[Yet another false start.]
Studying economics is not like studying physics.
In physics, we can start with things we see and work directly with -- the angle of a shadow on sand, water pulling on an oar, a rubber dinghy floating in the sea, an airplane gliding through the air.
Even the moderately complex chemical reactions that are the regular controlled explosions of fuel in an airplane engine are quite repeatable. (And so are the effects of running out of fuel.)
With economics, nothing is static.
Sure, we have money. But money is a contrived proxy for value, and is not constant over time, or even from person to person. So we need to simplify our basic models to make them understandable.
The simplest economic system I can think of is one person on a desert island. Of course, one person alone is only interesting for a little while.
"Your thesis plan looks good, but you'll need to do some on-location research." Professor MacVittie was helping Karel Pratt review his plans for his doctoral studies at Orson Hyde University.
Karel nodded. "I guess I should mention it in the proposal. Should I revise the plan to say something about needing the fieldwork, but not yet knowing when and where?"
The Professor nodded in agreement. "Well, you could. But I think you know enough already to name some specific islands as possibilities."
Karel scratched thoughtfully behind his ear. "I guess I can say I'm looking at a few locations, but don't know which, yet, ..."
"Sure. Why don't you think about that." The professor hesitated before changing the subject. "Say, do you know a Roberta Whitmer?"
"Roberta ... ?" Karel was surprised. "No, not really."
The professor thought he might have seen something unsaid behind Karel's eyes, but it was gone before he could be sure.
"Well, I think I may have met her once. She calls herself Bobbie, right?"
"And she's a pre-PhD student in the anthropology program, too?"
"Yes, that would be her."
"Her thesis seems like it could complement yours. Professor White and I were thinking you might want to talk with her."
The professor still couldn't read Karel's reactions.
"Just a suggestion, of course, but it often helps to have someone you can work with."
"Mmm," Karel grunted, then nodded somewhat absently. "I'll look her up and talk with her and see."
"You two never seem to get together anywhere but in my office."
"We meet at the library, too." Bobbie looked a little taken aback.
"Once a month?"
"Twice a week for our study groups," Karel said.
Bobbie added, "We often eat together in the dorm cafeteria and talk about our theses and stuff."
"Was my suggestion about backing each other up during the fieldwork phase a bad suggestion?"
"No." Karel shook his head. "It's a great idea. We're working together on the schedule and the plans for traveling. But we find our theses different enough that we really don't have that much to coordinate besides the time we'll be in the islands and the flight schedule and such." He shrugged.
"We went to the airport to find the closest flights," Bobbie ventured, "... together. Talked about preparations for the trip on the way."
Karel continued. "And we've been working together on the itinerary. We contacted some travel agencies, ..."
"My suggestion." Bobbie interjected.
"... but no one really handles what we need. So we contacted the consulate and got names of some charter companies and independent pilots to talk to."
"The travel agents kept asking us if this is our honeymoon. Silly people." Bobbie grinned.
"Not so silly if they've never met you two. Okay, so you're ahead of me on setting up your plans."
"Not really," said Karel. "We needed to talk with you about the flight information we've found so far, and we would definitely appreciate it if we could have you check our travel plans over. Which is why we are here, now."
Ultimately, the faculty, Bobbie, Karel, and Sister MacVittie decided it would be best for Professor MacVittie to accompany them for the first two weeks. That way he could help them solve the early problems. He could also make contacts in the islands for the university.
Sister MacVittie was especially excited to go along, and to take their youngest son, who was preparing to go on a proselyting mission for their church.
(If you are wondering, the university is a Church-sponsored school, but Sister MacVittie is not a nun. She is Professor MacVittie's wife. In the beliefs of their church, God is the Progenitor, the Parent of all people, so everyone in the Church is called brother or sister.
Their son's mission? Yes, E-P-ism is a proselyting religion.
Names? I'm translating the names mostly by meaning and parallels in their history rather than sound. But some of the names do sound similar, Bobbie's and Karel's, in particular.)
Bobbie and Karel chose four islands in an island country where they could both do fieldwork, and they extended their planned schedule to allow a month on each of the islands. They wanted to give themselves time to find opportunities for volunteer service work, in the expectation that the service work would help them get to know the islanders and their culture better. Good relationships with the islanders would be essential for obtaining meaningful research results.
And things went quite well for the four months they were in the islands doing their research, but we are not interested in those details in this novel. If this were an ordinary novel, we would be interested, but it's just the framing story for our thought experiments.
And I told you this was a novel, right?
Well, it is -- something like a novel, anyway.
As I say, when trying to decipher the physical laws of the universe, we find it easier to start with a simplified model. For example, when describing the flight of a thrown football or papaya, we start by ignoring air friction, and wind, and the way it tumbles in the wind. That makes the math simple enough for one person to handle without a computer in many cases. And the calculated results are generally close enough to the actual flight.
Economics is not as easily simplified as physics.
But we can still simplify.
