The Coaseian Milkman

It is one of life’s joys when a new book turns up unexpectedly in the post, and last week Edge publishing kindly sent me one that on the face of it was a bit of a random choice. It’s  by Michael Martineck. Mysterious because it’s a science fiction novel set in a future dystopian America – specifically the Buffalo, New York area. Still, I’ve been travelling a lot and was glad of some light relief, and The Milkman turned out to be a page-turning read.

[amazon_image id=”1770530606″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Milkman: A Free World Novel[/amazon_image]

Besides, the publisher’s decision to send me the book became less mysterious as the pages turned. Not only does it feature an economist as one of the good guys (yessss!) but it has a highly topical set of economic issues at its core. The book asks what happens when the marketisation of public goods, and the globalisation of the world economy, is taken to its extreme? This dystopian world is run by three global mega-corps which have eliminated governments as highly inefficient. There is no guilt or innocence: simply a question of whether each person’s (sorry, asset’s) net present value to the corporation that owns him/her is positive or not. What is their future contribution to profit, how much will they cost to keep healthy, when will their value as a deterrent to other awkward customers exceed their value in their workplace? This is also a constantly online world – people are tied, and tracked, by smart watches. Public space, and public goods, have vanished. All the externalities have been internalised under the corporate umbrella.

So I won’t pretend it’s the most literary novel I’ve ever read, but I really enjoyed it. What’s not to love about a storyline that takes Ronald Coase seriously?

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