ECONOMICS


ECONOMICS
   The word "economics" derives from a Greek word signifying the art of household management. Its modern usage has been extended by analogy to pertain to the management of the industry and finances of nations. Medieval economic "theory" was dominated by ethical considerations, and evaluative judgments still remain entangled with the science; economics thus has the capacity to arouse powerful passions in spite of its frequent designation as "the dismal science". This is very evident in fiction dealing with economic systems. Thomas MORE's Utopia (1516; trans 1551) is largely a treatise on economic matters, and much subsequent UTOPIAN literature has been concerned with economic theory's relationships with political power and social justice.The idea that economics should attempt to shed its ethical entanglements and be reformulated in terms of "natural laws" was popularized by "The Grumbling Hive", the poem which formed the headpiece of The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Publick Benefits (1714) by Bernard de Mandeville (1670-1733). The poem and the tract advanced the thesis that, if the market were allowed to find its own equilibrium while individuals attempted to maximize their profits in open competition (no matter how greedily), the community as a whole would benefit. This notion was later taken up by Adam Smith (1723-1790) in The Wealth of Nations (1776). In the 19th century the rise of various socialist movements, latterly armed with their own Marxist theory of economics, brought a good deal of ideological conflict into economic thought at both academic and popular levels. This conflict is very evident in a great deal of 19th-century utopian fiction. Voyage en Icarie (1840) by Etienne Cabet (1788-1856) and The Happy Colony (1856) by Robert Pemberton were among the earliest socialist utopias, although their arguments are moral rather than scientific. Theodore HERTZKA's Freiland (1890; trans 1891) and its sequel were among several novels exploring the pros and cons of a mixed economy, but there are relatively few 19th-century laissez-faire utopias. By the end of the century the argument was becoming confused by the interest which utopian novelists were taking in AUTOMATION and TECHNOLOGY, but economic egalitarianism remained a central issue in such technological utopias as Edward BELLAMY's Looking Backward, 2000-1887 (1888) and the many ideological replies produced in its wake. Like many other US socialists, Bellamy took more inspiration from Henry George (1839-1897) - author of Progress and Poverty (1879) - than from Marx. (George's influence is also very strong in the works of M. P. SHIEL, and his ideas can still be found echoing in the writings of Barrington J. BAYLEY.) Despite Marx's 20th-century status as a figurehead there are surprisingly few outrightly Marxian utopias; the best example is Sur la pierre blanche (1905; trans as The White Stone1910) by Anatole FRANCE.Relatively few 20th-century utopias give more priority to economic considerations than to political or technological issues; notable exceptions are Robert ARDREY's World's Beginning (1944) and Henry HAZLITT's The Great Idea (1951; vt Time Will Run Back). The longest and most extravagant economic tract cast as fiction this century is Ayn RAND's Atlas Shrugged (1957), a pioneering work of Libertarian apologetics in which the world's capitalists go on strike in protest against the forces of creeping socialism (LIBERTARIANISM). Marxist economic theory is more prominently featured in DYSTOPIAS like Jack LONDON's The Iron Heel (1907) and in SATIRES like Upton SINCLAIR's The Millennium (1924). Sharper and more flamboyant economic satire can be found in Archibald MARSHALL's Upsidonia (1915), about a world where the profit motive operates in reverse, and in Leon STOVER's The Shaving of Karl Marx (1982), which slyly suggests that the policies which Lenin instituted after the Russian Revolution have far more in common with the ideas of H.G. WELLS than with those of Marx.The early PULP-MAGAZINE sf writers were not much concerned with economics, tending to take the historical continuity of the American Dream for granted, although Fred MACISAAC's "World Brigands" (1928) is an interesting story from the nonspecialist pulps in which the burden of WAR debt leads to a war between the USA and its former allies. When John W. CAMPBELL Jr took over ASTOUNDING SCIENCE-FICTION, economic issues were returned to the sf agenda. They were taken up by Robert A. HEINLEIN, whose "The Roads Must Roll" (1940) is about a strike called by "Functionalists" - proponents of the theory that the greatest economic rewards should go to the people with the most vital jobs. Heinlein's "Let There be Light . . ." (1940 as by Lyle Monroe) includes cynical asides about the suppression of innovations by power groups who have a heavy investment in existing technologies - a notion whose variants include items of modern folklore as well as the themes of stories; "Logic of Empire" (1941) has some similarly cynical comments on the economics of slavery; and "The Man who Sold the Moon" (1950) concerns the struggle to finance the first Moon voyage. Heinlein's economic theorizing was comprehensively updated in THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS (1966), which helped to popularize the acronym tanstaafl ("there ain't no such thing as a free lunch"); his uncompromising Libertarianism - which has echoes of SOCIAL DARWINISM - set an important example within the genre, instituting a tradition vigorously carried forward by Poul