The Strain and Vampiric Communism

July 13th will see the premiere of yet another vampire TV show: Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain on FX. I haven’t read the books on which the series is based, but going by the Wikipedia page, The Strain marks a sharp departure from the modern trend of handsome, charming, almost-human vampires that young ladies will swoon for – and a return to the vampire as a creature of horror. I guess most of my tips on mating and dating vampires (chapters 1 and 2 of Economics of the Undead) will prove useless here.

Moreover, since The Strain also treats vampirism as a kind of contagion that spreads rapidly in the population, this show may have more in common with recent zombie tales than with your usual vampire story. The problem for the human population is obvious: how to avoid an epidemic and mass conversion. What’s less obvious is that the vampires, too, face a problem. A virus that infects and kills (or in this case, converts) too quickly, without allowing the prey population to replenish itself, will sow the seeds of its own extinction. We might, therefore, expect the virus to evolve into a less virulent form – a possibility explored in a chapter by Kyle Bishop, David Tufte, and Mary Jo Tufte (“What Comes Next? Endgames of the Zombie Apocalypse”), as well as a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic strip. To the extent that the vampires are thinking creatures who can apprehend their situation, they may devise deliberate strategies to avoid overfeeding; for more on that, see my chapter entitled, “Tragedy of the Blood Common: The Case for Privatizing the Humans.”

The Strain Wikipedia page (again, my only source) also indicates that Strain vampires share a form of hive mind with the Ancient from whom they are “descended” as well as all other vampires of the same line. This raises an economic question that doesn’t arise in Economics of the Undead: could central planning work better for the undead than for humans?

There is fairly broad (though not universal) agreement among economists that central planning fails in human societies, like the USSR and Maoist China, for two primary reasons. First, humans lack the incentive to follow the dictates of a central planner, preferring instead to pursue their own interest as they see it. Second, central planners don’t have access to the local and often tacit knowledge of economic circumstances (preferences, resource availabilities, and technologies) that is dispersed among thousands of people. The price-and-profit signals of a decentralized market society help to solve these twin problems. But both problems might fade away in the context of a vampire hive mind; all the knowledge of the hive is automatically shared via telepathic link, and all incentive problems vanish in the face of mind control by the Ancient in charge. As a result, the community of vampires descended from one Ancient might become a successful communist society, just like a bee hive or ant hill.

However, the Wikipedia entry also implies (without saying outright) that each Ancient’s hive mind is separate from every other Ancient’s hive mind. If so, and if there are enough Ancients alive and trying to interact with each other, then the community of Ancients might need to rely on a decentralized market to coordinate their activities after all.

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