In my final minutes, perhaps I can make one last contribution to humanity: economic advice for you, the survivors of the zombie apocalypse.
How can you rebuild your civilization and economy in the aftermath?
By any reasonable historical standard, the modern zombie-free world of just a week ago was incrediblyprosperous, although many people falsely assumed otherwise. On almost any measure—life expectancy, infant mortality, caloric intake, real income per capita, variety of goods and services, and more—humanity had achieved a level of success that our ancestors would have considered astonishing. These victories were most obvious in the developed world, but increasingly apparent in the rest of the world, too.
But the zombie apocalypse has wiped out most of those gains in a matter of days. And for survivors, the worst is still ahead.
To understand why, we need to think about how we became so prosperous in the first place. The answer goes back to Adam Smith, the father of —
—hang on, gotta wedge my chair against the door—
Okay, I’m back.
Where was I?
Adam Smith, the father of modern economics.
Smith’s great insight was to recognize the power of specialization, division of labor, and trade to elevate living conditions.
Self-sufficiency, he realized, is a recipe for poverty. Society as a whole becomes more productive as people specialize in narrowly defined tasks and then trade with each other to get everything else they need.
Almost every good or service that we consumed in the pre-zombie economy depended on materials and labor from all over the globe. This was the most massive system of cooperation the world had ever known—made all the more remarkable because most of the cooperation happened without central management, without a single plan, through the interaction of people who were mostly strangers.
This web of trade was supported by an astoundingly high degree of specialization of both labor and capital, and also by legal and cultural institutions that enabled trade to occur in an environment of trust and nonviolence.
How has the zombie invasion affected this web of trade? To put it simply, it has shredded it.
Let’s walk through the process in a series of steps–some of which have already happened, some of which are yet to come.