I just received news of a Kickstarter campaign to fund The Silent Night of the Living Dead Nativity Scene, which features Mary and Joseph protecting the baby Jesus from zombie wise men. What makes this Christmas prop especially interesting is that it reminds us of the disturbing fact that one of the world’s major religions is premised on the worship of an undead being.
Think about it: Jesus was a human being who died and then rose from the dead in an altered (spirit) form. No offense intended to Christians, but that is pretty much a textbook definition of “undead” — which, as any D&D player knows, encompasses not just vampires and zombies (the primary focus of Economics of the Undead) but also ghosts, spirits, liches, revenants, wraiths, and a host of other creatures both corporeal and incorporeal. The same D&D expert might also wonder whether Jesus’ undead status means that a high-level cleric (perhaps one of evil alignment) could turn him. (For the non-RPG players out there, “turning” basically means scaring away an undead creature by religious means.)
Jesus might also qualify as the first undead economist, inasmuch as he preached an economic philosophy of love and sharing — specifically, that his followers should sell all their possessions and then give away the money. That philosophy was heavily criticized by economist Frank Knight, who argued that Jesus’ gospel was essentially an “interim” set of rules meant to govern behavior for a very short time. The early Christians (at least some of them) believed that the Kingdom of God was literally nigh, meaning that any day now (circa 1 A.D.) the Rapture would occur and all scarcity would disappear, at least for the faithful. Thus, there was no danger in sharing, overusing, and running down supplies of scarce resources. But now we know that the Rapture wasn’t coming for at least a couple of thousand years and possibly more. Given that we could be waiting indefinitely, a different set of temporal rules might be appropriate for governing economic life in the meantime. For a summary of Knight’s work in this area, see Frank Knight and the Chicago School in American Economics (some of which you can read online in this Google books version; see p. 162).