In economics, we deal with complex interactions and abstract interactants. Some of the elements are fairly straightforward, like food, fuel, and housing. Some, like value, are so abstract that we can't even safely define them once and expect them not to change while we are trying to observe them.
With only two people, maybe we can do away with money. Value systems can be simplified. And we can focus more easily on the bargaining processes, and on what they exchange.
Complex mathematics looks a lot like literature, abstract mathematics even more so. So, I'm taking a hint from the math, and making a small logical leap, as well, and constructing this informal thesis on the fundamentals of economics as a set of thought experiments in the form of a novel -- but a slightly unusual novel.
So we will ignore the work they did on the islands for the time being and concentrate on getting our laboratory prepared.
A good simulation game always has a good framing story, so we need a framing story to get them onto the island that will be our laboratory.
And we'll need an uncharted, uninhabited island for the story. Such islands no longer exist. That is, Google took the final steps to eliminating uncharted islands when they introduced their map service.
So I wanted to set the framing story about fifty or so years ago, when uninhabited islands still seemed like they might stay undiscovered for a while. Then I found that some of the simulations became too tangled up in history, so I ended up having to move the story to a different world, far, far away.
I'll tell you about that world as we go. It's kind of like ours in a lot of ways ... .
How we get to that world and back to tell the tale, in this universe limited by the speed of light, is a topic I won't address in this novel. (Maybe some day?)
So, where things get interesting for us again is towards the end of the last month, in the small airport on the main island, in the small borrowed room that Wycliffe and Zedidiah, the charter pilots who had taken them from island to island, used for an office.
Wycliffe sat on the desk they shared and picked up the scratch paper they were using that month to write their schedule on. "Hey, Zed. Look what we got this week."
Zedidiah looked up. "Yeah, I see that. Them two grad students from that Apist school. Come to study ant rope loggies -- native cull-chewer and all that. And do busybody serve ice pro jets. Straight as two rulers. Even the natives are laughing behind their backs."
(Anthropology, culture, and service projects, of course, but that's roughly how it would have sounded to us had Zedidiah been joking in English. Oh, and E-P-ist.)
"Yeah," agreed Wycliffe. "You know, I think they need help studying natural island nature, way up close. And help seeing just how Apist they are. And help growing up."
"Heh heh. Hey. Wait. They're paying passengers. Don't do anything stupid on me, okay? Just fly in and get them and fly them back here."
"What, me? Would I deliberately sabotage my own plane to strand them on a desert island and test their morals?"
"Depends on how drunk you've been this week."
"Okay, that does it. I own half that plane. I'm flying this one."
"Seven hour flight? The longest you've flown is two and a half hours, and you almost got lost that time. And you accuse me of plotting to strand them."
"That wasn't my fault. Sudden storm."
"Naw, I'm just kidding around. I'll bring them back safe and sound."
I really hate to tell stories about bad people.
But Wycliffe really wasn't a bad person, just a little mixed up. He had been himself converted to E-P-ism at some point, in love with a good E-P-ist woman. And maybe she was insecure. Or maybe she just didn't realize what a great guy he was. Or maybe she just knew she wasn't strong enough to be his wife, in particular. Anyway, she ditched him.
And that was part of the reason he was in the islands, trying to escape from himself and his memories, blaming the E-P religion for his sorrows.
E-P? Perhaps I should explain a little about that?
It's an abbreviation of "Eyeni Phuel," but the "ph" is an aspirated bilabial plosive, not a labiodental fricative.
Interestingly, the archaic meaning of "Eyeni" is "progress", and "Phuel" is "eternal" or "eternally". That was the name of the ancient prophet who put their book of scripture together, and it was the name of the book he compiled. And it was one of the prominent features of their theology.
It's a complete coincidence that "E-P" seems to stand for "Eternal Progression" in our English, and it begs the question of what the language Karel and Bobbie speaks really looks and sounds like. But I will dodge that question for the present.
About two hours after picking our two heroes up, already way off his flight plan, Wycliffe started deliberately running the engine lean.
Karel listened to the sound of the engine. "What's wrong?" he asked. "It sounds a little irregular."
Bobbie was also concerned. "Sounds like it's missing a stroke every now and then. Maybe vapor in the fuel lines?"
Wycliffe shook his head. He was a little worried by how much they seemed to understand engines, but he hid his concern. "No problem. Sometimes engines get finicky."
"Are we in trouble?"
"Well, if we have to ditch in the water, I do pack a dinghy. But my baby'll be okay." And he ran the mixture back to normal when he thought they weren't watching.
About a half hour later, in a lull in the conversation, he asked, "Well, you know something? I was bettin' my partner that you two would be, like, an item by this time. I guess I lost?"
Bobbie muttered a few expressions of disgust. Then she said, "Everyone seems to think that a single woman and a single man who work okay together and get to be good friends should be romantically involved with each other. You don't have to get married to everyone you love, you know."
"You love each other?"
Karel nodded. "Like brother and sister. We believe we are, by the way, because of our religion, if not just by being human."
"Well, what have you got against each other?"
