Heinlein The Economist

amzolt

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This may have been covered but.........

I have a friend who adores Heinlein (I think he's damned good...).

We've had extended discussions where my friend makes it very obvious he's using Heinlein as his economics expert.

I know Heinlein wrote about economics and featured it a bit but what are some of your opinions on his ideas about economics?
 

jojajihisc

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From what I've read about him and seen reflected a little bit in his stories is that he was, like several other science fiction writers, a proponent of libertarian ideology and free markets.
 

amzolt

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From what I've read about him and seen reflected a little bit in his stories is that he was, like several other science fiction writers, a proponent of libertarian ideology and free markets.
That's what I gathered from my friend (my memory of the economic aspects of his work have escaped my brain).

One specific I remember my friend touting was a "guaranteed wage" (probably not the exact term)--everyone receiving at least what's needed for the basics of life...
 

manephelien

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Can't say I remember reading any such book, but then I've basically scratched the surface of the future history series (Lazarus Long directly or indirectly). Don't confuse social liberalism with fiscal libertarianism. Heinlein seems to idealize pioneer societies where life is pretty much sink or swim with no social security network whatsoever.
 

iansales

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I suspect anybody who uses a science fiction author as an "economics expert" probably knows very little about economics...
 

Fried Egg

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That's what I gathered from my friend (my memory of the economic aspects of his work have escaped my brain).

One specific I remember my friend touting was a "guaranteed wage" (probably not the exact term)--everyone receiving at least what's needed for the basics of life...
Well, any concept of a "guaranteed wage" is quite at odds with anything a free market advocate would advocate.

From the few Heinlein books I've read, I haven't encountered anything that would indicate his economic views.
manephelien said:
Can't say I remember reading any such book, but then I've basically scratched the surface of the future history series (Lazarus Long directly or indirectly). Don't confuse social liberalism with fiscal libertarianism. Heinlein seems to idealize pioneer societies where life is pretty much sink or swim with no social security network whatsoever.
That isn't really an economic position, more a social position.

If anyone knows a book where he talks about the economic aspects of the story, I would greatly appreciate knowing the title as I always find that fascinating (economics being one of my pet interests) but I usually find that SF writers tend to be (across the spectrum) quite naive when it comes to that subject.
 

amzolt

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I suspect anybody who uses a science fiction author as an "economics expert" probably knows very little about economics...
Not knowing a whole lot myself, I'm no judge of my friends knowledge, though he did expound it with great fervor and seemed to give it as much credence based on Heinlein's reputation as on its economic merits...
 

amzolt

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If anyone knows a book where he talks about the economic aspects of the story, I would greatly appreciate knowing the title as I always find that fascinating (economics being one of my pet interests) but I usually find that SF writers tend to be (across the spectrum) quite naive when it comes to that subject.
Finally reached my friend and he told me the book was the first Heinlein wrote which wasn't published till after his death, "For Us The Living". The book has an appendix with rules for a game to try out and learn various economic practices.

The theory Heinlein referenced was called "Social Credit" and was devised by Clifford Hugh Douglas.

From the Wikipedia article entitled Social Credit:

"Robert A. Heinlein described a Social Credit economy in his first novel, For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs, and his Beyond This Horizon describes a similar system in less detail. In Heinlein's future society, government is not funded by taxation. Instead, government controls the currency and prevents inflation by providing a price rebate to participating business and a guaranteed income to every citizen."
 

The Judge

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It's more a social critique than an economic one, probably, but there's a short story** Logic of Empire which deals with slavery and its (apparent) inevitability in "any expanding free-enterprise economy which does not have a money system designed to fit its requirements". This is spoken by a character who is seen as a voice of reason and intelligence, so might well accord with Heinlein's own views. One of the other characters who contributes to a discussion is noted as being a former professor of economics and philosophy.

** though I see in Wikipedia it's called a novella. I've got it in the collection The Green Hills of Earth.
 

jojajihisc

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Don't confuse social liberalism with fiscal libertarianism.
Are those not the two basic elements of typical Libertarian ideology? Legalization of drugs, prostitution, abortion etc. combined with low (or no) taxes, laissez-faire economics, minimal government spending.
 

ghost8772

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well, I never noticed his stories including any real economic information, he did point out social interactions a lot. his "golden rule" in writing of:he who has the gold makes the rules. which was probably not made up by him, but used a bit more, seems to still apply. Of course some monologue in Starship Troopers about population pressure being the root of all wars... a number of those type digressions I've seen in his stories.
 

Fried Egg

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From what I've heard of Heinlein sounds far more authoritarian than libertarian. He sounds quite right wing in social policy (although not when it comes to traditional family values?) but quite left wing when it comes to economic policy.
 

Hober Mallow

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I'm reading SIASL. Have yet to read his other novels. My first impression is, he's fiscally conservative but social liberal and somewhat anti-religion. I've enjoyed reading works by authors with varying social, political and economic ideals but they don't influence my own.
 

