Economics vs Science Fiction – what can each learn from the other?

Ha-Joon Chang, SOAS | Discussant: Sinéad Murphy, SRHE | Chair Dr Duncan Green

Economics and science fiction share many interrelations that are rarely recognised. Firstly, a lot of economics is science fiction. Many economists believe in the fiction that they are practising ‘science’, while many also believe in the fiction that progress in ‘science’ (and thus technology) is the solution to virtually all economic problems. Saying that much of economics is science fiction doesn’t mean that science fiction itself is not useful for economics. It has been a powerful way to imagine alternative realities in which very different technologies have changed our institutions and even individuals, making us re-think our assumptions about economy and society. Extending this logic, we can say history is a dystopian science fiction even without memories of advanced technologies. Moreover, if studying history helps us to imagine other realities, so do comparative studies. In trying to understand the world, we can be immensely helped by science fiction, history, and comparative studies, because they allow us to see that the existing economic and social order is not a ‘natural’ one, that it can be changed, and, most importantly, that it has been brought about only because some people dared to imagine a different world …

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