Bobbie answered, "Nothing in particular. But we don't want to spend all of our evenings the rest of our lives talking shop at home." Maybe she wasn't being totally up front, but she didn't think her relationship with Karel was any of Wycliffe's concern.
Karel added, "Professional interests can sometimes get in the way of other kinds of interests."
"Okay, so you don't want to be arguing about work at home. I guess I could see how that wouldn't necessarily be too great."
Again, when he thought they weren't paying attention, he leaned out the fuel mixture and pretended to nurse the engine. "C'mon baby keep with us." Then he returned the fuel mix to normal.
"There you go," he said as the engine's rhythm restored itself. And, turning back to his passengers, "So, this wonderful, romantic view up here is just wasted on you two?
Bobbie looked out her window at the sky and the ocean. "I wouldn't say that. The ocean's beautiful." Then she checked the hinges on the door and opened it, leaning out into the wind.
"Hey! Careful!" Wycliffe cautioned her as he adjusted rudder and flaps for the increased drag on Bobbie's side.
Karel reached over casually and took her inside hand, and Bobbie used his weight to lean farther out so she could look at the sky above them, her hair streaming back in the wind. The open door protected her in part from the wind, but the drag made for a rough ride.
Bobbie looked up at the sky, then pulled herself back in, with a little help from Karel, and shut the door. "Nice breeze."
Karel rolled his eyes and shook his head, smiling a little lopsidedly.
"And the nether moon high in this late morning sky is just a tad romantic, too," she added.
Wycliffe laughed. "Remind me not to let you pilot my plane. Do you two have a stunt act or something?"
Karel laughed, too. "That would be fun."
"You know, romance is about adventure. There are many kinds of adventure other than getting married kinds of adventure," and Bobbie emphasized the next words, "adventures that people who are just friends can share."
Wycliffe almost found himself persuaded, but he was too far off the flight path and into his own plan to back out -- gone too far to back up and admit to them that he was taking them away from their destination, or to admit to himself why it was wrong.
He was repeating the game with the engine as a desert island came into view over the horizon.
"Maybe we'd better put down on that island and look at the engine."
Put yourselves in Karel's and Bobbie's shoes. What would you have them do? Pray?
Of course pray.
But how were they supposed to know that Wycliffe was planning to leave them on an uninhabited island for a few days?
Well, both of them prayed in their hearts, but God, for some reason, didn't tell them one way or another.
Karel looked at Bobbie and she nodded. "Well, if that's the safest route, then go ahead," he said. "Maybe we can help with the engine."
"Do you know anything about engines?" Wycliffe wondered whether they were onto his game.
"I know a little about car engines. But at least I can use a wrench or hold things for you or something. Bobbie is no stranger to engines, either."
"Actually, I'm certified to fly. I should have mentioned that earlier, but sea flight is not something I've done much yet. I do a lot of the maintenance for my dad's plane, too, but it has a different kind of engine. I'm not as familiar with radials." She stopped to listen to the engine again. "It does sound like something is making it run lean. Let's put it down."
So Wycliffe landed the plane on the beach and radioed Zedidiah and told him they were on an island they were not on, several hundred miles away.
Miles? Hours? You'll pardon a little bit of rough translation here, I hope.
An hour for them is about ninety minutes for us, to the extent that we can compare the entropic rates there and here meaningfully. Sixteen hours in a day, sixteen gohbu in an hour, sixteen bunmu in a gohbu. Got that?
And I guess it would be less confusing not to say "hour". Sixteen gohbu in a chippu, sixteen chippu in a day.
A rhip is the distance an adult can walk in a gohbu, a little less than half a kilometer if we could compare distances. Sixteen rhip are a derhip, and sixteen derhip are a sederhip. So a healthy man or woman can, on average, walk one derhip in a chippu.
In case you didn't notice, their numbering system is base sixteen. So when I say several hundred miles, it means several 100sixteen rhip -- several sederhip. That's close to several 100ten miles, isn't it?
Sorry, it is what it is. What can I say?
To get at the tools, they had to unload the luggage and the emergency supplies.
After about a half a chippu of fiddling with the engine, Wycliffe said, "I need to take her up and see how she's running. It'll take me about two gohbu of circling the island, and if there aren't any problems, we can fly on."
They both volunteered to help with the test flight, but Wycliffe made an excuse about needing the plane to be light. Once up, he circled twice, brought the airplane down as if to land, and then shouted out at them, "I'll be back when you two have had a chance to grow up!" and flew out.
Neither Karel nor Bobbie heard what he said over the engine noise. So they sat on the beach, said a prayer together for Wycliffe, for the airplane, for themselves, and for getting home, and waited for him to come back.
Now, as I say, I'm just setting up this simplified experiment in economics. If this were a regular novel, we would want to know why Wycliffe never came back.
In fact, there are many things we would want to know, if this were an ordinary novel, ...
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[Extracted and reconstructed from the partial 3rd draft, here and here 20170619.]
[In the 1st draft.]
[In the 2nd draft.]
[Earlier trashed version rfq3.]