The Walking Dead, Tocqueville, and Voluntary Cooperation

Daniel D’Amico,

Release Date
October 7, 2014


Free Markets and Capitalism

What can The Walking Dead teach us about prosperity? A lot, according to Professor Dan D’Amico of Loyola University. While The Walking Dead has shown viewers what zombies do to society since 2010, political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about shambling, lonesome, soulless creatures and the decline of society long before the show debuted. D’Amico explores what The Walking Dead and Tocqueville’s writings have in common, and what they reveal about the key to human prosperity.

As an economist, my favorite show right now is The Walking Dead. What the zombie metaphor really highlights is the difference of the behavioral assumptions that we use to understand human decision making. Take the following quote for example, “They see without knowing each other. They are in society without any intercourse; there exists among them neither aversion nor sympathy…Their union is strictly material, or, to speak more exactly, their bodies are together, but their souls are separated… And it is not the solitude of the body which is important but that of the mind.” Ironically enough, that quote is not about zombies. It was instead written by Gustave de Beaumont and Alexis de Tocqueville, famed for writing Democracy in America. Tocqueville was sent to the United States to investigate the penitentiary system. Notice how in this quote, the description, the sort of lifeless, soulless bodies of people in the penitentiary system that Tocqueville is observing, sounds like zombies. “Guess the world changed. ‘No, it’s the same as it ever was.’” Tocqueville’s experience, looking at the penitentiary systems helped give him perspective for recognizing what really was responsible for driving prosperity, peace, and cooperation in the early American experience. Take Tocqueville’s observations in Democracy in America for example, “When you allow them to associate freely in everything, they end up seeing in association the universal and, so to speak, unique means that men can used to obtain the various ends that they propose. So notice that Alexis de Tocqueville has identified that human association, cooperation, interaction, and communication are arguably the building blocks of what makes society function, what makes society prosperous, what makes society peaceful, and a good place to live in. Without those things, without that free and open interaction, society would be comprised of zombies. They are coming to get you Barbara.