Economics with dystopian worlds

By Benjamin Roehlke, Staff Writer 

Titles like Divergent and The Hunger Games have become household names but for Brian O’Roark, they are much more than that.

On Monday, Jan. 29 Susquehanna hosted O’Roark, who holds his doctorate in economics and philosophy, to speak to students about economics, but more specifically how economics tie into dystopia through recent novels.

The lecture titled “Economics Lessons from The Hunger Games, Divergent, and other Dystopian Novels” took place at 7:30 p.m. in Issac’s Auditorium. O’Roark is a professor at Robert Morris University, and has past teaching experience at James Maddison where he was a lecturer for four years.

The lecture focused on the recent popularity of books such as The Hunger games, wherein society has collapsed and the make shift authority that remains rules over those in lower classes.

To begin his lecture, O’Roark described dystopian fiction as a category in which our world has been altered fundamentally and turned into the opposite of an ideal society. He said that some of the books that fall into this category are: Maze Runner, Brave New World, Divergent, The Walking dead, and the Hunger Games Series. After giving a brief definition of dystopian fiction, he mentioned various elements that almost all dystopian novels contain.

Specifically, O’Roark said that the way in which society deals with scarcity in their everyday lives is a key component. This ties along with the element of choice that people make within these novels, due to the fact that “choices are economic in nature”.

O’Roark said that choices tie in with the division of labor and specialization, sustainability, and the struggle between markets and government failure.

He related this to our lives today, in which EpiPen prices are rising, causing government to step in and therefore causing various effect to stem from the greed of some pharmaceutical officials.

O’Roark then spoke on the synopsis for various dystopian novels.

He spoke about his analysis of a few novels including Brave New World and Clockwork Orange, outlining that extreme mind control is used within the book to constrain behavior.

He continued that in the Brave New World, a new drug is then introduced to keep society from realizing the issues that they see every day. This lead to the argument: is evil better than forced good?

The third novel he spoke of the Hunger Games series. This well-known series highlights the struggle in dystopian fiction about making choices which in economics translates to opportunity cost.

The main character Katniss has to choose between her sister and the games, two different love interests, and her own survival vs the betterment of society. He discussed that only political leaders have a slight amount of power, and that even the rich are poor.

Throughout the games he related Katniss and her skills to economic principles such as her use of incentives and game theory. O’Roark highlighted that many aspects of successful economics and development are missing in the hunger games universe such as labor mobility, efficient use of resources, voluntary trade, growth promoting institutions, and corrupt justice with no property rights due to the dictatorship.

O’Roark described successful economic systems by having the answers to three questions: What do you need to produce? How can you produce it? And For whom are these things produced? O’Roark said that “these novels have command economies”, and sometimes that is directed by a clear cultural government, other times its societies choice.

O’Roark concluded by highlighting that many of these novels featured oppression or free speech and dissent, market failures, and government failures, and that we can often learn a lot from such dystopian novels. Attendee junior Luke Rivera said, “I thought it was an interesting way to apply economic principles to such a mainstream topic.”

Economics presentations happen frequently on campus and are offered for both the Spring and Fall semesters. For more information about the study of economics or if a student is interested in learning more about economics, please visit the Sigmund Weis Business School’s web page.

Faculty information is listed on the web page and can answer questions about the presentation and about economics.

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