Reflecting on the Space Economy Camp, and implications for the Sci-Fi Economics Seminar

About Space Economy Camp

I finally have the time to write about my recent experience at the Space Economy Camp. In a nutshell:

  • They targeted sci-fi and fantasy authors. The Camp had 20 places in all for them. Authors paid to participate in the event.
  • The objective of the Camp was to imagine the future histories of four space habitats (Earth orbit, Moon, Mars, asteroids belt), and commit them to some kind of artifact (mostly a final presentation). In this sense, this was close to our own Witness.
  • The program was split into work sessions where these future histories were hammered out, plus three economics lectures, plus two keynotes also by economists. The whole thing lasted one evening lecture + 2 full days.
  • Authors were divided into four groups, one per space habitat. Each group was assigned and economist and a facilitator.

In the debrief, the troop of the economists agreed that the format was mostly fun and engaging, but writers – though they reported being inspired by the economics concept they were exposed to – struggled to incorporate them into their worldbuilding. Part of it was the time pressure that forced facilitators to wave away some inconsistencies. In general, the writers put more details in imagining things like systems of governance, spiritual life, and mental health care of space habitats than on imagining speficic economic institutions like regulators and central banks.

What does this tell us about the Sci-Fi Economics Seminar?

  1. Finalize it to reinforce and extend the Witness wiki. It is a good output, and creative people “get it”.
  2. Use the longer duration (five days?) to relieve time pressures.
  3. Go for a more diverse mix of participants. I imagine groups of about 8 people, with an about 50-50 mix between creatives and social scientists. Also not only economists, I would also target economic anthropologists and economic sociologists.
  4. The event should be free. The Foundation should provide the venue and part of the programme: a lecture by Ha-Joon Chang, a visit to the advanced cluster etc. People should pay for their own trip. Important to suggest reasonably priced accommodation near to the venue.
  5. The most delicate problem is which communities to target. Here I suggest @nadia and myself, with a little help from @hugi in involving some of the relevant people in the Nordics, to some targeted communication: Stockholm Resiilience Centre, Demos Helsinki, TANT-Lab… who else?

Any thoughts? @giacomo.pinaffo



One thing I would suggest: also include people who are specialists in realistic future technology. I assume you are familiar with Kondratieff Cycles: consider these to be a start. That is, there is some combination of the direction in which society is tending, along with current technological developments, that underlies the fundamental transformational technology of a given era. Once it was steam engines, most recently it has been microchips – what will be the technology of the future that will be the basis of a sustainable society? Nanotech, as they suggest in the link? Environmental tech, whatever that means? Health care/life extension? Then you have a platform on which to build a transformed society.

I also want to point out the obvious thing, which “sustainability” folks tend to ignore: the current transformation of energy production toward wind and solar is NOT sustainable, and IS based on extraction. Extraction of lithium and rare earths, extraction of sand resources (silicon) for solar panels and microchips, to say nothing of the issue of how to dispose of or recycle solar panels and wind turbine vanes and towers. Any actual “sustainable” technology must include building materials plus disposal – total life cycle sustainability – there has not yet been any serious movement toward that goal, after all the rhetoric and discussion and hand-wringing. A future of true sustainable energy would not be based on current technology – we need to think better.

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Good call.

Agreed. This is, in fact, a powerful argument made by degrowth scholars like Hickel and Parrique. Its implication is that green growth is not a thing. Only by reducing consumption can decarbonization happen while staying within planetary boundaries. FWIW, I’m buying.

Thanks for the link.

I begin to wonder if the simplest best way to reduce the impact of humanity on the planet may simply be to focus on what used to be the center of attention in the 60s: population reduction. That is not to say that tech change and conservation are not essential – they surely are. But all living things use resources and excrete/dispose of waste – it is very hard to stop that.

Given that human population just passed 8 billion in November, that is not likely to be possible in the near future, absent a massive global catastrophe (COVID-19 provided little more than a minor blip). But the factors that lead to reduced population growth – transformation of economies from subsistence agriculture to industry and then to services, education of and jobs for women, social transformation in favor of women’s equality and rights – are not quick fixes and are not current foci of attention. There will hopefully be some intermediate approach, followed by those needed transformations. But it is likely to be rough, given powerful forces in favor of legacy social systems.

One of the remarkable aspects of the Camp was that three economists who’d never met each other and with little to no previous interaction came together with three lectures that made sense as an arc. It had a decidedly behavioralist flair, from values and incentives evidenced through economic anthropology, to evidence from Ostrom commons studies to the theoretical instability of Utopias explored as game theory.

This was quite fortuitous, but I think going forward we need an actual econ curriculum developed for such events. We didn’t get into econ development, money, banking or credit, or production methods, or even specifics about ownership regimes.

Such a predetermined curriculum means we could have prepared handouts to assist in worldbuilding, which in turn will help with the economic rigour in said worldbuilding.


It’s funny you say this, was just thinking after yesterdays chat about two things

  1. how much we want to bring in of some the thinking we had done around possible trajectories for the lab in general. I put this together some time ago based on discussions with the crowd in Messina:

  2. Perhaps a way to integrate real world concerns into the work without losing speculative freedom is to build an alternative to witness - maybe conceived as a kind of overlay on currents places (thinking about China Mieville’s The City and the City).

I’m thinking something along the lines of there being a parallel reality in those places happening right now in which we are in a specific ipcc scenario, with no centre of empire and had already found our own local strategies for navigating them. What does this parallel reality look like in this place? how do we cope with different exogenous shocks? and how are we interacting with other places? and how does someone wanting to build a crossing between the two superimposed realities do this? with special focus on the social dynamics.

The other thing @alberto mentioned yesterday is what creative/artistic outputs/ renderings? I’m a fan of role play & AR. It’s not that hard to build visual objects and put them in an ar overlay of a space.

So maybe stories, character descriptions, and collab with 3d renderers to give form to totem articles and characters & someone to stick it into an ar system?

We know this has an impact, and it was the main focus of the Space Economy Camp. For future events, I think there should be creative outputs, but I also would like not to be the one who has to think about them, as I would prefer to focus on the economics.

Agreed. This is something I can take on. Let’s put it this way: I think we should have these creative outputs:

  • Character descriptions.
  • Stories.
  • 3-D illustrations of characters and symbolic objects.
  • Role-play/ scenario building game
  • Stick everything into an AR engine.