, though that would be harder.

Then you have a web: not only one in which predators are caught, but also one in which the talents of all players are optimized.

No, not at all. The predators of earthworms are not badass earthworms, but birds: an entirely different clade. Nothing earthworms can do is going to be remotely effective against large, scary creatures who can see you from far away, reach you an instant and lift you up like you were nothing at all.

The predators of the Marshallian price-taking businesses operating in a regime of competition are, maybe, large corporations enjoying monopoly power and a privileged access to regulators (FAANG, oil companies, finance etc.). Or maybe they are systems: When the central banker recommends a credit crunch, he says “financial markets will punish us if we don’t”. “Financial markets” in this sentenc are some kind of Moirai, inscrutable, inaccessible divinities who lord over us.

You confuse me. The Fates are the apotheosis of impersonal destiny. Predators are very personal. If you mean that people are being harmed by an impersonal destiny, then it is neither a system nor any individual or set of individuals; not a system because we are humans – we can alter or mitigate systems. The Moirae need no support. I am guessing at your meaning, but if you mean the actions of markets are a systemic form of destiny, then that is what government are for, if they act on behalf on all or even of a select set of humans in the system; quite literally, governments exist to limit the harm those systems would otherwise impose on their constituents. If a government were to exist which acted on behalf of the entire citizenry (which I would argue has never yet existed), it would do its best to protect all its citizens from negative effects of the “Moirae” in that particular economy: if markets, then for example it would re-train workers who were made jobless by technological change to do new jobs (and support them in the interim).

Thought I would drop in a mention of John Muir’s The Velvet Monkey Wrench. Most well known for his books on Volkswagen repair, lavishly illustrated by the great Peter Aschwanden, The Velvet Monkey Wrench was a humorous attempt at what could be called ‘hippie futurism’, detailing a future as imagined by the '60s/'70s counter-culture. Not so much science fiction as it is written in the manner of futurist books of the time rather than a novel but perhaps a bit too fanciful to be called a futurist study.

I’ve got a much loved copy of Radical Technology from the same genre.

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Guys, guys! The crowdfunding campaign for the Sci-Fi Economics Lab is launched. If you don’t live in or near Brussels, you can still be a part of it through live streaming. Get access here:

Alberto, Did we add Shepherd’s Drone to the list? Is it a recent novel from Brett Frischmann, who profoundly excited me with his other works, Infrastructure: The Social Value of Shared Resources and Re-engineering Humanity.

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I wasn’t sure where to put this link, but this looks like as good a place as any. This article describes how the Belgian mining town of Genk transitions itself away from dying as a mining city. Much green activity there now.

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Thank you. There is also Economic Science Fictions by Willliam DAvies.
Although not science fiction, there is also the Mushroom at the end of the universe. just beautiful stories about the economy.


This is already quoted in the wiki. Welcome, @dadabit

@jean_russell, sorry I am only seeing that now. No, I don’t think it’s there. Why don’t you add it? It’s a wiki, and everyone with an account has full editing privileges, does not have to be me.

BTW, @zvanstanley and I are deciding to launch a overhaul of the wiki. Look out for a topic on this in the coming hours.

I just finished reading New York 2140 and found the tipping point scenario – an unexpected Black Swan even like a rent/debt strike, triggered by public outrage over a near-random event in the news – quite plausible. The long-term terminal crisis tendencies of capitalism, and the interstitial development undertaken in response, may be linear. But the events which make them apparent will probably be very much non-linear.

This is quite interesting, @kevin_carson. Another dimension in which SF does economics is in coming up with these “triggers for the apocalypse”. My favorite (in terms of plausibility) so far is William Gibson’s Jackpot. Perhaps we should edit the wiki to include models transitions to apocalypse? This is, of course, central in cli-fi.