Economics of the Undead: Zombies, Vampires, and the Dismal Science

July 11, 2014

by Glen Whitman

Last year in this space, I posted the Call for Abstracts for a forthcoming book called Economics of the Undead. That project is now coming to fruition! The book will officially be published tomorrow; here’s the Amazon page, and here’s the Barnes & Noble page. (The Kindle version should also become available tomorrow.) If the brilliant title and fetching cover haven’t already convinced you to buy the book, then you should visit the official website, which includes the table of contents, chapter excerpts, a course guide, and even a blog.

I know that some economists, including some who might frequent this page, have a problem with the term “dismal science.” For that reason, I thought I should post the following passage from the book’s introduction:

But before you start sampling, let’s return for a moment to the subtitle of this book: “Zombies, Vampires, and the Dismal Science.” In a book about the undead, we couldn’t resist the temptation to use the economics discipline’s most famous nickname. But while many people know economics as the dismal science, few know the true origin of that phrase. It came from Thomas Carlyle, another Scottish philosopher. And Carlyle was not denigrating economists for their (quite real) tendency to emphasize the limits of our resources and the barriers to remaking society as a fanciful utopia. No, Carlyle was criticizing economists for supporting the abolition of slavery! He was incensed by the optimism of economists like John Stuart Mill, who believed that people of African origin—like people of all races—were capable of governing themselves.

We tell this story because we think you’ll find, possibly to your surprise, that this book presents one of the more optimistic perspectives you’ll find on the undead threat. From Darwyyn Deyo and David T. Mitchell’s argument that we should trade with vampires instead of staking them; to Kyle Bishop, David Tufte, and Mary Jo Tufte’s suggestion that innovative humans might ultimately achieve victory over the zombie threat; to Brian Hollar’s discussion of how humans will seek prosperity even after a zombie apocalypse, a broad theme emerges: that humans—and maybe our recently dead brethren as well—have a vast capacity to cope with adversity and somehow make the world a better place.

(There’s also a citation to Levy and Peart in there, which I have omitted from this post.)

4 Responses to “Economics of the Undead: Zombies, Vampires, and the Dismal Science”

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  3. DA econ1 2014 Jason Says:

    I think this would be an interesting book,I would love to know what human can do to make a economic recovery after the zombie apocalypse,what will the market become, what are the vampire investment strategies and how human can use it. I think this is very creative linking economics with vampires. I personally disagree with Carlyle about why he view economics as the dismal science, Although he is not denigrating economists for their tendency to emphasize the limits of our resources and the barriers to remaking society as a fanciful utopia, I agree with that because all normal goods are scarce, that’s why we have market, demand and supply,this is even why we have money to allocate the resources. But Carlyle was criticizing economists for supporting the abolition of slavery, I strongly disagree with him about this. I think slavery is absolutely bad, not only in the moral aspect but also in the economic aspect. It offers no incentive for the workers to maximize production. People without an incentive to be productive other than fear, they will not be very efficient. Some people may born to be a slave, they cannot change that, they can only do some low skilled job, but they may be capable to do something much great, and help to increase the productivity and to improve the economy. Economics is just an objective science of analyzing human behavior, nothing’s dismal.

  4. Anna Econ1B Says:

    I think that this book would be very successful and I would love to read it one day. It is interesting on how Whitman looks through the economic perspective of such an interesting phenomenon, the undead. We usually imagine the undead as fake terrifying creatures existing in horror films. However if they were real, how would society respond? I can imagine society panicking in fear and many resources would be converted to weapons to hopefully take the creatures down. But looking through an economist point of view changes everything. We can pinpoint benefits and advantages to doing things such as making deals with vampires; after all, vampires live off of blood. We could make appointments with them to give them some of our blood and in return to let us live. Staking vampires would bring many disadvantages of having people sacrifice themselves for the treacherous fight and live in fear that such supernatural creatures can take over humanity. By thinking at the margin and outside the box through an economist’s perspective, society can see problems through a different and efficient way and everyone, even the supernatural creatures, would be better off with trading or thinking strategically.


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