Economics 101, a Novel, ch_00 -- the Framing Story



(Or, Forewarned is forearmed. Uhm, Forward. I mean, Foreword.)

{JMR201609101750: Moved the link to the foreword for the abandoned almost-final draft to the bottom. }

When trying to decipher the physical laws of the universe, we find it easier to start with simplifications. For example, when describing the flight of a cannonball, we start by ignoring air friction and the wind. That makes the math simple enough for one person to handle without a computer in many cases.

Economics is not as easily simplified as physics. In physics, we can see the interactions, even if we don't directly see many of the interactants, like the wind or electricity.

Continuing with the cannonball example, gunpowder is not very simple, but we might use a catapult or trebuchet to launch the cannonball. We can see what happens, we can measure and time the acceleration paths, etc. And we can compare our results with the path and timing of a dropped cannonball or a cannonball rolling on a slope.

In economics, we deal with complex interactants and abstract interactions. Some of the elements are fairly straightforward, like food, fuel, and housing. Some, like value, are so abstract that we can't define them once and be sure they won't change. Some elements of economics, like money, are deceptive simplicities hiding complex and abstract qualities that play directly into the math.

We need simplifications to be able to work with economics, even with help from computers. But economic interactions are difficult to simplify.

Complex mathematics looks a lot like literature, abstract mathematics even more so.

So, I'll take a hint from the math and construct my informal thesis on the fundamentals of Economics as a set of thought experiments in the form of a novel.

I'll need a framing story. A good simulation game always has a good framing story, and this is a mental simulation game.

But uncharted, uninhabited islands no longer exist. Google took the final steps to taking care of that when they introduced their map service. So I have to set this framing story about 50 years ago, when uninhabited islands still seemed like they might stay undiscovered for a while. And I'll still need to set it in an slightly alternative history.

It was either that or talk about interstellar travel, and we know too much about that now, too.


There are things in human nature which really can't be properly discussed in literature for general audiences. (Recent efforts in popular literature to prove the principle wrong only serve to emphasize it.)
 Isolating humans, as this story does, makes it a bit more difficult to avoid talking about those things. In this story, I don't avoid those things.

I do think I try to avoid exploiting the ambiguities. But that means I come right out and talk about some things that some people are too young to deal with properly. Or maybe not too young, but not properly emotionally prepared today.

And some people will disagree with the way I present them, and/or the way I have the characters in the story behave in relation to those things.

If you are not up to reading some rather frank discussion of sexual matters, in particular, you might want to stop here. You can still read my other rants in my other blogs, some of which can be found on my main blog, here:

I will try to warn you in advance at the top of each chapter.

This framing story is entirely fiction. Any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.

So, here it is, complete with anachronisms and out-of-contexts:

[JMR201609101751: Moved the link to the abandoned almost-final draft of the framing story to the bottom, too. ]

Framing Story

"Your doctoral thesis plan looks good, but you'll need to do some on-location research."

Karel Pratt nodded his agreement. "I guess I should have said that? Should I revise the plan to say something about needing the research, but not yet knowing when and where?"

Professor MacVittie tilted his head. "Well, I think you know enough to be somewhat specific already. You can name several islands as possibilities, even."

Karel scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Sure, I can say I'm looking at a few locations, but don't know which, yet, I guess."

"Sounds reasonable." MacVittie paused. "Say, do you know Roberta Whitmer"?

"Not really. I think I've met her. She calls herself Bobbie, right? And she's in the anthropology program, too?"

"Yes. Her thesis seems like it might complement yours. You might want to talk with her. Just a suggestion, of course, but it often helps to have someone you can work with."

"Okay. I'll talk with her and see."

"You two never seem to get together anywhere but in my office."

"We meet at the library, too." Bobbie looked a little taken aback.

"Once a month?"

"Once a week."

"Was my suggestion about backing each other up during the on-location research phase a bad suggestion?"

"No. It's a great idea. We're working together on the plans. But our theses are different enough that we really don't have that much to talk over besides the schedule, flight plans, and such." Karel shrugged.

"We actually went to the airport together to find the closest planes." Bobbie said brightly.


"And We've we've written to some consulates and got gotten the names of some charter conpanies companies and some independents, too. And we've talked with travel agents who have put us in touch with people in New York who handle tours of our islands."


"People keep asking us if this is our honeymoon. Silly people." Bobbie grinned.

