The Economics of the Undead

July 10

In recent years, political scientists, philosophers, and literary theorists have all written major books and articles about the undead. But despite being the “dismal science,” economics has lagged behind in the study of this great menace to human civilization. Ditto for most legal scholars. But the newly published Economics of the Undead: Zombies, Vampires, and the Dismal Science, edited by law and economics scholars Glen Whitman and James Dow, is changing all that. It answers all the ghoulish questions about the law and economics of the undead that you were always afraid to ask. Of course you may be even more afraid when you learn the answers.

This website includes a lot of material about the book. Here is a brief summary of the book’s contents:

Whether preparing us for economic recovery after the zombie apocalypse, analyzing vampire investment strategies, or illuminating the market forces that affect vampire-human romances, Economics of the Undead: Zombies, Vampires, and the Dismal Science gives both seasoned economists and layman readers something to sink their teeth into.

Undead creatures have terrified villagers and popular audiences for centuries, but when analyzed closely, their behaviors and stories—however farfetched—mirror our own in surprising ways. The essays collected in this book are as humorous as they are thoughtful, as culturally relevant as they are economically sound, and provide an accessible link between a popular culture phenomenon and the key concepts necessary to building one’s understanding of economic systems large and small. It is the first book to combine economics with our society’s fascination with the undead, and is an invaluable resource for those looking to learn economic fundamentals in a fun and innovative way.

The book was edited by Glen Whitman and James Dow, professors of economics and finance (respectively) at California State University, Northridge, with chapters written by the editors and 26 other authors working in economics and related fields (including a couple of lawyers and literature professors). The chapters represent a variety of economic perspectives as applied to the living dead.

In her endorsement of the book, economics columnist Megan McArdle writes that “Those who are looking to get their finances in order for the coming Zombie apocalypse should definitely buy this book…. Whether you are a professional economist, a Buffy fan, or a vampire, you will learn something new and interesting in every chapter.”

My own contribution to the volume, “Brain-Dead vs. Undead: Public Ignorance and the Political Economy of Responses to Vampires and Zombies,” may be particularly helpful to both Buffy fans and vampires. It explains how widespread public ignorance undermines the effectiveness of government responses to the undead menace in stories as varied as Buffy and World War Z. Vampires may be interested in my analysis of why they are better positioned to take advantage of voter ignorance than zombies are. As I discuss in the chapter, the dangerous public ignorance portrayed in numerous tales of the undead is an exaggerated, but relevantly similar version of the widespread political ignorance that haunts real-world democracies.

Ilya Somin is Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law. His research focuses on constitutional law, property law, and the study of popular political participation and its implications for constitutional democracy. "He is the author of Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter."
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David Bernstein | July 10