Suppose one day the dead arise and come plodding through the streets, driven by a ghastly, inexplicable compulsion to devour the flesh of the living. Those bitten by these walking corpses soon become mindless, ravenous cannibals themselves.
Government fails to contain the plague. Survivors frantically arm themselves, overrun houses or take refuge in shopping malls, attempting to hold off the besieging army of ghouls.
The social order collapses. Anarchy and horror reign.
An awful (and unlikely, we’d hope) possibility. But, just in case, did anyone ask if this gloomy scenario might impact our global economy?
Scott Gustafson is convinced it would, however that’s not why he’s thinking about it. An Economics teacher at Mesa Community College, Gustafson can’t help but be aware of his students’ latest crazes, in this case a seeming fascination with the living dead.
Always looking for a way to shed light on a subject that otherwise might be considered, well, deadly boring, Gustafson brought in his own private corps of the living dead.
Inventing a fictional “zombie apocalypse” to explore the very real subject of modern-day economics, Gustafson digs up some long-buried theories about what might occur should the dead lurch back into our lives.
“I would expect that several things will happen, probably in sequence,” says Gustafson. “There will be a run on banks as everyone goes to cash. Most retail sales will fall precipitously with a few notable exceptions—drugs, guns and ammo. Inventories will build up, production will fall and we’ll have a recession.”
“Fiscal and monetary policy will probably include a zombie stimulus. Corporate profits will fall, causing a fall in the Dow. Interest rates will go down; bond prices will rise. Later on inflation will take hold, making investments in real assets much more valuable than financial assets.”
Despite the dubious likelihood of them actually arriving, zombies seem to top the list of college students’ latest fascinations and, therefore, provide a perfect medium for teaching virtually any subject.
If zombies and Economics share space on your current list of priorities, you can check out Gustafson’s lecture, “Economics and the Zombie Apocalypse,” at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 31, at MCC.
He kicks off the program with “Preparedness is Survival,” a daylong seminar on “the Impending Zombie Apocalypse” at both the Southern and Dobson campus and the Red Mountain campus, with all events available live at one location and via streaming video at the other. Go to www.mc.maricopa.edu for details.
“I’ll have a look at both monetary and fiscal policy during my talk,” says Gustafson. “My approach is to take a description of a zombie attack and then use my knowledge of economics to predict the expected consequences.”
To ensure that his Oct. 31 workshop will contain enough valuable information, Gustafson digs deep into his speculative storehouse.
“To the extent that there is enough of the population remaining after an attack, paper money would still have value. Once the population dwindles too far, money loses its value and the economy will revert to barter.
“However, another type of money will emerge quickly.”
Again, his conjecture isn’t without historical basis. “With the Black Death in the Middle Ages, we saw inflation, but money was still used.”
According to Gustafson, there have been a number of “real-world disasters” that line up well with a zombie apocalypse. In addition to the Black Death, the 1918 flu epidemic, and various natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes.
“Peoples’ reactions in the run up to an impending disaster, as well as their behavior during and in the aftermath, give us an excellent indication of what would happen with a zombie apocalypse.”
Finally, if Econ isn’t your bag, the seminar includes talks from faculty members in Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science on subjects ranging from the cultural roots of zombies to the hypothetical Civil Defense response should they show up at your front door one day.
Zombies’ relevance to today’s society has grown in recent years, and the MCC event bespeaks the extraordinary popularity the living dead are enjoying in films, TV shows, video games and books.
What is it that has made the hungry undead so dominant in contemporary horror fiction?
“Most of the traditional horrific creatures come with a lot of baggage,” suggests Dr. Craig Jacobsen of MCC’s English Department, also a scheduled Zombie Apocalypse presenter.
“Vampires are seductive and manipulative, and werewolves are brutal and animalistic, but zombies are a blank slate.
“They are human beings with their humanity erased. They look like us on the outside—notice how often zombie filmmakers use costume to show us who the zombie once was—but they’ve been hollowed out.
“So they’re easy to imprint a metaphor onto. They can stand in for our fear of disease, they can be a metaphor for race, or class, or pretty much anything you want. I think that makes them very attractive to authors, filmmakers and game designers.”
Jacobsen, whose lecture “In the Head: The Appeal of Zombie Narratives” is offered at 2 p.m., also notes “…the strong connection between zombies and social class. So, in the first zombie movie, White Zombie, in the 1930s, zombies exist primarily as slave labor.
“Fast-forward 70 years, and Shaun of the Dead makes a joke out of how much the zombies resemble people shuffling through their working-class lives.”
One final note: According to a flyer announcing the event, it’s strictly BYOB: Bring Your Own Brain.