Confound it! The batteries are dead!

The Theory of Interstellar Trade

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I love movies, I would say it is one of my very favourite things to do in my pasttime. And just for  old times sake I decided to watch the movie “Alien” (and I will watch the next 3 movies also), and I remembered as I watched it that I once read a very fascinating paper about the theory of interstellar trade, written by Paul Krugman. Krugman is now an economic columnist for The New York Times. Hehehe.

Anyway, the reason I got to thinking about this article is that the story in “Alien” is about this mining ship called Nostromo that picks up an alien signal, and one thing leads to another and they end up having a killing machine alien in their ship. The thing is that this is a mining ship, carrying a lot of mineral ore, not travelling at the speed of light, going back to earth… Why is this wierd? Well… you have to presume that earth still needs mineral ore when they come back, after thousands of years (or perhaps hundreds?). They do not take into account that they might have found something else, have some kind of crazy new technology or anything like that. There is a flaw in the basic story of the movie, because interstellar trade, or getting minerals from a far away place in space, is simply not economically profitable, if anything changes “back home” at Earth.

So here is the link to Krugmans article. It really is a wonderful piece of work, and I both had a good laugh and something of a epifany when I read it. It is very recommended to read it. Here is the abstract of the article:

This paper extends interplanetary trade theory to an interstellar setting. It is chiefly concerned with the following question: how should interest charges on goods in transit be computed when the goods travel at close to the speed of light? This is a problem because the time taken in transit will appear less to an observer travelling with the goods than the stationary observer. A solution is derived from economic theory, and two useless but true theorems are proved.

Its a fifteen page paper, including front page and references, written on a charming typewriter. Quite wonderful if you ask me.

Oh, and by the way: The technology in the Alien movies is simply wonderfully large and blinky. I love it!


Written by Aslak

January 9, 2009 at 12:38

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