A while back, we at the Sci-Fi Economics Lab had a new idea: instead of writing academic papers, we could channel out-of-the box economic thinking around building a fictional world, to serve as the backdrop for works of science fiction or fantasy. In retrospect, it seems obvious: after all, this space exists because a small patrol of economically inclined sci-fi authors invested a lot of time and brainpower into dreaming up exotic economic systems. But we added a couple of extra ideas to that original insight.
First, we decided to build the world in a participatory way. We want anyone to be free to contribute ideas, analysis, references, visuals, and so on. Would technologies of great power (like Star Trek ’s replicators) be compatible with a market economy as we know, based on scarcity? How would slower-than-light interstellar trade work? (Nobel laureate Paul Krugman actually worked that one out ) How can Harry Potter ’s Wizarding world use precious metal as a currency, given that wizards can simply magick out more of it and cause hyperinflation? No matter how smart, an individual author can not keep track of all the possible variables and their permutations. So, we are going to do that as a community. It just makes sense. There are already over 150 people posting on this forum, many of us professional economists. We are licensing the world with an open source license : you can use it for your novel, film or game, and no lawyer will ever come calling if you make it big.
Second, we decided we want a world that contains several economic systems, not just one . Again, this is an old trick in sci-fi: Anarres and Urras in Ursula K. Le Guin The Dispossessed , the Hives in Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota , the Acquis and the Dispensation in Bruce Sterling’s The Caryatids , and so on. This plurality creates a nice narrative tension, as characters can move across places and experience different economies. Also, readers tend to start thinking which economic system they would choose, if they were free to do so. For example, this poll about “which Terra Ignota Hive would you choose” is popular on the Internet (explanation of the Hives ).
But participatory projects work best if someone makes an initial investment in them. Participating in filling an empty space can be intimidating, or simply not that much fun. So, third, we decided to offer a writers’ residency to someone to lead the charge . The residency is generously funded by Fondazione di Comunità Messina, the people with one of the weirdest, most fascinating real-life economic models we have found so far. Among the applications who flowed in, many stood out; but in the end, the strongest one came from Yudhanjaya Wijeratne , a Nebula-nominated author from Sri Lanka and a member of our community (as @yudhanjaya). His novel Numbercaste has been on our wiki of economic sci-fi since the beginning.
Yudhanjaya pointed out that, in order to bring the world to a level of maturity where contributing to it is fun and interesting, a small team is better than one person. So, fourth, we decided to create one . The other team members are Joriam Ramos (here as @Joriam), a Brazilian author and designer affiliated to Enspiral ; Michela De Domenico and Marco Lo Curzio , Italian architects and illustrators; and yours truly , as the resident economist. If you want to volunteer for the core group, just let me know with a comment or a DM.
This group has the task to prepare, and pre-populate an online space where we all can contribute to build an open source. We are preparing a webinar which will be held Monday, 7 December at 17.00 CET, to present our concept and initial thoughts, and seek feedback from the community. To register, go here .