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Zombie Economics – the movie

January 18th, 2011

When I signed the contract with Princeton UP for Zombie Economics, I read the section covering movie rights, and had fun chatting about which of my friends would be best suited to play Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium, Trickle Down (yes, yes, I know!) and so on. Then I found out that Freakonomics actually has been made into a movie, and of course, I wanted the same. But, even in the century of the mashup, it doesn’t seem likely that a polemical economics text could be made watchable just by adding zombies (though I thought the mash worked pretty well in print).

Instead, how about starting with a comic-horror zombie movie, then making the apocalyptic zombie-generating event a financial-economic crisis? That seemed much more promising, and I starting working out the treatment in my head. All was going well until I realized that I was stealing all my best ideas from Charlie Stross. I emailed Charlie, and he said to go right ahead, so I thought at least it would be fun for a blog post.

Over the fold some of the scenes I’ve sketched so far – feel free to make suggestions which I will then feel free to steal in the unlikely event that this goes any further.

Opening – drive-by through a half-built and abandoned housing development, inhabited by squatters, some heavily-armed humans and some zombies. Voice-over and flashback to the apocalypse

Backstory – mutated derivative securities, as in Accelerando, becoming self-aware, then taking over the financial system, and seeking to manifest themselves in physical form. As in the Laundry series, anyone who makes too much progress investigating Gaussian copulas or DSGE macro is vulnerable to demonic takeover, which manifests itself as zombiedom.

At story opening, reference is made to pre-apocalypse zombie outbreaks (2000 and 2008) which seemed to have been successfully contained. But actually, zombiedom spreading all the time.

Zombies deteriorate slowly, and zombiedom can be concealed by the use of appropriate financial cosmetics, so the story will allow for vampire-type plots where no-one knows who is actually a zombie.

Some scene ideas:

Possession by Powerpoint – a straight steal from The Jennifer Morgue.

Zombie Banks – banks run by and for zombies

The Great Moderation – a period of complacent and mindless optimism indicative of the early stages of zombiedom

Efficient Markets Hypothesis – I’m thinking of riffing of random walks here

Zombie Tea Parties – this should write itself

Trickle Down – obviously, this will be the obligatory gross-out scene

That’s what I’ve got so far. New scenes and casting suggestions gratefully accepted

  1. Joseph
    January 18th, 2011 at 07:05 | #1

    John, As a screenwriter you make an excellent economist.

  2. January 18th, 2011 at 09:01 | #2

    Dear John,

    This may well be my favorite blog post ever written. I am a big fan of your book, and a huge fan of the Laundry Files, and this post honestly makes me want to go out and fetch the RPG set in Stross’ universe and run this is as a campaign.

    Thank you very, very much!
    Dan

  3. jquiggin
    January 18th, 2011 at 09:11 | #3

    @Joseph You’ll eat those words on Oscar night. Meanwhile CDS zombies will eat your brainz!

    @Dan Thanx!! I didn’t even know about the RPG. I must get into it 24/7 and totally destroy my career.

  4. BilB
    January 18th, 2011 at 10:27 | #4

    John, all you have to do is write the scipt as it will occur. This is where Zombie economists become reincarnated, that is where all of the zombies gain strength and become living motals again, and in this form apply their ill conceived power to ultimately and prematurely cause the collapse of civilisation under the combined pressures of Climate Change, Peak Oil and Peak Resources. Forces which the reincarnated zombies have pitched all of their power at denying.

    ie

    this is life as it will be played out. Our future.

    Your reward will be a footnote scratched on the stone tablet created for some future “really” advanced civilsation to find.

  5. Jarrah
    January 18th, 2011 at 11:18 | #5

    I like that you read Stross.

  6. Nick R
    January 18th, 2011 at 11:29 | #6

    Hmm I am wondering if there is some scope for a zombie take on the Treasury View. Perhaps attempts to attack indestructible treasury view zombies (maybe resembling Cochrane or Fama) should crowd out at 1:1 attempts to control zombies elsewhere .

  7. James Haughton
    January 18th, 2011 at 12:36 | #7

    jquiggin :
    @Dan Thanx!! I didn’t even know about the RPG. I must get into it 24/7 and totally destroy my career.

