Order, Coordination, and Collective Action among the Undead (co-authored with Alain Marciano)

1442235020In Economics of the Undead, edited by Glen WHitman and James Dow.

The post-zombie infection society seems to be one of total chaos, in which only humans appear to be capable of maintaining a form of order. This is what strikes us, at first sight, on seeeing thousands of zombies roaming towards a commercial mall in George A. Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead and its 2004 remake by Zack Snyder. But if we shift our point of view away from the humans and towards the zombies, we can easily see that in these accounts, as well as in many others, zombie flocks show characteristics of an unplanned order similar to those observed among cohorts of living beings crowding in a mall. Zombies brush against each other too without colliding often, almost never fighting each other, and never attempting to eat each other. Like humans, zombies follow implicit rules, too. Furthermore, as we will argue later, zombies are sometimes capable of engaging in forms of deliberate planning and purposeful collective action as well. Thus, like human societies, zombies societies exhibit more order that is commonly assumed; in particular, two levels of coordination—spontaneous order and deliberate organization—co-exist. First, we contend that, within large masses – or flocks – of zombies, coordination results from bottom-up, unplanned processes rather than from a top-down, constructed, commanded one. Order exists without a formal organization and rests on a limited set of simple rules of behavior, which have interesting survival properties for the zombie group. But, at this level, zombies cannot reach goals that go much beyond their primal instinct to eat living human flesh. These large masses of zombies cannot engage in forms of purposeful collective action, precisely because there is no organization. Among the living, collective action through organization occurs, for instance, within a firm that gathers many individuals and organizes the division of labor. We contend that deliberate organization also occurs within some zombie societies. But this only happens within groups that, like their human counterparts, follow the lead of an entrepreneur in order to achieve ambitious goals. Many contributions, such as Romero’s movies, confirm our analysis.


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