You Can’t Take It With You

Professor's new book explores economics and the afterlife

Friday, November 2, 2012

by Kimberly Starr '12

Economics is everywhere. Its principles permeate just about every facet of our day-to-day lives. But what about the hereafter? Milica Z. Bookman, Ph.D., professor of economics at Saint Joseph’s University, poses serious and thought-provoking questions about the intersection of economics and the afterlife in her newly published book Do They Take Credit Cards in Heaven?

“According to polls, over 80 percent of Americans believe in some form of afterlife, and an even higher number say the economy is their largest concern,” Bookman explains. “This book bridges both.”

Do They Take Credit Cards in Heaven? is the result of three years of research. Looking through an economic lens, Bookman stepped outside her discipline to delve into topics ranging from mythology, history, art and anthropology to popular culture and spiritualism. “My book is an exploration of the way humans, across societies and throughout history, have envisioned the afterlife,” she says.  “I describe, for example, how Harry Potter maximizes his utility, how the ancient Greeks, Romans and Celts envisioned an afterlife with positive opportunity cost of time, and how Casper the Friendly Ghost protects his property rights.”

Bookman defines economics as the study of human decision-making when faced with a scarcity of issues such as time, money and energy. In the classroom, she has always sought interesting ways to connect economics to everyday life, so this latest exploration is a natural extension of that pursuit. But Bookman also experienced a serious illness that, she says, forced her to consider her own mortality.

“The more I read about it, the more I realized that principles of economics kept showing up in the many ways in which people have envisioned their post mortems,” she says.

Do They Take Credit Cards in Heaven? has been well received by those inside and outside the field of economics. Former President Bill Clinton was even spotted after the 2012 Democratic National Convention toting a copy of the book. Had it not been for a former student of Bookman’s who contacted her through email after seeing the reference to her book on, she never would have known.

“What can I say? After some moments of sheer disbelief, there was a lot of unbridled excitement in the economics department,” she admits. “I immediately called my husband and then my children. I remember wishing my parents were living so I could share this moment with them.”

While the book addresses some grim topics and is scholarly in focus, Bookman says it is sometimes humorous, occasionally controversial, but always thought-provoking.

“I hope this book informs, entertains and broadens horizons,” says Bookman. “I hope it provokes new ways of thinking and challenges readers to go on an adventure, armed with an economics lens that will enable them to see new and old concepts in a new light.”

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