The ethics and economics of vampire re-ensoulment

EconomicsOfTheUndead

io9 contributor Greta Christina, after re-watching the second season of “Buffy the Vampire” Slayer, raises serious questions about the ethics of vampire-slaying. SPOILER: At the end of Season 2, Buffy’s friend Willow casts a spell that successfully “re-ensouls” the vampire Angel, thereby rendering him no longer dangerous to humanity. Christina wonders whether vampire-slaying is still ethically acceptable when another means of stopping vampires is available. As she puts it, “Why don’t they just keep doing the re-ensoulment spell — onallvampires? Or at least, on all the vampires that they can?”

In the course of defending her position that re-ensoulment is morally superior to vampire slaying, Christina responds to an ecological concern: “Vampires are immortal: They can be killed, but if they’re not staked or decapitated or exposed to sunlight, they seem to live forever. So if every vampire on the planet were re-ensouled, there would be a whole lot of living creatures (well, not living, but you know what I mean), requiring a certain amount of blood, who would pretty much never die. Would that … put too much strain on the planet’s resources?” And here Christina steps from philosophical into economic territory. Her response is, in essence, to deny that vampires will be numerous enough to constitute a substantial burden. Assuming a prey-to-predator ratio of about 2000 to 1, her policy would only result in another 3.5 million beings on the planet; “If we can feed the cities of Los Angeles or New York, surely we can feed that many vampires.”

This defense is fine as far as it goes, but I’d like to go further. Why presume that having more humans or human-like beings on the planet is even a problem at all? The ecological concern seems to borrow from the perspective of doomsayers like Paul Ehrlich, who have been beating the population-bomb drum for decades. And for decades, the doomsayers have been proven wrong. In 1968, Ehrlich predicted mass starvation by the 1970s or 1980s. Didn’t happen. Since then, Ehrlich has continued to move the goal posts, but his predictions have stubbornly refused to come true. Instead, the world has witnessed a massive reduction in poverty. Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of the world population living in extreme poverty fell from 43 percent to 21 percent, even while the world population rose by almost a third.

Of course, poverty and starvation are not the only measures of the burden of humanoids on the planet, and there are certainly some respects in which conditions seem to have worsened. But poverty and starvation strike me as a darn good place to start, and on that measure — the measure chosen by doomsayers like Ehrlich — we seem to be doing quite well. For that reason, I think we ought to lean more heavily on the perspective of economist Julian Simon (he of the famous bet with Erlich). Simon argued that having more humans on the planet could actually be a good thing — a source of positive externalities — because the human mind is the “ultimate resource,” a generator of new ideas that can improve our lives by seeing new resources where there were none before. Given that vampire minds are just altered (evolved?) human minds, they too are part of this ultimate resource.

Having more people — and, I would add, vampires — means more opportunities for specialization and trade. As Darwyyn Deyo and David T. Mitchell argue in Chapter 11 of “Economics of the Undead,” the gains from trade between humans and the undead could be substantial. Although Deyo and Mitchell focus on the principle of comparative advantage, it’s possible that the gains from innovation could be even greater. Vampires are certainly no less intelligent and creative than humans, and their very long lives and peculiar experiences might give them a perspective that leads to surprising insights — especially once they can come out of the shadows and cooperate with humans in a public manner. The option of ensouled vampirism also means our best scientific minds could stick around for longer. Thomas Edison registered almost 2000 U.S. patents during his 84 years on the planet; imagine how many more advances he could have made if given another 84 years.

One last point. Isn’t it problematic that vampires drink blood, and they would therefore be dependent on the human population for sustenance? Again, I think the answer is no. None of us are perfectly self-sufficient. How many of us grow our own food? We are all dependent on a massive web of human cooperation to provide us with food, shelter, clothing and most everything else we need. In this sense, vampires’ dependence on human blood is just a special case of everyone’s shared dependence on everyone else. The key issue for sustainability is not requiring self-sufficiency, but assuring that most people and vampires contribute enough to productivity to pay for the services that others provide them. By establishing a legal market in human blood, as suggested by Enrique Guerra-Pujol in Chapter 12, we could go a long way toward creating an incentive for vampires (especially re-ensouled ones) to eschew violence in favor of remunerative work in the combined vampire-human economy, to the benefit of both the living and the dead.

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Jonathan H. Adler · July 22, 2014