We are compiling a list of works of science fiction that imagine plausible economic systems, for a reading group at @edgeryders. What should we add? https://t.co/kXcuVI0ijq cc @doctorow @cstross @GreatDismal @bruces— Alberto Cottica (@alberto_cottica) May 17, 2018
... and this Econ SF Wiki.
Clearly there is a great deal of speculative fiction out there in which economics plays a prominent role, and some in which economic ideas are transformed and estranged and taken weird places through the inimitable powers of speculative fiction. Economics itself has some quite universalizing pretensions -- it tries to be about everything -- so unsurprisingly, with a little imagination, you can also use economics as a lens on practically any speculative fiction.
But I think economic speculative fiction usually doesn't give us what we want. It doesn't give us truly strange economic worlds.
In the Twitter thread above, Alberto Cottica is not just asking for science fiction with economic themes: he's specifically asking for portrayals of different economic systems. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that there is actually a dearth of this kind of speculative fiction. Let's say that speculative fiction doesn't really depict different economic systems. Or at least, it depicts different legal systems, different cultural systems, different social systems, different technological systems, different ecological systems, in far greater abundance, detail, and shades of variation than it does economic systems.
Maybe the question, then, isn't "Why isn't speculative fiction doing this?" but rather "Why do some of us want it to do this now?"
A pessimistic answer: it's just another example of the dominance of the neoliberal imaginary. When we try to imagine diverse institutional forms -- governments, universities, social enterprises, NGOs -- all we can come up with are variations on the firm. When we try to imagine all the possibilities of the self, all we can come up with is the self as an entrepreneur who pitches innovative new versions of who they are, perhaps building a strong personal brand along the way. And when we try to imagine utopia, all we can come up with are variations on the economy. Maybe it's a good thing that speculative fiction so often says no.
Or! An optimistic answer: in the past decade since the financial crisis, the idea of "economics" has become something much more plural, provisional, dynamic, volatile and fruitful than what it was, and is starting to be seen more and more widely as a credible source of new realities. At the same time, existing economic practices which go against the grain of neoliberal capitalism have gained more prominence. Now is just the right time to turn to speculative fiction for the really bold ideas and strange hypotheses, extrapolated to second order and third order effects, woven together as vibrant, immersive worlds, just to see what happens when those ideas get worked out with a different kind of rigor.
Yet there is little of this kind of writing ... yet. I do have a hunch that this is about to change.