"Not so silly if they've never met you. Okay, so you're actually ahead of me."

"Not really," said Karel. "We needed to show you our results so far, and we would definitely appreciate it if we could have someone check them over. Which is why we are here, now."

In the end, the faculty and Sister MacVittie decided it was a good idea for Professor MacVittie to accompany them for the first two weeks, just to be safe. Sister MacVittie was especially excited to go along, and to take their youngest son, who was preparing to go on his mission.

(Sister MacVittie is Professor MacVittie's wife, if you are wondering. God is the Father of us all, so everyone in the Church is a brother or a sister.)

The schedule was lengthened to approximately a month on each of four islands so they could look for volunteer projects to get involved with. It was assumed that the volunteer project participation would help them collect more meaningful results in their research.

Things went well for the four months, and we are not interested in the details. If this were a normal novel, we would be interested, but it's just the framing story for our experiment.

Besides, I'd have to do more research, okay? The whole purpose of this story is to set up the simple economic system.

Where things get interesting for us again is towards the end of the last month, on the island they were scheduled to fly out from, in the office of Wycliffe and Zedidiah, the charter pilots who had taken them around from island to island.

Wycliffe looked at the schedule on his desk. "Hey, Zed. Look what we got here."

Zedidiah looked up. "Yeah, I saw that. Those two grad students from that Marmon school. Come to study ant rope loggies. Native culture and all that. And do busybody serve ice pro jets. Straight as two rulers. Even the natives are laughing behind their backs."

"Yeah," agreed Wye. "I think they need help studying natural island nature, way up close. And help seeing just how Marmon they are. And help growing up."


"Heh heh. Wait. Don't do anything stupid on me, okay.? Just fly in and get them and fly them back."


"What, me? Would I deliberately sabotage my own plane to strand them on a deserted island to test their morals?"

"Depends on how drunk you've been this week."

"Heh heh."

"Okay, that does it. I own half of that plane. I'm flying this one."

"Ten hour flight? The longest you've flown is [JMR201609111834: an hour four hours ] . And you accuse me of plotting to strand them. Naw, I'm just kidding around. I'll bring them back safe and sound."

I really hate to tell stories about bad people.

Now, Wycliffe really wasn't a bad person, just a little mixed up. He had been converted to Mormonism at some point, in love with a good Mormon woman. And maybe she was insecure, or maybe she just didn't realize what a great guy he was. Or maybe she knew she wasn't strong enough to be his wife, in particular. Anyway, she ditched him.

And that was part of the reason he was in the islands, trying to escape from himself, blaming the Mormon religion for his sorrows.

About three hours after picking our two heroes up, already way off the path of the flight plan, he started deliberately running the engine lean.

"What's wrong?" Karel asked.


Wycliffe shook his head. "Engine trouble, I guess. Sometimes engines get finnicky finicky."


"Are we in trouble?"

"Well, if we have to ditch in the water, I do pack a dinghy. But it should be okay." And he ran the mixture back to normal.

About an hour later, in a lull in the conversation, he asked, "Well, I was bettin' my partner that you two would be, like, an item by this time. I guess I lost?"

Bobbie made disgusted sounds. "Everyone seems to think that a single woman and a single man who work okay together and get to be good friends should jump into bed with each other. You don't have to get married to everyone you love."

"You love each other?"

Karel answered: "Like brother and sister. You know, in a sense, we are, because of our religion, if not just by being human."

"Well, what have you got against each other?"


Bobbie answered this., "We don't want to spend all of our evenings the rest of our lives talking shop at home."


Karel added, "Professional interests can sometimes get in the way of other kinds of interests, besides."

"Okay, you don't want to be arguing about work at home. I guess I could see how that wouldn't necessarily be so great."

Then he leaned out the engine again and pretended to nurse it. "C'mon baby keep with us." And returned the fuel mix to normal again.

"There you go." And, turning back to his passengers, "So, this wonderful, romantic view up here is just wasted on you two?

"I wouldn't say that. It's beautiful. And romantic. But you know, romance is about adventure. There are other kinds of adventure than sexual adventure. And some of those are adventures that friends can share."

Wycliffe almost found himself persuaded, but he was too far off the flight plan to back out. Too far into his plan to back up and an admit he was taking them away from their destination, and to admit to himself why it was wrong.


He repeated the game with the engine just as a deserted desert island came into view over the horizon.


