Thursday 21 June 2012

Post-apocalyptic bureaucracies

You've gotta have goals. And @Keith_Ng has a new one. Not content with being a data visualization wizard, here's what he wants to tackle next. Well, conditional on there being a zombie apocalypse.

I suggested a better, more feasible goal:

We settled on a Zombie version of The Wire as being pretty fun. You follow the free-market think-tank types, the bureaucracy, a vigilante crew, and the zombies at the start of the zombie apocalypse. A few story ideas:
  • The City mandates expensive burial methods to protect against zombies but doesn't do anything to help low-income families cover those costs. Poorer families then move to more "informal" burial techniques, with predictably bad results.
  • The crematorium is over-capacity and belching out more smoke than its consent allows; the local Environmental Authority debates shutting it down entirely until they're able to bring PM10 concentrations back down to acceptable levels, but settles on barring cremation during the hours when people have their washing out, at least until more powerful scrubbers arrive from overseas by ship. The over-capacity problem worsens, with predictably bad results.
  • A private charity's attempt to set up extra crematoriums to handle the load, and especially for poorer families, run up against the local Environment Authority's mandate to reduce the number of non-compliant PM10 nights. While people with existing crematoriums are allowed to keep using them and can replace them (subject to the time-of-day regulations above), you can't build any new ones, even if they would have very low emissions. The Government doesn't consider changing the Environment Authority's targets in light of the problem, noting that the zombies are likely temporary.
  • Council declares a "Red Zone" for the worst zombie-affected areas of town. Residents have to evacuate their (still very defensible) homes. But they make no provision for alternative housing arrangements while insisting on strict enforcement of all the pre-zombie regulations that kept housing in short supply. Higher income people leave town; lower income people start living in far less defensible cars, tents, and garages, with predictably bad results.
  • Local hoteliers complain of lost custom from the zombie outbreak. Council sends the Mayor out on a tourism promotion campaign to encourage more people to come to the infected city. The results are, well, you guessed it.
  • Government bars schools from excluding zombie-infected-but-still-living-and-certainly-contagious children. Local teachers' unions rally not against the regulation but instead against the publication of league-tables that would tell parents which schools had the worst infection rates. 
  • The vigilante crews that kill zombies are brought up on charges because the zombies still count as people under the law. The Government passes legislation under urgency allowing zombie-killing, but only under fairly stringent licensing guidelines demanded by a coalition partner ensuring that tapu is respected. Anybody who wants to kill a zombie has to get a certificate that they've completed relevant tikanga training. You have to fly to another city for training because the normal Council training facility is overrun by zombies.
  • The Department of Conservation modifies their 1080 poison traps with "extra brain flavouring" to knock out the zombies. Environmental campaigners lobby to stop them because the new traps also attract endangered snails; the government proposes partial privatization of DoC. The lobby group opposes the latter part because it doesn't go far enough, and opposes the former part because it crowds out private zombie-eradication service providers.
  • The government sets up a Super-Ministry with powers plenipotentiary to stop the zombies. The Super-Ministry spends most of its time trying to figure out how we can still have a full rugby season despite the outbreak. Ignoring the mess of regulations stopping people from dealing to the zombies on their own, or that make things worse, the Minister says we should leave it to the market to sort out.
  • Keith would likely insist on an episode where we find out that smoking makes you more likely to be infected by zombies, with the lobby group then opposing more tobacco regs. I dispute the science on that one. Either way, the Ministry of Health is very happy that none of the zombies seem to be smokers.
  • Overseas scientists come up with a virus that kills only zombies. As it was constructed using genetic modification techniques, the Greens oppose its use in New Zealand. Eventually, some farmers get fed up with the bureaucracy and import it on their own. But because they don't do a great job in dispersing it, it only knocks the zombies back for a few weeks before new and resistant zombies lurch forward.
  • Despite signs that the zombie outbreak will almost certainly spread to other towns, other towns' councils insist on sticking with current consenting processes that require notified consent and RMA approval for adding defensive features to your home. Owners of heritage buildings are prohibited from replacing zombie-prone stained glass windows with steel-mesh reinforced versions.
  • Paul Krugman writes a tasteless op-ed about the benefits of zombie outbreaks when we're in a liquidity trap.
  • In most episodes, the think-tank plays a Cassandra role (or at least in my version). In Keith's, they'd probably be more malevolent. Either way, it's key that even if policy were set properly, good outcomes are far from guaranteed. 
Tell me there's a single implausible bullet point above. Other than the existence of zombies.

I'm very glad we don't have zombies.

Update: Hit #ZombieNZ


  1. China develops cheap, effective, environmentally-friendly zombie eradication team, offers services to NZ government gratis as sign of "mutual friendship and understanding". Coalition partner NZ First vetos issuing of visas to Chinese zombie eradication team on the grounds that their qualifications are not recognised by NZQA and that they are taking away jobs from hard-working kiwis. Ends badly.

  2. Due to these measures, zombies eventually spread to China and America. Embarrassingly low zombie populations in China cause American media to create reports on the 'shocking' and 'exploitive' working conditions at Chinese zombie-eradication units. American politicians call for boycotts of Chinese products made by companies employing the anti-zombie units, i.e. all of them. Wait, all of them except the particular products the politicians themselves buy.

  3. Mining company wants concession to mine area where rare giant zombies (Victus Mortuus Augustus) roam. Concession requires that the giant zombies are rounded up, housed in cool stores until mining is finished and then released back into area once it has been restored. Ends badly (especially if you live in Hokitika).

  4. Actually, my flatmate and I started this conversation in relation to zombie research in the post-apocalypse. You'd need quite a lot of resources to capturing and containing specimens, and it's obviously quite risky, but without public funding, how would you do it? Specifically, what private models were there?

    I think we settled on a thinktank with a free newsletter (thought leadership!), with workshops and seminars providing stable revenue. Once we get enough scale, we horde and withhold the actual science, only selling proprietary products and defending our IP with deathsquads.

    So yeah, a bit broader than public policy, but technically still market solutions.

    1. I'd bet instead that research gets done by wealthy philanthropists with encompassing interests just doing it. Bill Gates and Peter Thiel and Richard Branson sort it out.

    2. Was kinda assuming that government/currency/public infrastructure would be gone by then. I think we have very different definitions of apocalypse!

      (And yes, sans government/currency/rule of law, a right-wing thinktank is kinda redundant. Actually, it'd probably have to argue for a bigger government.)

    3. Aha. I was thinking far more about the initial-outbreak stage with slow zombies. If we're in a fast-zombies world, that's different.

  5. Roger Beattie sets up a private zombie farm for research. He's close to developing a cure when DoC comes in and shuts him down for not having had a permit for farming zombies. They bulldoze the facility and plant indigenous trees, releasing the zombies back into the wild.

    1. Meanwhile, at the DoC zombie research centres, all the zombies keep dying. DoC can't figure out why. They embark on a $250m project to figure out how to raise and possibly breed zombies in captivity for research. Nobody suggests they figure out how weaponize whatever they're doing to kill the walkers.

  6. New Zealand is woefully unprepared

  7. Now, if you built a flash sport stadium with roof you could bait the stadium and attract nearly *all* the zombies and wipe them out very cost effectively.

    So lets have no more of this shit that stadia are uneconomic.