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June 16, 2008

Secret Masters
Posted by Patrick at 07:04 PM *

First Charles Stross, now Doctor Who: the very distinguished Paul Krugman continues to out himself as a gigantic science fiction geek.

What is it with these eminent economists, anyway?

Comments on Secret Masters:
#1 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 07:30 PM:

Are we allowed to say that we love us some Paul Krugman?

#3 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 07:44 PM:

#1: Good grief, yes.

#4 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 07:44 PM:

I'm not an eminent economist, but I did take four course in the subject in college.

I just re-read When Worlds Collide and its sequel After Worlds Collide, originally published in 1933 and 1934. Other than the slightly patronizing view of a Japanese manservant (the Jap) and the obvious villains in the sequel (it was the Thirties, so a joint Japanese-German-Russian group of bad guys shouldn't be a surprise), the story holds up fairly well.

#5 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 07:46 PM:

It's the powerful brains. That must be it.

#6 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 07:51 PM:

"It’s somewhat embarrassing, but that’s how I got into economics: I wanted to be a psychohistorian when I grew up, and economics was as close as I could get."


#7 ::: SisterCoyote ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 07:52 PM:

Linkmeister at #4:

They offered classes in eminent economy when you were in college?

Damn, I knew the educational standards in this country were slipping.

I shall grin, duck, and run now.

#8 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 08:11 PM:

SisterCoyote @ #8, it was a trade school and that was the DIY department.

#9 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 08:17 PM:

We love us some Paul Krugman!

#10 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 08:31 PM:

Krugman's also done benefits lately, for the people's radio station here, WBAI, during their fundraisers.

Love, C.

#11 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 08:48 PM:

His first ambition--he's said--was to be a psychohistorian.

#12 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 09:27 PM:

Evan, #6: IMO that's not something he should consider even slightly embarrassing. How many people in the hard sciences -- or the space program -- were first inspired by science fiction?

Asimov himself made that point in an essay somewhere (I may have it, but I'm feeling to lazy to go check). Interest in science fiction isn't an infallible means of predicting a scientific career, but it's a damn good concentrator. What I do think it's a fairly infallible prediction for is a lifelong interest in science, even if only on the layman's level.

#13 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 10:11 PM:

I have a Secret Master's degree. I earned it at an Invisible College.

#14 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 10:13 PM:

I wonder how many people of that generation wanted to be roboticists... and are. Because in the generation that they grew up, robots went from something you read about in science fiction to something you design and build.

I just think that's cool.

#15 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 10:23 PM:

I have a confession to make: my father is a retired professor of economics (Baruch College, for those of you in NYC). I grew up reading science fiction and learning more about econ (micro, macro, finance, game theory, leading/lagging indicators, blah blah blah) than I ever wanted. I think his description of economics as "psychology of large groups, with more statistics" summarizes it for me.

My partner is a former research psychologist, so you see that I am surrounded by proto-psychohistorians...and my favorite character from Foundation is Arkady Darell.

#16 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 10:33 PM:

Erik Nelson, #13: Remember, the opposite of minister is magister.

#17 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 10:51 PM:

Lee, #12 -- I have no idea if Paul Krugman is actually embarrassed for wishing he was a psychohistorian, or whether he's just saying so for effect. Personally, I agree with you, I don't think Krugman should be embarrassed for it either. After all, I'm not embarrassed for at one point wishing I was Raistlin Majere, and I think that trumps wishing one was Hari Seldon in so many ways. But if this something that seriously concerns you, perhaps you should take this up with... Krugman?

#18 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 10:55 PM:

I wanted to be the Mule.

I was pretty young, and bullied a lot, and there were some guys I wanted to reduce to weeping puddles of guilt and shame.

#19 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 10:59 PM:

Yeah, the Mule was my guy too. :)

#20 ::: FMguru ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 11:09 PM:

I knew Krugman was One Of Us when, in the late 1990s, he started a bylined essay on globalization and trade in The Economist with a long quote from the start of SNOW CRASH (the "movies, microcode, and pizza delivery" section). He's also mentioned on several occasions how much he loved the FOUNDATION books, and the key role they played in leading him into economics.

#21 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 12:52 AM:

Evan Goer, #6, I used to be an engineer and almost everybody I worked with got into engineering because of science fiction.

#22 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 07:18 AM:

Coming soon: Tor publishes Paul Krugman's alternate history novel ...

#23 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 09:07 AM:

I count less interest in science fiction among newbies in the computer field as a sure sign of a lowering of professional standards. All the really good engineers and CS researchers I know are ardent SF readers; a lot of these new people seem to have gotten into the field because they figured to get rich (surprise! you ain't gonna).

Shorter me: "Hey, mundanes, get off the lawn!"

#24 ::: Sajia Kabir ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 09:32 AM:

# 15 Ginger: Ooh, fellow Arkady fan!
To go slightly OT, I think Asimov is underrated by my generation of North American fen, although he and Arthur C. Clarke have a huge following in Bangladesh. I have a soft spot for the Azazel and the detective stories, which show off a different side of his storytelling gifts.

#25 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 10:10 AM:

Krugman's previous blog column is headed "Mundus vult decipi". Now that's hardcore.

#26 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 11:13 AM:

Evan Goer, #6, I used to be an engineer and almost everybody I worked with got into engineering because of science fiction.