    Your lucky day Prof Q: The Laundry RPG is currently on sale for $11 (pdf version), but only for today (or rather, it’s been on sale for a week, today is the last day) – get it here.

    This post brought to you by shameless-plugs-and-merchandising-r-us.

    A move plot:

    I suggest a coterie of crazed investors/government high muckety-mucks from Goldman Sachs basing their investment strategy on the wanderings of zombies across a floor made up as a graph (random walks). The zombies are created by investors foreclosing on the brains of their debtors in part payment of their underwater mortgages and keeping the brains alive in nutrient vats linked to the stock market as bot-traders in Goldman Sach’s basement (cf “the beast“) which execute the strategy laid out by the random walks.

    Other mindless bodies are used to deliver foreclosure notices, trucked into key areas in order to drive real estate prices down (or made up to look like prosperous yuppies moving in in order to drive them up again), to “robo-sign” (hah) foreclosure and mortgage transfer paperwork, attend tea party rallies, etc.

    The final crisis comes when, desperately short of money and warm bodies, the Pentagon decides that the “warm” bit is optional and begins drafting zombies to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, controlling their actions via predator drone craft and using the vat brains to overcome the data overload problems.

    At this point, a coterie of US Special Forces forced to fight alongside the undead decides enough is enough and illegally return stateside to stomp out the zombie threat in the name of Real Live America and take on the corruption Rambo-style (hey, this is a movie, right?). Simultaneously storming Wall Street and the Chicago School of Economics, they hang the last investment banker with the guts of the last neoclassical economist, use photos of prominent republicans having sex with zombie prostitutes to blackmail the government into passing public option healthcare, funding jobs and homes for all, and capping carbon emissions, then settle down with their high-school sweethearts in a peaceful social democracy.

  8. gerard
    January 18th, 2011 at 13:11 | #8

    anyone who makes too much progress investigating DSGE macro is vulnerable to demonic takeover

    After reading some DSGE-related “debates” on 4chan Economics Job Market Rumours, I have no doubt that this is true.

  9. jakerman
    January 18th, 2011 at 14:03 | #9

    Qiggen readers may be interested in this economic model .

    I don’t see a sand pit so appologies for being OT.

    Tim Lambert introduces the topic with:

    Eli Rabett looks at how FUND models the costs of ecosystem damage and finds that it has a catastrophic loss of bio-diversity in 40 years — 99% of species going extinct, but this only costs $250 per person because the only cost counted is that it makes people feel bad.

  10. wilful
    January 18th, 2011 at 14:42 | #10

    There have got to be vampire squids lurking in the waters in one scene.

  11. James Haughton
    January 18th, 2011 at 16:08 | #11

    The financial vampire squid has sung its swan song!

  12. rog
    January 18th, 2011 at 16:15 | #12
  13. BilB
    January 18th, 2011 at 16:58 | #13

    Prophessor Quiggen.

  14. Hal9000
    January 18th, 2011 at 17:08 | #14

    I’d recommend Troma Films for the production. They could even bring in some of their stock characters like the Toxic Avenger and Sgt Kabukiman NYPD, both of whom just seem to belong in this ‘B’ grade cult classic.

  15. James Haughton
    January 18th, 2011 at 19:17 | #15

    Anyone who wants The Laundry RPG can get it here. Currently on sale!

  16. Donald Oats
    January 18th, 2011 at 20:01 | #16

    A search for the “original financial model”, it being some sort of “{u}ber-zombie? It could be (re-)introduced every few years throughout modern history as part of the backdrop to impending financial doom, along with quotes from oh-so-very-mistaken humans. Fischer’s famous prediction prior to the “Great Depression”, given how taken he was with the development of statistics for use in economics, could be such a re-introduction of the OFM.

    Or maybe I’m better off staying out of this and hopefully one day watching a consequently superior production?

  17. James Haughton
    January 18th, 2011 at 20:11 | #17

    OT: The OO has an opinion piece today pushing the usual idiotic line about how job market regulation (specifically, the abolition of WorkChoices) will cause massive unemployment and hurt the poor. By a professor of management, no less. I for one haven’t noticed a huge spike in unemployment since 2007. I mention it because he also trots out the line on how Europe’s unemployment is far above everyone elses because of their incredibly restrictive laws (do these people do any actual research, or do they just recycle each other’s opinion columns?) and I thought Prof Q might want to offer him a slice of his bet with Bryan Caplan. The writer is also wrong about Yugoslavia, wage/profit shares, and the second-best effect, but that’s out of scope for this post.

