What Can Vampires Teach Us About Economics? (Ep. 184)

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(Photo: gaelx)

(Photo: gaelx)

Do vampires employ an optimal strategy in choosing their mates? Would a zombie invasion help create jobs? And what would happen if vampires didn’t have to attack humans to get blood?

These are some of the pressing questions we ask in this week’s episode, “What Can Vampires Teach Us About Economics?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

It was inspired by a book called Economics of the Undead: Zombies, Vampires, and the Dismal Science a collection of 23 scholarly essays edited by the economists Glen Whitman and James Dow. (Here’s the table of contents; here are some excerpts.)

Whitman teaches at California State University, Northridge, and also writes for TV. His chapters in the book focus on romantic relationships (“Human Girls and Vampire Boys,” Parts 1 and 2) and resource management (“Tragedy of the Blood Commons: The Case for Privatizing the Humans.”) In the podcast, Whitman talks about the economics of the undead as well as how his academic work merged with his own dating life.

You’ll also hear from Enrique Guerra-Pujol, a professor of law at the University of Central Florida, who argues that vampires are driven to violence by the absence of a legal blood market:

GUERRA-PUJOL: Economists often talk about market failures when certain voluntary transactions impose costs on others or on society. Here I’m talking about legal failure. What I mean by that is when the law, for a wide variety of reasons, prevents transactions from taking place in the first place, prevents market transactions. And what it really comes down to, is this intuition that, you know, if vampires had the choice to buy blood, they would probably do so.

Guerra-Pujol’s solution to vampire violence?

GUERRA-PUJOL: As a legal scholar […] I think the solution is there right under our nose. It’s let vampires buy blood.

You’ll also hear from Steve Horwitz, a professor of economics at St. Lawrence University, about an essay he co-authored (with Sarah Skwire) called “Eating Brains and Breaking Windows.” It uses the premise of Frederic Bastiat’s famous “Parable of the Broken Window” to ask whether a zombie apocalypse could actually be good news for the economy, as some people argue that war or a natural disaster can be.

And, most important, you’ll hear the answer to a question that I’m sure has plagued you for years: is Twilight fan Steve Levitt a member of Team Edward or Team Jacob?

Here’s hoping that if you spend Halloween as a vampire, zombie, or werewolf, you will now be armed with a bit of economic background to make your portrayal even more convincing.

Special thanks to Simon Adler for help in producing this episode.


Brian

I went to explain the Broken Window Fallacy to someone else, and my mind immediately went to WW2 in the midst of the depression. Isnt that an example of the Broken Window successfully repairing an economy? Coincidence? Or was it just a transfer of economic riches?

Brian Deaton

OFF TOPIC: Your caricatures look like Roy and Moss from the English TV show "IT Crowd". Do you compare yourselves to these people or is it just an amazing coincidence?

carlosmx37

I have a tought ,a persistent idea from years ago,.

that all vampire and werewolves tales,are really about homosexual men,.who ..bitting a hetero,.....convert them !

sorry if this offends somebody,.but with that comparison in mind,.

would you accept to work extra hours,or travel in abusiness affair with,..if your boss is one of them ?,..
( vampire,.or werewolf ,not an homosexual ),.

Davo

I love the show, BUT...
Your guest makes a critical error: in most vampire lore, they are a different (more advanced) species.
Asking vampires to buy human blood is like asking humans to buy a ham hock off of a pig.

Lester

Really? dont some humans feel the same way about vampires? If trade was possible between European settlers and native Americans (both of whom may have felt themselves superior to other) during colonial times, surely trade is possible between vampires and humans as well

Hux

They closed the case on zombies too quickly. I think that it would be a good thing for individual survivors economically, depending on undisclosed factors. Are the zombies smart or dumb, are they evil or passive, are they fast or slow, and how long do they live?

When someone becomes a zombie you can take all of their possessions and their job opens up! While the economy of the country will decrease in size, the average happiness of each citizen will increase and the average wealth of each person will increase. This is a good thing because who really gives a crap about other peoples wealth more than their own?

I thought of all this about a month ago but I was thinking of a deadly virus like Ebola. You didn't close the zombie case freakonomics, all you did was prove a point about the broken window fallacy and then like a politician acted like that means case closed. Like if I said Michael Jordan missed a shot he is a bad basketball player, case closed.

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Hux

Sorry for taking this light subject so serious but creating a fallacy while talking about a fallacy really bugged me.

Kyle morgan

The question of whether or not vampires would buy blood reminded me of the bloodiest (and I'm not being cute) movie I've ever seen: daybreakers. Plot synopsis is that most of the world is now turned to vamps and the vast majority of citizens can get their blood supply without violence but that does require task forces to hunt down the remaining humans to harvest their blood. So basically, yeah, they would buy it until it became the norm, everyone got turned vamp because of the benefits, and then we ran out of blood.

Brent

There are online communities of people who believe themselves to be vampires and drink blood (or at least claim to). One example is sanguinarius.org. These groups advocate forming a relationship with a willing donor. It seems some people have a thing for letting another person bleed them and may not always need to be paid. Legalizing the sale of blood would have little effect on vampire-on-human violence because there's already a functioning market.

Joanne LaComb

What about the insurance aspect of a broken window? The $100 wouldn't help either the glass maker or the homeowner but the insurance company. It would not create any new revenue for these people. By the way I am from Potsdam, my sister and father graduated from SLU and had Professor Pujol as a professor. One of the best!!! Thanks

Joanne LaComb

How can vampires buy blood without making money? What value can blood be? Can they create blood drive vans and withdraw pints of blood. What happens if the blood is contaminated? Are vampires immune to AIDS/HIV/Hepatitis?