The Economic Mind in America: Essays in the History of American Economics

By Malcolm Rutherford | Go to book overview

16

ROBERT A.HEINLEIN AND ISSUES IN AMERICAN ECONOMICS

Robert P. Rogers

INTRODUCTION

Robert A. Heinlein is considered one of the premier science fiction writers of the twentieth century. Along with John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, A.E. Van Vogt, L. Sprague de Camp, and Lester del Ray, Heinlein laid the foundations of science fiction as we know it today. In Heinlein’s fiction, one finds many of the issues with which twentieth-century mainstream American economists have grappled concerning government, money, scarcity, and production. The very plots of major stories and books such as “Life-Line” (1987a), Waldo (1950), Magic, Inc. (1950), The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966), and “The Roads Must Roll” (1987a) involve people facing these problems when obtaining their livelihood. In fact, Heinlein coined one of the most celebrated economic expressions of the twentieth century: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch (TANSTAAFL)” (Heinlein 1966:129).

Heinlein’s views are consistent with much in mainstream American economics. Most American economists believe in a market-centered economy, the main differences among them being how much government intervention is needed for its efficient and equitable operation. Like many economists, Heinlein is a supporter of a market-centered economy in that he has a preference for the pursuit by individuals of their own goals in market settings.

Also like many American economists, Heinlein had a skeptical view of government manipulation of the economy. In Heinlein’s works, governments are usually depicted as inefficient and often malevolent enterprises, frequently run for the benefit of their controllers. While these views definitely put Heinlein in agreement with the more conservative mainstream economists, the views are not all that inconsistent with most of the profession in America. Even very interventionist American economists insist on the demonstration of a costly externality before taking government action (Stiglitz 1988: ch. 3).

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