The Science Fiction Economics Residency 2024: concept and discussion thread

This initiative, formerly called the Science Fiction Economics Seminar, is going ahead. The starting date is set for the 6th of May 2024; the location is to be announced, but close to Messina, Sicily, as the SFER is co-organized by Fondazione di Comunità Messina. Many decisions remain to be made; in this thread we discuss how best to pull it off. This first post contains a concept note shared among the organizers.

Vision and theme

In 2024, post-neoclassical economic thinking is more prominent than it has been since the 1980s. In academia, post-neoclassical economists have claimed their share of the limelight, with concepts such as degrowth (Hickel, Kallis, Steinberger, Parrique…), doughnut economics (Raworth), mission economics (Mazzucato), modern monetary theory (Kelton, Wray), ergodicity economics (Peters) and others. A synthesis is starting to emerge, with Hickel’s 2023 claim that degrowth and modern monetary theory are strategic complements, and should be used as two aspects of the same theoretical framework. Meanwhile, decision makers are sitting up and paying attention, with the European Parliament hosting the Beyond Growth 2023 high profile conference.

This is not a coincidence. This new economic thinking paves the way to economic policies previously thought unsound, like federal job guarantees and universal basic services. Such retooling is welcome at a time when humanity is facing a difficult polycrisis, with climate change putting a growing pressure on social and economic systems.

What is still missing is a way to operationalize this progress into actual policy. New economic models tend to be high-level and static: they make the point that never-seen-before societal arrangements are possible, but they are vague on how we get there. The seminar aims to contribute to plugging this gap by proposing policy mixes that are optimized for the future, but also viable in the current system. Its core output, then, is an ambitious, yet realistic pathway to an economy compliant with the Paris Agreement. This has some precedents in science fiction, like Yanis Varoufakis’s Another now and Kim Stanley Robinson’s The ministry for the future.

Output

The seminar’s output consists of two descriptions of a future economic system.

One description is in the form of an encyclopedia entry dedicated to that system. The history of how that system came to pass is part of each entry, in the style of previous Lab work on Witnesspedia (example). This part draws from applied economics, including public finance, public micro, industrial, monetary, and development economics, paying attention to recent contributions from non-neoclassical economics. It contains a plausible future history for a Paris Agreement-compliant economy. If time allows, we could decide to develop more than one such entry, each representing a different economy (for example, one inspired by a middle-income country and one by an island state).

The other description is artistic. It could be a short story, a set of illustrations, or something else, depending on the group involved. Its role is to bring to life the economic system being designed, so that a conversation can be had about it that does not exclude everyone who is not a professional economist (example).

All outputs are published with open licenses.

Process

The output will result from a facilitated process, organized into two-hours sessions. In each session, small groups (about 5 participants each) will produce a draft of one part of the encyclopedia entry: for example, one group could work on anti-monopoly policies, another one on labor laws, and so on. This formula is borrowed from Space Economy Camp.

Once the seminar is over, the organizers will spend some time finalizing the output.

Participants and recruitment

We aim for a group of 20 participants, built in such a way that all the main competences are represented. The relative majority of the group consists of people with policy experience: civil servants, politicians (for example mayors or former mayors). We also need academics (economists, social scientists and economic anthropologists, perhaps one futurist); people from civil society; and a few (two or three science fiction authors and artists). The Global South must be adequately represented. We pay attention to gender balance.

Recruitment happens through our own network. We ask people we trust (tier 1) to participate, and also to nominate others (tier 2) for participation. This leads us to a long list (around 100 people). From that list, we cherrypick in order to achieve the desired mix.

A provisional wishlist of tier 1 people exists, but, as a matter of courtesy, we do not it share before we have been able to reach out to each person individually – they are, after all, our trusted colleagues and friends.

What we need

Facilitators! They are important for efficient work.

We may need to support some participants with reimbursed travel. We assume that accommodation on site will be provided.

Tentative high-level program

Day 1: Sharing and discovering. This day features a keynote by Ha-Joon Chang, as well as field visit to exploring the Messina advanced cluster (info in Italian) as a real-life science fiction economy.

Days 2 and 3: two-hours thematic parallel sessions. Each session imagines an aspect of a fictional, radically different, conceptually sound economy. For example, one session might be dedicated to welfare, one to monetary policy and so on.

Day 4 is dedicated to curation of the materials generated, with a view towards publication. Most participants will probably leave at this point. We will create a smaller curation group on a voluntary basis.

How to participate

The Science Fiction Economics Residency is an invitations-only event. To express an interest, reach out to Nadia Alter, Joffa Applegate or Alberto Cottica either here or via the usual digital channels.

Thanks, Alberto, this all looks like a great start.

I’m looking at the draft graphical outputs for the Space Economy Camp’s worldbuilding sessions, which is informative as to what came through on the econ side and what didn’t. The artifacts demonstrate that value and governance concepts were absorbed, but the end results convey very little in terms of practical economic systems. I’m sure we can improve on that this time around!