Marilee, #21, Thanks. I don't have any confusion on this point, given that A) science fiction is what drove me into majoring in physics, and B) I've spent every single consecutive school and work day from age 18 onward being surrounded by scientists and engineers.

#27 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 12:39 PM:

Ha. *I* wanted to grow up to be a Tomorrow Person. How's that for embarrassment cachet? Unfortunately, I didn't have the self-restraint not to re-watch the first DVD of the series this year. Ouch.

Not much to do with economics, of course, but still.

I read Foundation relatively late in life (i.e. about two years ago rather than twenty), and the psychohistorian angle struck me as a rather neat but not entirely plausible way for the Author to stack the thought experiment deck. Heh. O hai, Asimov! I c wut u did ther. I kinda regret that at the age when reading it would have blown my mind, I was reading about Xanth and Pern instead.

#28 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 12:57 PM:

Eric #13: In discreet math, I presume?

#29 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 01:14 PM:

From comments on their blogs and writings, I'm pretty sure economists David Friedman, Tyler Cowan, and Robin Hansen are all SF fans, too.

My experience is that most of my American-born colleagues are SF fans. This seems much less common of Israeli and Chinese and Indian colleagues.

#30 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 01:19 PM:

I'm pretty sure economists David Friedman, Tyler Cowan, and Robin Hansen are all SF fans, too.

David Friedman, at least, is a SCAdian. He's even a fairly famous SCAdian: he's the king who, in SCA folklore, declared war on himself and lost*, thus starting Pennsic.

* This story is not actually true, but I've never heard the real version as I've never made it to the annual bardic circle at which he tells it.

#31 ::: Carl ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 02:57 PM:

#5 - it's the open minds, more like. There are many brains that are overpowered for the amount of work they do.

#32 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 08:12 PM:

You mean the guy whose paper on Interstellar Trade between here and Trantor might have grown up reading sf?

Even if the TARDIS is frequently referred to as a telephone box...

#33 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 09:13 PM:

#29 & #30: David D. Friedman has published one fantasy novel, and may be writing more.

(Please try to rise above the urge to joke about Prof. Friedman's economics books.)

#34 ::: Jim Satterfield ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 10:24 PM:

But no one in the comments mentioned Mack Reynolds when discussing economics in science fiction. Of course what I remember from some of his books was something not mentioned in the Wickipedia article, the gyrations that had to be done to adapt to a world where technology had automated most jobs out of existence. When you consider that one of the arguments being made by defenders of globalization is that what is really causing the most job loss in the U.S. is automation, not exporting jobs. Somehow they never come up with a viable solution to the issues raised if they're right.

#35 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 11:28 PM:

#33 & prev: Friedman is a regular at Baycon, and goes to other SF conventions when possible -- e.g. he went on to N4 after Pennsic four years ago. He's not quite the fanatic you might expect from his textbooks; in a conversation some years ago he said that the Prometheus award should give more weight to the quality of the work as a story and less to the purity of libertarian thought -- in which case Cherryh (one of his favorites) would be a shoo-in.

#36 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2008, 02:59 AM:

I know for a fact that David Friedman is still writing fantasy novels -- I read one in manuscript. (It's in submission at Baen.) He's a regular poster on rec.arts.sf.composition.

#37 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2008, 08:14 AM:

Actually, The Machinery of Freedom is world building worthy of any SF book, but with some underlying justification in economics and history. I don't quite buy the world he builds, but it would certainly be good enough for a work of fiction. His basic economics book is pretty normal, and Law's Order is, in my amateur opinion, a really fascinating and well-written book, but without any obvious SF content. I haven't looked at his price theory textbook, having happily forgotten the price theory class I had, lo these many years ago.

#38 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2008, 12:36 PM:

I work with tons of economists. Most of the ones I can think of off the top of my head have significantly more than a passing interest in SF. There's some kind of correlation there.

Maybe Tyler Cowan's article on "Novels as Models" helps explain it?

#39 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2008, 02:55 PM:

I saw, fairly recently (but not so recently that I could find it again, sorry) a craft-blog link to a knitted Tardis. The writer correctly identified it as being a Tardis, and from Doctor Who, then made a very odd throwaway comment about it being the wrong color. (It wasn't.) Clearly someone coached them on the significance of the thing, but not quite enough.

#40 ::: Spam! ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 08:27 AM:

Neque porro quisquam est qui spamem ipsum quia spam sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit

#41 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 11:48 AM:

R.M. Koske @39, & any other interested parties: check the links in my comment #473 on Open thread 110. Definitely bed now.

#42 ::: steve muhlberger ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 10:31 AM:

How about medieval historians who started as sf fans?

#43 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 05:58 PM:

I think Harry Turtledove specialized in Byzantine history, but I don't know if he was an SF reader before he started studying history.

#44 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 07:06 PM:

albatross #44: I believe that it was reading Sprague DeCamp's Lest Darkness Fall that got Turtledove interested in Byzantine history.

#45 ::: ADM ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 08:44 AM:

Steve @#43 or medieval historians who start as sf/f fans and end up hanging out at Kazoo?

Oh. I've just realised that my love of 19th C Britain (I didn't always want to be a medievalist) might have something to do with the steampunk attraction.

#46 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 11:41 AM:

#44 albatross

Harry Turtledove's was a Caltech undergraduate I think....

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