The Theory of Interstellar Trade

I did not think that Paul Krugman was still writing academic papers. Nor have I seen any evidence in the last decade that he still has any sense of humor.

Consequently, I was surprised to see an article written by him entitled “The Theory of Interstellar Trade,” published recently in the journal Economic Inquiry. Here is the abstract of the paper:

This article extends interplanetary trade theory to an interstellar setting. It is chiefly concerned with the following question: how should interest charges on goods in transit be computed when the goods travel at close to the speed of light? This is a problem because the time taken in transit will appear less to an observer traveling with the goods than to a stationary observer. A solution is derived from economic theory, and two useless but true theorems are proved.

A quick look at the acknowledgments, however, clears things up. The original manuscript was written in July 1978, when Krugman was an active researcher and being a curmudgeon wasn’t part of his professional identity.


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  1. addicted says:

    Have you ever read his blog?

    Even if you don’t want to read the actual posts, simply read the headlines. They are hilarious (as are the captions to the images).

    A lack of a sense of humor is certainly not one of his deficiencies (unless your sense of humor starts and ends with kicks in private parts).

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  2. bill says:

    It is clear you have not read Krugman’s blog. So why the sniping?

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  3. Eric M. Jones says:

    A Fast Fast Rocket to a Far Far Place….

    Maybe there is a simple solution to the Fermi Paradox: “Where are the aliens?”

    We think of the possibility of journeying to another star as something that could be done with current technology. I would be a very long trip….

    In about 1963, a Westinghouse scientist we knew, explained to me that if such a voyage were to happen, extraordinary measure would have to be taken to conserve materials. For example when light bulbs burned out would have to be disassembled and the tungsten filaments and tungsten dust would have to be salvaged, reformed and reused.

    I looked upon this as a good example of the hardships and engineering challenges that would crop up when planning such a voyage. “Imagine having to disassemble light bulbs to reuse the filaments,” I thought.

    Now I sit here in 2010 and imagine the brave spacemen who never left in 1963 and would be grateful they do not have to cope with a spaceship filled with glowing lamp filaments, vacuum tubes, racks of crude transistors, no LEDs, (only Nixie tubes and vacuum tube VDTs for digital displays!) no computers, no integrated circuits, no pocket calculators, no microfilters or reverse osmosis in the sewage recycling system; their rank cabins filled with 33 1/3 vinyl records, and reel-to-reel tapes. Wind-up wristwatches, crumbling paperback books and 8-mm films for entertainment….and no great velocity to shorten the miserable journey either.

    The best course of action–a few years after leaving—would be to cancel the whole damned trip and return home.

    The logical quandary is that at any time in the foreseeable future, technological growth would out-pace our current technological ability so that crossing the great void would make no sense. At anytime in the foreseeable future this would only get worse.

    It has been pointed out that if you went to the stars you would find humans, who left much later there to greet you. And YOUR trade goods would be antiques. They in turn had found humans who left even later, there to greet them, who in turn….etc. The first guy to leave Earth for Alpha Centuri would be greeted by the guys who left the week before he arrived at Alpha Centuri. What kept you?…and no we don’t want any of that ancient crap you’re hauling.

    We might as well stay home.

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  4. Matt says:

    Typical criticism of Krugman… we can’t prove he’s wrong, so we’ll just deride him as a shrill, humorless crank. Rajan provided a long defense of his book and why he disagreed with Krugman.

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  5. Will says:

    I really have to agree with addicted there. Paul Krugman is hilarious.

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  6. The Difference says:

    Between being funny and being sardonic can be difficult to detect, but Krugman is most certainly beyond the sarcasm that can be funny and into the cynicism that is not.

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  7. David Chowes, New York City says:

    Easy! A flat fee: 1 Cosmo.

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  8. David Chowes, New York City says:

    Or, 10 Cosmos for first light year, and…
    1 Cosmo for each additional light year, and…
    1/2 Cosmo for each nanosecond for any interuption(s).

    A sophisticate meter would be measured… Similar to the ones found in taxis.

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