Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Economics of Star Trek

Andrew Leonard notes, as some others have, that in the new Star Trek movie, young Vulcans are taught the meaning of "excludable" and "rival." I am delighted to see economics education thrive into the 23th century. I am, however, not surprised: After all, it is only logical.

Leonard suggests that the reference in the movie is a shout-out to Paul Romer's work. Maybe so, but that is less obvious to me. Paul certainly used the terms "excludable" and "rival" in his famous work on economic growth, and to great effect, but these terms predate Paul's work. Indeed, they are the standard terms that public finance economists have long used to distinguish private and public goods. Today at Harvard, most students first learn these words when studying the basics of public finance rather than the theory of long-run growth. I won't venture a guess about the Vulcan curriculum.

By the way, the Star Trek movie is a lot of fun.