J-Sun

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I think most would agree that SIASL is an atypical Heinlein novel in some ways. It's not an un-Heinlein novel, but generalizing from it could be hazardous. You might or might not change your post after reading everything, but it might have a different resonance, even if unchanged. Indeed, it's hazardous to generalize from all of his works, which are mostly fiction after all. :)
 

Fried Egg

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I spotted an interesting article (on a libertarian/capitalist website) asking: Was Robert A. Heinlein a Libertarian?

It concludes by saying that Libertarian ideas were only one set of ideas that he fooled around with among many others that were distinctly non-libertarian. "Moon is a Harsh Mistress" however is regarded as a libertarian novel.
 

Rand

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From what I've heard of Heinlein sounds far more authoritarian than libertarian. He sounds quite right wing in social policy (although not when it comes to traditional family values?) but quite left wing when it comes to economic policy.
Considering the amount of incest, both actual and implied, in his books, I'd say that's a given ;)

I think most would agree that SIASL is an atypical Heinlein novel in some ways. It's not an un-Heinlein novel, but generalizing from it could be hazardous. You might or might not change your post after reading everything, but it might have a different resonance, even if unchanged. Indeed, it's hazardous to generalize from all of his works, which are mostly fiction after all. :)
I'm curious about why you feel that way. I've read all his published fiction, and don't find Stranger to be atypical at all. I think it's more like a compilation of ideals he's touched on in various other stories.

Well, any concept of a "guaranteed wage" is quite at odds with anything a free market advocate would advocate.

From the few Heinlein books I've read, I haven't encountered anything that would indicate his economic views.
I would think his economic views are demonstrated through his social views. As others have mentioned, he does go pioneer a lot. In JOB his main character expressed the opinion that anyone who can't find work isn't trying, as he switched worlds and went from one dish washing job to the next. Lazarus Long also has no use for people not contributing to the social welfare, even while sneering at social systems in general.

The overriding viewpoint is, to me, work for it or don't get it. If you don't get enough, work more.

Then again, going by some of his character's opinions, he seems to think that anyone who can't perform post graduate level calculus in his head, while at the same time fighting off mortal enemies and preparing a gourmet meal, verges on being subhuman.
 

Fried Egg

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Rand
I would think his economic views are demonstrated through his social views. As others have mentioned, he does go pioneer a lot. In JOB his main character expressed the opinion that anyone who can't find work isn't trying, as he switched worlds and went from one dish washing job to the next. Lazarus Long also has no use for people not contributing to the social welfare, even while sneering at social systems in general.

The overriding viewpoint is, to me, work for it or don't get it. If you don't get enough, work more.
But that doesn't really tell you what economic theories he subscribed to or espoused.
 

J-Sun

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I think most would agree that SIASL is an atypical Heinlein novel in some ways. It's not an un-Heinlein novel, but generalizing from it could be hazardous. You might or might not change your post after reading everything, but it might have a different resonance, even if unchanged. Indeed, it's hazardous to generalize from all of his works, which are mostly fiction after all. :)
I'm curious about why you feel that way. I've read all his published fiction, and don't find Stranger to be atypical at all. I think it's more like a compilation of ideals he's touched on in various other stories.
I'll underscore again that it's not an un-Heinlein novel, just atypical in some ways. It's been a long time since I read it so apologies if I'm inaccurate but I seem to recall that it expresses its thematic elements in more spiritual alien fuzzy terms than is usual with Heinlein. It has that in it which led to the strange phenomenon of a Heinlein novel being embraced by the later 60s youth culture. It's hard to imagine that happening with other Heinlein books such as The Puppet Masters, Double Star, Space Cadet, Tunnel in the Sky, Starship Troopers, etc.

Maybe a better way to put it would be that it's a novel that got an atypical reaction and so it's possible for a reader new to Heinlein to also have an atypical reaction. And again, not that it would necessarily be an off-the-wall reaction - just that the resonance or flavor might be different if read by itself. So it would be good to read Heinlein more generally to get a broader view and that should be no trouble, as Heinlein definitely deserves to be read extensively.

-- And, actually, I just feel compelled to add that this was in the context of the thread. It's easy to get bogged down in philosophical aspects of Heinlein and lose sight of the most important thing: that he was a Damn Fine Writer, which is the main reason he deserves to be read extensively. And, from that view, it's also slightly atypical or premonitory of later Heinlein in that it's not as compact and direct as some of his other stuff. It's the first Heinlein novel after the 'annual Scribners juvenile with an occasional one on the side' era (which followed the Astounding era) and I think has a bit of reaction from that. So, with SIASL, I seem to recall enjoying it, but it was stylistically and structurally different.
 
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TheDustyZebra

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I would think his economic views are demonstrated through his social views. As others have mentioned, he does go pioneer a lot. In JOB his main character expressed the opinion that anyone who can't find work isn't trying, as he switched worlds and went from one dish washing job to the next. Lazarus Long also has no use for people not contributing to the social welfare, even while sneering at social systems in general.

The overriding viewpoint is, to me, work for it or don't get it. If you don't get enough, work more.
Hence what could be considered the summary of Heinlein's economic position, TANSTAAFL.
 
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