"Maybe we'd better put down on that island and look at the engine."

Put yourselves in Karel's and Bobbie's shoes. What would you have them do? Pray? Of course pray. But how were they supposed to know that Wycliffe was planning to ditch them on a deserted island for a few days?

Well, both of them prayed in their hearts, but God, for some reason, didn't tell them one way or the other.

"Well, if that's the safest route, then go ahead," Karel said. "Maybe I can help with the engine."

"Do you know anything about engines?"

"I know a little about car engines. But at least I can use a wrench or hold things for you or something. Bobbie is no stranger to engines, either, I think?"

"Actually, I'm certified to fly. I should have mentioned that earlier, but sea flight is not something I've done yet. I've worked on airplane engines, too, but not this kind. It does sound like something is making it run lean. Let's put it down."

And Wycliffe put the plane down on the beach and radioed Zedidiah and told them they were on an island they were not on, several hundred miles away.

To get at the tools, they had to unload the luggage and the emergency supplies.

After an hour of fiddling with the engine, Wycliffe said, "I need to take her up and see how she's running. It'll take me about ten minutes of circling the island, and if there aren't any problems, we can fly on."

They both volunteered to help with the test flight, but Wycliffe made an excuse about needing the plane light. Once up, he circled twice, brought the airplane down as if to land, and then shouted out at them, "I'll be back when you two have had a chance to grow up!" and flew out.

Neither Karel nor Bobbie heard what he said over the engine noise. So they sat on the beach, said a prayer together for Wycliffe, for the airplane, for themselves, and for getting home, and waited for him to come back.

Now, remember, I'm just setting up this simplified experiment in economics. If this were a regular novel, we would want to know why Wycliffe never came back.



We would want to know that he was intending to put down on another island back in the regular traffic lanes where he and Zedidiah had a cache of fuel, and just wait a few days to see what would happen. But his games with the engine had fowled fouled it, and he ran out of fuel trying to make it to his cache. And he ended up ditching the plane in the water, without his emergency supplies.


We would want to know that after he ran out of strength and sank in the water and passed across the veil, he kept going back in time and trying to contact himself and Karel and Bobbie and Zedidiah thousands of times, to prevent this one stupidity.

Fortunately, this is a made-up story, so we don't have to grieve for him. But I think we might know people like him who need our pity and our help. And we can and should grieve for the many who have allowed themselves to be caught in such snares.

Time on the other side of the veil is different. Don't kid yourself. An eternity in hell is an eternity in hell. But eternities end when hearts soften and hear these words of truth: Trying to change the past is not the way to repent. Put the regret behind and do the good that you can do now.

And we would want to know that Bobbie and Karel's families, and volunteers from the Church and the university, and lots of other people came searching for them.


We'd want to know that Zedidiah spent all of his remaining money looking for them, and would have committed suicide by starvation in the middle of the ocean, but both Karel's and Bobbie's parents told them they would not forgive him if he did that and that, and brought him back.

We would want to know that the police suspected him of being complicit in some kidnapping scheme, because the plane was empty when it was found. But no one pressed charges. And that Zedidiah ultimately went back to New Zealand, where he was originally from, and starting started facing the problems he had been running from when he ran away to the islands to be a charter pilot. 


Finally, we need to know that the island Bobbie and Karel were left on was still uncharted at that time, and too far from the flight plan and the regular routes to be found by accident. The searchers never got out far enough to find them. If they had, the sheer size of the ocean would have overwhelmed their resources.

In fact, there are many things we would want to know ...

... what Wycliffe and Zedidiah were doing in the islands, and whether they were no-gooders or just having good fun;

... why Wycliffe died and what he did after he died, and how he managed to do so much in apparently so little time (Is time for the dead the same as for us, the living?);

... what Zedidiah did after Wycliffe died;

... how the police and others on the islands got involved; and, hey, what Bobbie and Karel's professors, family, friends, the school, and the Church all did when our co-protagonists failed to return; ....

But, mostly, our focus would be on Karel and Bobbie, since they are the lab subjects of our little experiment.


If you want to read more about the characters in the framing story, you can continue here:

Or you can jump ahead to the experiment: (Link to next chapter will be here.)

(The chapter index is here:

The above is where I am currently re-vising and re-writing this chapter.

An abandoned almost-final draft of the framing story starts with the excuses here:
Likewise, an abandoned almost-final draft of the framing story itself is here:

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