The economics of the walking dead

The Walking Deadenomics

For those few people who are loving season 7 of AMCs The Walking Dead and also love business and economics, this article is for you. Don't worry, I'll keep the spoilers to a minimum!

As a brief catch up for those who haven't watched The Walking Dead, firstly, start watching! It's brilliant. Second, in essence the world is taken over by zombies and the series follows a band of survivors trying to struggle to survive in a world where the zombies aren't the only danger.

I've been a religious watcher of The Walking Dead series ever since it first came out back when I was in University studying for my Economics degree. Whilst watching, it struck me how interesting the economy of the Walking Dead world is and what we can learn from it.

The Walking Dead barter economy

Even after watching only a couple of episodes of The Walking Dead it becomes immediately clear that money no longer exists. The post apocalyptic world has entered the barter economy. We never see even one coin or note, let alone a bank card. Possessions are what's key and trading them is how our heroes survive and thrive.

In the barter economy of The Walking Dead world the value of tradeable items appears to be based on usage rather than on its scarcity value as Adam Smithian economics would ordinarily argue. For example, diamond despite their rarity in this world are worthless when compared to the survival concerns of our group. Value is found in food, clean water, and guns. We regularly see groups trading for food in The Walking Dead.

Shelter from the dead

An additional rare commodity appears to be shelter and safety. Often we see groups joining other groups for the safety of their shelter, whether it be in a Prison, or a fortified town such as Alexandria. There is always a form of payment from any new settlers to a town. Skills such as engineering to build walls, ability to handle weapons, or grow food are highly valued. It is skills such as these that are exchanged in return for the shelter.

In the latest series (spoilers to a minimum!) we see one character with the ability to fight with a stick being asked to instruct a member of a different town in the art of fighting with a stick. This demonstrates the value in this world - trading of necessities for other necessities or else for a skill.

Export and import 

In a world full of zombies there isn't a rush to leave ones own defensive barriers. Settlements tend to try to be as self sufficient as possible. However in the last series or two we've seen that this hasn't been enough. There has been interaction between separate towns in terms of trade.

Commerce is born when different economies specialise in certain goods or services. In season 6 of The Walking Dead we even see a whole settlement that exists as a central market place for trade. In another instance one group who has managed to cultivate produce is in desperate need of medical supplies. They find another settlement that is able to provide the medication in return for large quantities of produce. The farming group have a comparative advantage in the production of food but lack the medication - they are willing and able to pay for the goods that they need in large quantities. They are required to pay such a large amount of food for a small amount of medication due to the town with the medicine already having ample food. To them, additional food wasn't worth a lot. Hence, the price of medical supplies being so high when food is plentiful.

The Growing Dead

One of the interesting aspects about the entire series is how wandering travellers with absolutely nothing build themselves up. In season 3 we witness our group arriving at a Prison. They have very little when they arrive. Over time however, they are able to cultivate land in order to produce. Their economy grows as the place becomes more liveable. 

There are only two ways to grow an economy, either through productivity improvements via still, intuition, knowledge and technology or through population growth. We witness many times when an individual has come up with an idea of how to grow extra food or expand the cultivating space. In addition, new population means more hands to work, guard or farm.

Concluding the walking dead 

The world of The Walking Dead is a harsh one but after the initial shock of the viral outbreak the survivors are building up their economies again. Unfortunately the zombies are a recession waiting to happen.

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