(Austrian) Economics

Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman

Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman

Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman, so far as I am aware, is still the agorist novel par excellence. More than three decades have passed since its publication — not that you would know it without looking at the copyright date — yet in that time no other novel has so successfully mixed the principles of agorism with such a keen perspective on the future. There are not many novels that can top it for entertainment value either.

The story takes place in what was then the future, but which now seems a very prescient present. Not only is the story filled with theretofore unrealized gadgets and technology that differ from what we actually possess sometimes by no more than an appellation, or occasionally a small feature or manner of use, but the economic conditions described in the tale read like a seer’s forecast.

Schulman’s knowledge of economics allowed him to make a forecast every bit as accurate as the one for which Ayn Rand, in her novel Atlas Shrugged, has been lauded of late. In fact, this very knowledge of economics is probably what helped the author predict all those gadgets, for it is well established that science-fiction authors, a group not known for their economic acumen, tend to think on a grand scale when most of the advances, in a consumer-driven society, are modest devices of everyday convenience and entertainment.

It is a dystopian world we are plunged into in Alongside Night, where central control of the economy and erosion of civil liberties proceed, as they must, hand in hand. When the government abducts the protagonist’s father, a noted free-market libertarian economist somewhere between Milton Friedman and Ludwig von Mises in his radicalness, the high school student Elliot Vreeland embarks on a quest to free him. This quest takes him into the world of the agorists, free-market rebels and masters of counter-economics.

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Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman

Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman

I’m a little late with this post and I completely failed to send out the voting results email via our newsletter last month. All I can say right now is that I’ve been rather preoccupied with some momentous events for the site. First, I upgraded from shared hosting to a virtual private server (VPS) at DreamHost even though we’re not yet bringing in enough revenue to cover the significantly added cost. We’d simply outgrown shared hosting; the site was loading slowly and often failed to load at all, especially on the backend while trying to save and publish posts. Second, the new version of the theme I designed this site with, Thesis 2.0, was just released on the 1st. It’s a radically redesigned and powerful theme framework and I’ve been obsessed with scaling its steep relearning curve and redesigning Prometheus Unbound on it. Stay tuned for Prometheus Unbound 2.0. It’s gonna be awesome, if I do say so myself.

But enough with excuses… For the month of October, we are reading and discussing J. Neil Schulman’s classic dystopian science fiction novel Alongside Night, winner of the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award and currently being adapted into a movie starring Kevin Sorbo (Hercules, Andromeda):

The American economy is experiencing a systematic meltdown. The country is turning into a totalitarian police-surveillance state, but bold black-market enterprises use the latest technology to thrive. Anyone declared a terrorist by the administration is stripped of their Constitutional rights and sent to a secret federal prison. Caught in the middle of it all are the brilliant 17-year-old son of a missing Nobel Prize–winning economist (Dr. Vreeland), his best friend from prep school whose uncle was once a guerrilla fighter, and the beautiful but mysterious 17-year-old girl he meets in a secret underground… a girl who carries a pistol with a silencer.

The setting could be next week. But this Prometheus Hall of Fame Award–winning novel was written over three decades ago. And now it is being adapted into a film starring Kevin Sorbo as Dr. Martin Vreeland.

Our book giveaway is over, but if you missed out you can purchase a copy in Kindle or paper format at Amazon.com. Your purchase via our affiliate links will help support our work here at Prometheus Unbound.

Join us as we read and discuss Alongside Night. And stay tuned for the official event announcement of the upcoming live author chat with Schulman, hosted by Prometheus Unbound via Google+ Hangouts on Air.

You need not have voted on this month’s selection to join in the discussion, but you do need to be registered and logged in on this site to access the book club’s dedicated forums.

September Recap

I’ll update this post with a more extensive recap later in the month, followed by a full review, but for now I can say we enjoyed Jack Vance’s Emphyrio. The stylized prose and dialogue might not be for everyone, and the story takes a while to really get going (a lot of time is spent on background and setup), but the book is very enjoyable and worth a read. There is much for libertarians to appreciate in Emphyrio as well. The setting is a planet run as an welfare state by mysterious lords, in which the economy is artisan-based and any mass production or duplication is strictly prohibited and harshly punished. Events lead the protagonist, Ghyl, to rebel against this unjust system.

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Emphyrio by Jack Vance

Emphyrio by Jack Vance

For the month of September we are reading and discussing Emphyrio by Jack Vance:

“The plot revolves around a young man, Ghyl Tarvoke, who hails from from the city of Ambroy located on the planet Halma. Halma’s ruled by unseen, mysterious Lords who run the planet as a giant welfare state. Workers are paid a stipend for their labor and all forms of mass production or duplication (including printing) are strictly, and I mean strictly, prohibited.” When Ghyl’s father, a wood-carver, is executed for processing old documents with a camera, Ghyl rebels and decides to bring down the system.

A recent edition of the book can be purchased for Kindle at Amazon.com. Your purchase via our affiliate links will help support our work here at Prometheus Unbound. If you prefer, Barnes & Noble has the book as an epub. There don’t appear to be any dead-tree editions in print, but new and used copies of old editions can be found.

Join us as we read and discuss Emphyrio. I’ve already started a thread on Vance’s idiosyncratic prose style.

You need not have voted on this month’s selection to join in the discussion, but you do need to be registered and logged in on this site to access the book club’s dedicated forums.

August Recap

Everyone enjoyed Matthew Alexander’s libertarian science fiction novel Wĭthûr Wē, both for its writing quality and for its uncompromising Austro-Libertarian content. The general consensus seems to be that Matthew did a very good job at the difficult task of incorporating the philosophical, political, and economic elements into the plot without coming across as too preachy. The novel rivals some epic fantasies in length, however, so it does take some courage to begin reading and perseverance to get through.

A couple of forum participants compared Wĭthûr Wē favorably to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. One observed that Matthew presented the other side’s arguments more fairly. Another liked that, unlike Rand, Matthew illustrated how our ideals could be realized and that the main protagonist in Wĭthûr Wē is a more fully realized human being than Rand’s concretized ideals, such as John Galt.

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David Brin

Can I look any more smug. Can I.

David Brin
David Brin

Oops, he did it again.

David Brin, whom some think of as a libertarian science fiction author, and who styles himself as such, but who really isn’t even close to being libertarian, and who seems to spend an inordinate amount of time these days attacking real libertarians like a jilted lover, was recently interviewed on Wired.com via the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.

Brin has a controversial take on Star Wars. For example, he calls Yoda one of the most evil characters ever. Well, okay, Brin does have something of a point when it comes to Yoda. The Jedi as a whole are pretty much useless, meddling busybodies who are directly or indirectly responsible for the fundamental political problems in the Star Wars universe.

But Brin’s main criticism of Star Wars and George Lucas is premised largely on his fetish for state-democracy (my term for democratic institutions and processes ossified as formal mechanisms in the state apparatus). Lucas comes under fire for always protraying the republic as corrupt and nonfunctioning, which he does because he despises democracy and favors benign dictatorship.

But, of course, Brin has staked his entire nonfiction career on his Platonic ideal of radical transparency allowing perfect knowledge in a state-democracy. Only when this ideal is realized will freedom be protected and capitalism work properly, says Brin.

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