In his foreword to Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Terry Jones of Monty Python fame explains why people read Douglas Adams’ work. Or, more precisely, he explains why we don’t read Douglas Adams’ work – not for plot, not for character development – before he tells us that we read him for the ideas. Douglas Adams, Jones tells us, went to lengths to expose himself to ideas.
Adam’s description of Frogstar World B, the most evil place in the universe, suggests that these lengths might have extended to economics journal articles from the 1940s. More probably, it looks as though he read a quick reference to a particular 1943 Economic Journal article and extended the absurd scenario to its most unnatural conclusion. Compare and contrast then UCL faculty Paul Rosenstein-Rodan’s 1943 article Problems of Industrialisation of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe with Adams’ contribution to the field of economics.
Rosenstein-Rodan, 1943, p205:
Let us assume that 20,000 unemployed workers in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe are taken from the land and put into a large shoe factory. They receive wages substantially higher than their previous meagre income in natura. It would be impossible to put them into industry at their previous income standard, because they need more foodstuffs than they had in their agrarian semi-unemployed existence, because these food stuffs have to be transported to towns, and because the workers
have to pay for housing accommodation. If these workers spent all their wages on shoes, a market for the products of their enterprise would arise representing an expansion which does not disturb the pre-existing market, and 90% of the problem (assuming 10% profit) would be solved. The trouble is that the workers will
not spend all their wages on shoes.
Adams, 1980, p59:
Many years ago, this was a thriving, happy planet – people, cities, shops, a normal world. Except that on the high streets of these cities there were slightly more shoe shops than one might have thought necessary. And slowly, insidiously, the number of these shoe shops were increasing. It’s a well-known economic phenomenon but tragic to see it in operation, for the more shoe shops there were, the more shoes they had to make and the worse and more unwearable they became. And the worse they were to wear, the more people had to buy to keep themselves shod, and the more the shops proliferated, until the whole economy of the place passed what I believe is termed the Shoe Event Horizon, and it became no longer economically possible to build anything other than shoe shops. Result – collapse, ruin and famine. Most of the population died out. Those few who had the right kind of genetic instability mutated into birds […] who cursed their feet, cursed the ground, and vowed that none should walk on it again. Unhappy lot.