The Science Fiction Economics Wiki: a (more) machine-readable version

Based on this thread, I am going to use this space to turn the Science Fiction Economics wiki into something we can do some data analysis on.

It’ going to be tentative, and anyway a minimum viable thing. Here’ s the idea:

  • We think of the wiki as a corpus.
  • Each work of economic science fiction gets to be a unit in that corpus. Each unit lives in a post in this thread.
  • The free text of the entries we have now gets copied in that post.
  • Next, we use Open Ethnographer to code the entries. The main codes will be pulled from the zoo of economic concepts, like unemployment or Veblen goods, but we will definitely have to use non-econ codes too, most likely invoking other social sciences (mass protests), geophysics (global heating) and engineering (sensor arrays).
  • We should also encode metadata as codes, because Open Ethno is a one-trick pony, and all it knows is text and codes. A minimum suit of metadata includes title, author, and year of publication.
  • Once we have done that, we can use Graphryder to induce quick networks, and Tulip/Python or whatever your weapon of choice is to do data analysis.

The analysis that this approach was designed to do is: which codes co-occur with which? Hopefully, this will give us a map of “bundles” of economic concepts that tend to appear together in this literature. At that point, we can ask ourselves what we can learn from this clustering – which emerges from the body of literature as a whole, rather then representing the view of any one author or novel.

In the coming days I will do this as I get some scraps of time.

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Title: The Dispossessed
Author: Ursula K. Leguin
Year: 1974

Set between the two planets (or planet and moon) of Urras and Anarres. Urras is a planet on the edge of collapse under an unwieldy late-capitalism; Anarres is an anarcho-syndicalist state on a barren inhospitable moon. The story tells of a scientist from Anarres who has to travel back to the homeworld of Urras, and in the process ends up feeling isolated and disconnected from both worlds. Ecological economist Giorgos Kallis has used the economy of Anarres to illustrate what a degrowth-based society could look like (see).

Phenomenologically, Anarres is an anarco-syndicalist world. There is no private property, no police, only a loose planning that consist in posting jobs that need to be done and free access to commons (kitchen, transport, housing, etc.). More details on Anarres’s economy can be found in this essay , also by Kallis. Mineral resources mostly stay in the ground, and humans on Anarres, though they live in a barren world with a much less rich ecosystem than Earth’s, are not headed for environmental collapse. The microeconomic theory supporting all this seems to rest on (a) hardwired social pressure to “do your part”, much as in human hunter-gatherers bands, and further encoded in the prevailing ideology (“Odonian”); (b) Anarresti practice sharing, which engenders abundance (“is not that the Anarresti are not poor because nobody goes hungry. They are not poor because nobody goes hungry while another eats”), which in turns engender self-limitation. The paper also invokes Le Guin’s work to argue that degrowth economies (or maybe any economic system?) can only be achieved through conflict. This is a theoretical asset, because it implies that there is little point in trying to achieve a perfectly incentive-compatible static model.

Related work in economics. There is an essay collection, The New Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed . @jolwalton has contributed to papers mentioning this book here (focusing on Divlab and computation) and here (contrasting it to Edward Bellamy’s state-socialist utopia). Ecological economics Giorgos Kallis discusses The Dispossed in a chapter of the book In defence of degrowth (see).

Title: Another Now

Author: Yanis Varoufakis

Year: 2021

Varoufakis is not a professional sci-fi author, but an economist and politician, and a former finance minister of Greece (see ). Costa, a scientist and technologist, opens a communication channel to an alternate present that forked from our timeline in 2008, when the fork (“Other Now”) reacted to the financial crisis with deep reform and comprehensive mobilization. The book is built as the correspondence between Costa and his friends Iris and Eva in Our Now with their doppelgängers in the Other Now.

Varoufakis, a game theorist, engineered some clever forms of collective struggle. Crowdshorters syncronize withholding of (heterogeneous) payments that form the different parts of the same securitized debt. This crashes the value of those securities, and brings chaos to financial markets. Solsourcers maintain a blacklist of evil companies, and organize mass withholdings of contribution payments to those pension funds that invest in those companies. Pension funds bow to the will of contributors, and divest from the companes on the blacklist. Bladerunners target Big Tech companies with consumer/user strikes: while the drops in revenue they cause are minimal, these strikes have a big effect on the price of those companies’ shares, and that gives Bladerunners an edge. In general, the idea is to use the massive financialization of late-stage capitalism as an agent of chaos against capitalism itself.

The book is not an easy read, but it contains many fresh ideas for new forms of, for lack of a better term, class struggle.