ANDERSON, Jerry POURNELLE, G.C. EDMONDSON and L. Neil SMITH, among others, and led to the founding of the Prometheus AWARD.Other pulp stories in which the emphasis on economic considerations is central include "The Iron Standard" (1943) by Lewis Padgett (Henry KUTTNER and C.L. MOORE), in which Earthmen force reluctant aliens to help them by disrupting their economy and threatening the power structure of a static society, and "The Helping Hand" (1950) by Poul Anderson, a neat parable about the economics of "foreign aid". Economic issues are also to the fore in Anderson's series about interstellar trader Nicholas van Rijn and his associates, notably "Margin of Profit" (1956) and the novelettes collected as Trader to the Stars (coll 1964). Oddly enough, the other writer of the 1950s strongly associated with Campbell who showed a very strong interest in economics was Mack REYNOLDS, whose parents were devout socialists and whose ideas were strongly influenced by the three-times socialist candidate for the US Presidency Eugene Debs (1855-1926). Reynolds's efforts range from the wry "Subversive" (1962), the satirical Tomorrow Might Be Different (1960 as "Russkies, Go Home!"; exp 1975) and the melodramatic "Ultima Thule" (1961; in fixup Planetary Agent X 1965) to the fascinating thought-experiment described in The Rival Rigelians (1961 as "Adaptation"; exp 1967), in which visiting Earthmen divide an alien world's nations in order to compare the power of free enterprise and Marxist planning as forces of social evolution. Reynolds went on to write a series of utopian novels cast in a Bellamyesque mould, beginning with Looking Backward, from the Year 2000 (1973) and Equality in the Year 2000 (1977).A rather different approach to economic issues was manifest in the magazine GALAXY SCIENCE FICTION, where the emphasis was on satirical irony. The author who best embodied the outlook of the magazine - and who eventually became its editor-was Frederik POHL, whose economic fantasies stand in sharp contrast to those of Heinlein, Anderson and Reynolds. In his collaboration with C.M. KORNBLUTH, THE SPACE MERCHANTS (1953), the economy of the USA has been driven to extremes of conspicuous consumption in order to maintain economic growth, and the advertising industry has become the linchpin of government. In "The Midas Plague" (1954) the situation is further exaggerated, every citizen having a burdensome consumption quota as the nation strives to cope with the abundance of machine-produced goods. In "The Tunnel under the World" (1955) an artificial world exists only to test advertising pitches. In another collaboration with Kornbluth, Gladiator-at-Law (1955), the stock market is supreme, manipulated by corporations run by reclusive super-geriatrics. A further notable Gal satire is "Cost of Living" (1952) by Robert SHECKLEY, in which the middle class can maintain its standard of living only by mortgaging the future income of its children. Satirical economic fantasies are seen also in the work of Damon KNIGHT, whose HELL'S PAVEMENT (fixup 1955; vt Analogue Men) features consumption quotas in a future USA ruled by commercial interests, and whose The People Maker (1957 as "A for Anything"; exp 1959; rev vt A for Anything 1961 UK) explores the socio-economic consequences of the invention of a matter-duplicator. The latter makes an interesting contrast with two other stories on the same theme: George O. SMITH's "Pandora's Millions" (1945), in which civilization collapses as a result, and Ralph Williams' "Business As Usual, During Alterations" (1958), in which it doesn't. The manipulation of consumers in pursuit of economic stability is investigated also in more impressionistic stories, including Rosel George BROWN's "Signs of the Times" (1959) and J.G. BALLARD's "The Subliminal Man" (1963).Although the satirical tradition has been carried forward by such novels as Pohl's solo sequel to THE SPACE MERCHANTS, The Merchants' War (1984), the dominant species of economic speculation in contemporary US sf is Libertarian polemic, as seen in such novels as G.C. Edmondson's The Man who Corrupted Earth (1980) and Ben BOVA's Privateers (1985), both of which imagine entrepreneurs boldly taking charge of the conquest of space after pusillanimous US governments have given up on it. The vulnerability of the modern world to economic catastrophe is a minor theme in several sf novels, including The Visitors (1980) by Clifford D. SIMAK, in which generous aliens do the damage, and Wolf and Iron (1990) by Gordon R. DICKSON, in which we have done it to ourselves. Stories of ecocatastrophe (ECOLOGY) often include commentaries on the economic problems associated with OVERPOPULATION and "underdevelopment"; The Sea and Summer (1987 vt Drowning Towers) by George TURNER is a notable example. The evolving economic problems of the Third World have also been brought into sharp focus by Bruce STERLING in "Green Days in Brunei" (1985) and Islands in the Net (1988). Now that communism seems on the wane, Libertarian polemics will presumably become less strident and alarmist, and the problems involved in the economic rescue of formerly communist nations may begin to attract as much attention from those writers seriously interested in the NEAR FUTURE as the problems of Third World poverty.A relevant anthology is Tomorrow, Inc.: SF Stories about Big Business (anth 1976) ed Martin Harry GREENBERG and Joseph D. OLANDER.
   BS
   See also: MONEY; POLITICS; SOCIOLOGY.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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