  18. January 18th, 2011 at 21:54 | #18

    I imagine not so much a movie as an advertisement, perhaps along the lines of the original Apple advertisement that boosted it into the big time. There would be all these grey suited zombies, and on a screen a grey suited chief zombie, feeding them propaganda. Then suddenly a hero, John himself, runs down the aisle and hurls a big hammer through the screen to break the spell.

    Alternatively perhaps the original grim reaper advert, in reverse. In this one the zombie economists are lined up in a triangle on a bowling alley and John, hooded and with sickle, bowls the ball that will knock them all down to be swept away by the boom.

    There must be other suitable models?

  19. David Peetz
    January 18th, 2011 at 22:20 | #19

    Excellent idea, John.

    In order to make it work for the box office, you have to have a romance. A femme fatale (signifying social democratic parties) who spurns her childhood sweetheart (egalitarianism/state intervention) for a smooth talker from downtown who introduces her to a new set of friends (advisers) who displace her old ones.

    Eventually she finds to her horror that her friends have all turned to zombies and her love is a vampire squid.

    In the nick of time, after several near death experiences, her one true love from the past rescues her and, of course, saves the world.

    Yeah, the other thing you have to have to make it big at the box office is a happy ending.

    Now, the question is, what will be the name given to the hero…?

  20. Ikonoclast
    January 18th, 2011 at 23:33 | #20

    @David Peetz

    Happy endings only happen in Jane Austen. This is the real world. But all the same, I like your script.

  21. January 21st, 2011 at 14:11 | #21

    I had the pleasure of being an extra in a Spielburg production called Terra Nova that began filming on the Gold Coast in Nov last year. If your ideas progress, let me know, I’d love to audition for a part :)
    Cheers,
    Tim

  22. Alice
    January 21st, 2011 at 21:13 | #22

    @David Peetz
    “and Now, the question is, what will be the name given to the hero…?

    Assange the fair of course.

  23. melanie
    January 22nd, 2011 at 18:43 | #23

    Casting: John Cleese does a great random walk. (could be a little arthritic these days)

  24. richard michaud
    January 23rd, 2011 at 04:28 | #24

    dear dr. quiggin. your book is absolutely astonishingly brilliant. i have learned more worth knowing about the history of economics and its relevance to contemporary understanding of the Great Recession than any other. trained mostly as a financial economist and institutional asset manager, the only errors i have found in your book is the attribution, on pp. 51-52, that shiller proved anything about volatility, or that volatility is inconsistent with emh. any good mathematical statistician can spot shiller’s error. but everything else is so well informed and beautifully written. i wanted to stand up and cheer how you exposed the error on p. 106 on the nature of a scientifically progressive program that was not employed in dsge. your book on rdeu is also an absolute marvel. my thanks.

  25. Freelander
    January 24th, 2011 at 20:19 | #25

    @richard michaud

    “any good mathematical statistician can spot shiller’s error”

    For the rest of us who are not true scotsmen, how about explicating shiller’s howler?

  26. gerard
    January 25th, 2011 at 19:52 | #26

    sure you’ve read this John, top MIT dog Ricardo J. Caballero saying that modern DSGE macro suffers a “pretense of knowledge” syndrome

    http://www.nber.org/papers/w16429

    and a quote in an interview from Lawrence Meyer from the Fed

    http://www.clevelandfed.org/forefront/2010/09/ff_2010_fall_02.cfm

    So I think we have two kinds of modeling traditions. First there is the classic tradition. I was educated at MIT. I was a research assistant to Franco Modigliani, Nobel laureate, and the director of the project on the large-scale model that was used at the time at the Federal Reserve Board. This is the beginning of modern macro-econometric model building. That’s the kind of models that I would use, the kind of models that folks at the Board use.

    There’s also another tradition that began to build up in the late seventies to early eighties—the real business cycle or neoclassical models. It’s what’s taught in graduate schools. It’s the only kind of paper that can be published in journals. It is called “modern macroeconomics.”

