Zombie Economics, the movie

by John Q on January 17, 2011

When I signed the contract with Princeton UP for Zombie Economics, I read the section covering movie rights, and had fun chatting about which of my friends would be best suited to play Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium, Trickle Down (yes, yes, I know!) and so on. Then I found out that Freakonomics actually has been made into a movie, and of course, I wanted the same. But, even in the century of the mashup, it doesn’t seem likely that a polemical economics text could be made watchable just by adding zombies (though I thought the mash worked pretty well in print).

Instead, how about starting with a standard comic-horror zombie movie, then making the apocalyptic zombie-generating event a financial-economic crisis? That seemed much more promising, and I starting working out the treatment in my head. All was going well until I realized that I was stealing all my best ideas from Charlie Stross. I emailed Charlie, and he said to go right ahead, so I thought at least it would be fun for a blog post.

Over the fold some of the scenes I’ve sketched so far – feel free to make suggestions which I will then feel free to steal in the unlikely event that this goes any further

Opening – drive-by through a half-built and abandoned housing development, inhabited by squatters, some heavily-armed humans and some zombies. Voice-over and flashback to the apocalypse

Backstory – mutated derivative securities, as in Accelerando, becoming self-aware, then taking over the financial system, and seeking to manifest themselves in physical form. As in the Laundry series, anyone who makes too much progress investigating Gaussian copulas or DSGE macro is vulnerable to demonic takeover, which manifests itself as zombiedom.

At story opening, reference is made to pre-apocalypse zombie outbreaks (2000 and 2008) which seemed to have been successfully contained. But actually, zombiedom spreading all the time.

Zombies deteriorate slowly, and zombiedom can be concealed by the use of appropriate financial cosmetics, so the story will allow for vampire-type plots where no-one knows who is actually a zombie.

Some scene ideas:

Possession by Powerpoint – a straight steal from The Jennifer Morgue.

Zombie Banks – banks run by and for zombies

The Great Moderation – a period of complacent and mindless optimism indicative of the early stages of zombiedom

Efficient Markets Hypothesis – I’m thinking of riffing of random walks here

Zombie Tea Parties – this should write itself

Trickle Down – obviously, this will be the obligatory gross-out scene

That’s what I’ve got so far. New scenes and casting suggestions gratefully accepted



dsquared 01.17.11 at 8:13 pm

But, even in the century of the mashup, it doesn’t seem likely that a polemical economics text could be made watchable

You say that, but The Black Swan (albeit with substantial liberties having been taken with the text) could win an Oscar this year.


John Quiggin 01.17.11 at 8:52 pm

You’re right! There’s a whole sub-genre here. I see Road to Serfdom has already been done, though I think it would be better as a feature with FA played by Salma and Attlee cast as the reincarnation of Ivan the Terrible.

How about a BBC/Merchant-Ivory production of The Wealth of Nations: Scenes from a Pin Factory.


Michael Bérubé 01.17.11 at 8:59 pm

Night of the Living Derivatives? Kewl. I represent Amity Shlaes and Donald Luskin, and I’d like to schedule auditions for them as soon as your people are ready.


spyder 01.17.11 at 9:01 pm

No Zombie sex? How else would profligate Zombies create strange financial instruments?


John Quiggin 01.17.11 at 9:43 pm

@Spyder That’s what the Gaussian copulas are for.


marcel 01.17.11 at 10:14 pm

I just discovered this (see also here and here) last night at the video store! How timely.


marcel 01.17.11 at 10:15 pm

Oops. The first link above should have been to this. My bad.


ajay 01.17.11 at 11:33 pm

Obviously the idea of “toxic assets” has to come in somewhere… maybe Poltergeist-style? Lots of housing stock in Phoenix, Miami etc built on top of cursed ground?


onymous 01.18.11 at 12:03 am

I’m really surprised that Google only returns two hits for “Gaussian copulating”.


BillCinSD 01.18.11 at 12:28 am

Shouldn’t the banksters and hedge fundsters be like the Typhoid Mary’s of zombie-ism — they carry it but are unaffected, so they still lie in their McMansions. the zombies are their servants, security etc., who get sent out to terrorize the population, hold some for ransom so that the unaffected have to pay up or get zombie-fied?


Kieran 01.18.11 at 12:28 am

As the project moves from book to blockbuster, I look forward to settling into my role as that crank who says his idea was stolen and never saw a red cent for it.


BillCinSD 01.18.11 at 12:30 am


Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss has been dead for 155 years, so he probably hasn’t copulated much lately. Probably has been coprolited more recently than copulated


JGabriel 01.18.11 at 1:34 am

Real Business Cycle Theory can be represented by a zombie on a Schwinn with a broken chain, trying to push a boulder uphill.

Although I suppose one could argue that, for a zombie story, it would be sufficient to represent RBE with Ed Prescott doing … anything.



vivian 01.18.11 at 2:53 am

If everyone turns out to be you (time travelling) then you’d be riffing off Heinlein as well as Stross…


Charles St. Pierre 01.18.11 at 5:43 am

A zombie forclosure…any one of three ways.
Ha, the more I think about it, the more I think everybody’s part can be played by a zombie, although I’d like to think those on the Right would be especially decomposed.
A zombie Congress should be entertaining, as they debate what to do about the onslaught of zombies.
But maybe I’m not being allegorical enough.
Anyway, it’s always fun when zombies lose body parts.


bjkeefe 01.18.11 at 9:10 am

Link fix for vivian (#14): Heinlein

That is:


(Unless my links gets eated by the same URL truncating zombie hers did.)


bjkeefe 01.18.11 at 9:12 am

Also, will this movie have a Laffer track?


Alex 01.18.11 at 10:47 am

You thought the final cut of Black Swan was unfaithful to Taleb’s book, but it’s nothing like as bad as the treatment they had for a while in development that set it in the North Atlantic in 1942, with Natalie Portman as a pro-Nazi mermaid.


Akshay 01.18.11 at 11:38 am

I suggest that the President of the United States lead a heroic battle against the zombies, in Independence Day/Air Force One style. And then…Surprise Twist…ZOMG! HE’S A ZOMBIE HIMSELF!!!


Russell Arben Fox 01.18.11 at 12:38 pm

Will this movie have a Laffer track?

Awesome! Bjkeefe wins.


Bloix 01.18.11 at 1:14 pm

You may remember that Berube’s What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? was rewritten as a graphic novel. If you’re trying to get to Hollywood, a book-length comic strip would be a step in the right direction.


jackd 01.18.11 at 10:49 pm

The PowerPoint scene in The Jennifer Morgue was the funniest thing I’ve read in a novel in years, managing to simultaneously evoke Edward Tufte and Dave Barry. Stross’ Laundry novels are a bit like adding H. P. Lovecraft’s mythos to the TV show Chuck.


Glen Tomkins 01.20.11 at 1:41 am

I’m happy as long as I get to be Capital.


ben w 01.20.11 at 11:13 pm

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