Monday, June 28, 2010

Economics of Fahrenheit 451

My good friends know I find economics in a wide variety of “unusual” places. I enjoy finding cartoons, movies, music, literature and historical narratives that can help illustrate economic concepts. Consequently, I am always pleased to other sources that do the same.

Marginal Revolution recently provided a link to this paper on the economics of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Chances are pretty good that you read this novel at some point in your academic career or that you saw the movie. I did both…several times. But I never saw the connection.

The authors of the paper have now shown me why. It seems I was looking at the work through neo-classical eyes. What I should have done is used the lens of von Mises and John Stuart Mill. (I’m not as familiar with either of these, although I am trying to learn more.) Using Misian analysis, you can see the main character's choices as a quest for fulfillment.  Using Mill, we can see a utilitarian view as the same character strives for happiness.

If, like me, you like finding economics in “non-economic” situations, I suggest reading the paper and re-reading the book or seeing the film. Who knows? If your students are reading or have read Bradbury’s classic for another class, you might even be able to do a little interdisciplinary work.

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