    The question is, what’s it good for? Well, it’s good for getting articles published in journals. It’s a good way to apply very sophisticated computational skills. But the question is, do those models have anything to do with reality? Models are always a caricature—but is this a caricature that’s so silly that you wouldn’t want to get close to it if you were a policymaker?

    My views would be considered outrageous in the academic community, but I feel very strongly about them. Those models are a diversion. They haven’t been helpful at all at understanding anything that would be relevant to a monetary policymaker or fiscal policymaker.

  27. melanie
    January 25th, 2011 at 19:54 | #27

    Routine OT apology. JQ I am really enjoying your book. I studied GE 35 years ago (Frank Hahn was the lecturer) and found it, to say the least, unsatisfactory. Since then I have not paid much attention (I worked on developing economies where the problems are far less tractable), so the Great Moderation, the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and the DSGE (I’m reading that now) are unfamiliar terminologies – even if the ideas are not. As they say, ‘plus ça change’. But it is still important to point this out on a regular basis. I appreciate your update on the history of economic ideas.

    Now I’m looking at research grant applications in finance (among other things). Lots of zombies there! I think that logic has little influence, ideas may have some, but politics is in command.

  28. melanie
    January 25th, 2011 at 20:03 | #28

    PS: re “found it, to say the least, unsatisfactory” Hahn was quite honest about it – he stated openly that it was the aesthetics that attracted him and that it had little to say about the real world. But he was also a bully. You learned not to sit near the front in case he picked on you to imitate a ‘sick crocodile’ or a ‘student from the University of Bath’. He also asked me once why I wasn’t at home raising children.

  29. Freelander
    January 25th, 2011 at 20:27 | #29

    @melanie

    You should have told him “…for the fear that they might turn out like you.”

  30. melanie
    January 26th, 2011 at 17:41 | #30

    @Freelander I’m not very good with the quick riposte, especially when my jaw has dropped off, but I did happen to know that he had no kids and managed to get out that it was “probably for much the same reason you’re not”. My companion, who was one of his colleagues in the Faculty and is never rude to people, thought it was a pretty good reply.

  31. Alice
    January 26th, 2011 at 17:58 | #31

    @melanie
    about the best you could do with such an arrogant a…. Melanie!

  32. Alice
    January 26th, 2011 at 18:02 | #32

    @melanie
    The older you get..the more inclined you would be to haul Frank Hahns ass before the equity committee. Its a shame women dont do it so much when they are younger..lord knows some people need it.

  33. melanie
    January 26th, 2011 at 20:58 | #33

    @Alice I don’t think they had such a committee back then Alice. I certainly never heard of it.

    I’m not sure that things in the economics profession are improving. Here’s an example of how the younger generation apparently think: http://www.econjobrumors.com/topic/the-most-attractive-famous-female-economists. You get to page 2 before somebody mentions the word ‘sexist’.

  34. Alice
    January 28th, 2011 at 13:20 | #34

    @melanie
    Probably didnt have an equity committee back then either Melanie and despite the existence of such things now, there is still a big shortage of female academics in senior roles and ignorant comments the like of Frank Hahns to you, over the years havent helped one bit.
    Never mind back in the 50s you were often out of a job for getting pregnant. My mother got all dressed up to go to an interview at the age of 28 and was told she was too old for the job in the late 1960s.
    We have come a long way but not far enough. The pay gap is still there large as life. The super gap is still there large as life. The senior position gender imbalance is there large as life. Lots of talk these days but action still on the short side.

  35. Alice
    January 29th, 2011 at 18:45 | #35

    @melanie
    melanie – there is a fundamental difference between the sexism inherent in your link at 33 and Frank Hahns comment to you as a student. Those women are walking the boards at 33 and their young male stidents are dreaming. You were trying to be a student and your old lecturer was trying to tell you to go home and look after the kids..

    Huge difference Mel. Young male students canm dream all they like…so can young female students…nothiing wrong with that. But when some idiot is in a position of greater power relatively (you student, he lecturer) with some power over your marks…then why the hell does he think he has the right to tell you (?on what spurious grounds…) to go home and look after the kids..??

    Different kettle of fish your link – entirely different.

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