Here’s some initial high level thoughts for dissection:

Facilitators: What do we think about facilitators being creative participants and not separate roles per se. With 20 participants that’s 4 groups of five, and we could ask a member of each group to be the lead and ensure that the prompts are appropriately addressed.

Daily Routine: What’s a good daily schedule framework? ie 8 am for breakfast, start at 9, lunch at 1, work to 7, then dinner?

Programme: For day one, we could have two large group sessions, one an intro and agenda setting, one the keynote, with the rest of the time exploring the Messina Cluster. For days two and three, what do we think about another couple of full group sessions? We could still pull off two or three working group sessions each day.

Rhythm: The two-hour working sessions could alternate with one-hour research sessions. Space Camp had three-hour working sessions which went really fast!

Output: If one of the desired residency outcomes are possible transition plans from one economic paradigm to another, it might be interesting to identify and maybe anonymise four target regions or communities, describe the starting conditions in the prompt, and then the groups imagine how to get from there to the desired state.

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Hey @zazizoma and @alberto - I think this looks interesting as a point of departure. What I would add either during or as a follow up to the residency is looking into possible spaces/ opportunities for experimenting.

More specifically - where are there opportunities for the participants to test some of the ideas in their respective contexts.

And what they would need in terms of support from others to make it so. Whether in policy, business, research, activism, journalism, art - whichever professional contexts within which participants are embedded.

I should probably introduce myself…I’m curating the event and the lab’s activities (cofounded it and Edgeryders with Alberto).

Just back from COP28 , I see a unique opening for translating this body of work into shaping spaces which so far have been firmly resistant to change.

We basically were handed keys to run a program of events which draw an arc between the kind of work we have been doing with Witness/ Sci-fi Econ and climate adaptation/mitigation/ response and recovery.

So I’d like to propose two session, perhaps lightly facilitated walk and talk in nature, dedicated to conversations around “this is me - I’d like me to talk about….” and the “what/ how next ?”

@alberto @nadia Happy New Year!

Draft structure of group assignment:

  1. Each group is given a description of a present scenario, based on existing locations relevant to the Climate Week Africa agenda, but anonymised.
    a. demographics in terms of political groups and income distributions,
    b. occupation/industry/institutional structure,
    c. manufacturing capabilities,
    d. available resources, specifically water, minerals and power,
    e. current climate, and
    f. political landscape, local and contextual (where is the power, who has agency).

  2. Per Nadia’s parallel realities, imagine a suitable IPCC compliant scenario for this location existing today.

  3. In the spirit of Witness and Chang’s ‘histories of the future’, imagine a history of how the location moved from 1 to 2. Alternative institutions and social arrangements, technological breakthroughs and tragedies are all allowed.

Assuming four predetermined breakout groups, we’d need four different starting scenarios, or we could have two starting points and put two groups on each.

Once we’ve decided the assignment that provides what you both need to move forward, we can design the lecture cycle around supporting the assignment, ie what does IPCC compliant mean, etc.

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Here’s the material that MRK prepared for the Space Economics Camp breakout groups, each group had a different location:
Habitat starting conditions.pdf (39.8 KB)

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Here’s the schedule from Space Camp . . .
Detailed Schedule.pdf (50.6 KB)

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oh hai @Tim_Reutemann - this is what I was on about - pen into calendar :)) Maybe we can use some of the stuff we developed for that wk with OECD - Especially the scenario setting and instructions for participants (Habitats) IPCC scenario, physical locations, and trigger events (heatbulb etc). What do you think?

@alberto Hi there, where does the final concept document we’re sharing with invitees live? I seem to have lost it. Are you guys sending that with the website link?

No, I don’t feel the need for an additional document beyond the website. To the extent that I have used one, the opening post of this thread works for me. Do you need something more structured?

I’ve sent off my first invite, so will see what questions come back!

I’m very curious as to what you all are thinking with regards to online participation. I can see how online would work for lectures and final presentations, but am not clear how online participation would work in breakout groups.

The only thing we do online is stream Ha-Joon Chang’s lecture. Everything else is in person. We should not cheapen the experience.

Thanks for the clarity! We might want to modify the website, because it does suggest an online option for attendance.

I’m all for it and we have already had some requests for this to happen. Taking @alberto 's points onboard, perhaps we can do a follow up event after the retreat - sharing our results and inviting participants to 1) continue the discussion on the forum and 2) participate in subsequent activities.

this is the text on the website - should it be modified further?

Lectures will be live-streamed - the URL will be shared with registered participants closer to the event date.

The on-location residency is by invitation only. If you think you should be invited and we have overlooked you, get in touch: nadia.en.alter@protonmail.com

@nadia @alberto
I think the confusion is the splash page where it says Messina and Online. We’re all so used to hybrid events that this might set an expectation that this is hybrid, rather than just streaming a lecture. My first invitee was interested in the online option . . .

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ok ill think about how to modify it

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