There are definitely plenty of economists who love science fiction — Paul Krugman comes to mind immediately. But economics could still benefit from more attention to the genre, argues economist Ha-Joon Chang from Cambridge University. But Chang's reasons for recommending SF might be a bit surprising.

Rather than promote SF as a way to make economics more focused on scientific and technological innovation, or a way to add more speculation about the future, Chang actually thinks that SF stories will make economists less kneejerk in their optimism about science.

The Times Higher Education Supplement explains:

On one level, said Dr Chang, much economic thinking could best be seen as "science fiction". It claimed to be "science", but ignored political and ethical factors and relied on such simplified ideas of the individual, the firm and the market that its analyses were largely "fiction".

Equally problematic, in his view, is the belief of many economists (and particularly neoclassical economists) that progress in science and technology could solve virtually all our problems – and that the right incentives alone will enable us to tackle challenges such as water shortages and climate change. It is here, he said, that they would do well to take a look at science fiction.

In fact, science fiction is full of worlds where the technology is far in advance of our own, but there are unexpected problems — and individual mistakes can't be discounted as a part of that, says Chang. "Science fiction can help us to reconsider our assumptions about the economy and society," according to the THES summary of Chang's talk. "Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World can teach us about the value of work and the dangers of consumerism, even in societies where everybody has their basic needs satisfied."

[via Times Higher Education Supplement]