Following The Money

Originally published at: Following The Money | The Associated Worlds

From: Toríno Lanada (Economic Attaché [Vonis Prime Mission], Diplomatic Attachment WG, Active Operations PWG, Second Directorate)
Memeweave: All-Seeing Eye/Voniensa Republic/General
Cc: Intentions Analysis PWG
Subject: Shell colony economic anomaly
Authenticity: 4E11; SENDER, RELAY (4/4), RECIPIENT
Distribution: Executive & Analysts
Date: 7142 Yrnaes 11, Studious falling 14

Be advised that as of this date we have identified and confirmed a number of anomalies in the financial reports submitted by a large number, approximately 20%, of the Republic’s Shell colonies to the Central Financial Group. Such anomalies (detailed documentation to follow by non-expendable communications) vary significantly in detail, but serve the identical function of minimizing the apparent economic product of the colonial economies in reports used by the Central Financial Group to determine the remittances due to the central governance.

This practice appears to have been adopted in the wake of the Council of the Republic’s decision to increase remittances (to a demand of 30% of economic product) to restore cuts made to Core system distributions, these cuts in turn having been made in order to fund the Fleet rebuilding programs called for after the Core War. Such restorations were necessitated by increasing social instability on several of the Republic’s most heavily populated Core systems, including Vonis Prime itself.

In light of the increasingly fragile state of the Republican economy and the increasing divisions now manifest between the Core systems and the Shell, I request greater resources be allocated to determining specific expected fracture points and shock vectors therefrom resulting, as well as additional asset allocations to prominent Shell colonies identified in the detailed documentation if Intentions Analysis concurs that these are high-probability event whenwheres.

– Lanada, ExSec

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‘The more you tighten your grip, the more systems will slip through your fingers…’

I was on board right up until the final word.

Which one was that? Whenwheres?

Yeah, given the robust verbosity of these corporate memo style missives, resorting to whowhats and whenwheres is…well, quite believable, actually. But I can’t not groan when I hear it (having first ensured the conference call was muted of course)

Happy new year!

Actually, what’s stopping Ring Dynamics from just shutting off all the stargates in the Csell Buffer and calling it a day, where Ice Shadow is concerned? Even if it’s a temporary solution on the scale of however long it takes lighthuggers or RKKVs to reach the Empire from the Republic, it buys the Empire more time to think of a potential solution to stabilise what’s left after the Republic goes to hell in a handbasket.

What’s stopping them is it being a direct breach of contract on Ring Dynamics part, and a corresponding sledgehammer to their reputation. It was raised in the Core Wars arc, and Ring Dynamics made it clear they weren’t willing to take such an action unless it was an existential threat and I don’t think even the Second Directorate could pressure them into it, given the consequences.

Cutting off the Leviathan Consciousness before it eats everyone’s brain? That’s acceptable. Cutting off one side of a war? That’s declaring yourself part of the war and violating your neutrality. Cutting off a bunch of worlds who are breaking free of a bad government and who might contain some decent chaps who you’d like to be part of your free association, while simultaneously fucking up the majority of plans that the World’s various spy agencies are working on, including the very high probability of stranding some citizen-shareholders on the ‘uncivilised’ side of the border? I don’t see that going down well AT ALL.

The source material from which the Republic is drawn implies that, while they’re not at post-scarcity, they’re not all that far off as of the “modern” setting. But this analysis by the Second Directorate strongly implies that the Republic Tech Group has been writing checks their tools can’t cash – and I don’t mean stargate tech alone.

This message describes a classic decadent pre-scarcity resource extraction empire on the scale of a galactic arm segment, specifically, one at or near the tipping point when extraction no longer suffices to maintain structural integrity. That’s not an accurate description of the source setting from what I can tell; for one thing, no one in the source material would be fool enough to voluntarily join the polity if this was the typical fate of an outer province.

So what drives the difference? The different interstellar travel means, where the stargate predates the frame drive by many millennia? Or an extrapolation of what is possible with versus without intelligence augmentation and Singularity experience? Or is it meant to imply that the source material is itself concealing a far more mundane conquest-and-exploit ethic that most citizens remain blissfully ignorant of?

Okay. This is going to be potentially (although I don’t know exactly how much of this is going to come out in the end, it not really being their story) spoilery as hell, so I’m going to use the appropriate tags in places for anyone who doesn’t want to know what’s going on. (Also, there may be some inaccuracies because I don’t have access to my notes right now.)

It’s not a resource-extraction empire of the classic type, because these aren’t conquered provinces. It’s also very important to remember that they didn’t actually intend any of this; they just accidentally ended up there, and when you’re riding the tiger, it’s hard to get off.

There is a certain mixture of extrapolations from Things Not Said But Seen in the inspirational material, and from the problems of the notion of post-scarcity, those being that it’s largely impossible insofar as someone has to do something sometime to make things happen¹ unless you have access to a large number of willing slaves. As far as the extrapolations go - well, for example, you notice all those “agricultural colonies” and “mining colonies” and so forth we see in the outer regions of the Federation? Seems a mite odd for a “post-scarcity” society, 'cause they’re not just the planets of the hobby farmers and people cosplaying grizzled old prospectors.

The start of their problem, way way back in the day - probably, if we steal an historical analogy from their inspiration, sometime in the post-Kirk period - was an outbreak of idealism along the exact lines you might expect from later works: selfless service to bettering humanity, disdain for wealth, benevolent post-scarcity provision for the needs of all, and so forth, coupled with the development of the underlying technologies that would, in theory, make it a lot more possible. The public of the time leapt on the idea of guaranteed necessities and the elimination of poverty for all time, and the politicians followed.

And the first phase of its implementation went relatively smoothly. (Well, except for the nationalizations, but even there, it went through.) The Core (including member homeworlds in general) enjoyed their new guarantees, and the Shell was pacified by the notion that they would be next in this phasing in of the new system.

Of course, there was a problem. More accurately, there were three problems: One, it being more expensive than anyone planned for, and the definition of “necessities” growing on a fairly regular basis (up to the “replicate anything you want” level, ultimately). Two, industries that didn’t care to be nationalized moving operations outward to the Shell. And three, productivity in the Core walking right off a cliff as less scrupulous people realized they didn’t have to work, which meant that more and more of the burden of running the system ended up being placed on the backs of the Shell colonies.

So you can predict the ultimate dynamic this set up. The Shell colonies are kept in the system by the carrot that they will “eventually” get their freebies, and the stick that seceding means losing the protection of the Republic Navy against the pirates and rebels and not!Klingons and not!Romulans and those wicked apotheosians next door who are totally not!Borg. The increasing weight of the remittances demanded of them drives economic stagnation, which causes the productive portion of old Shell colonies to migrate outward into new Shell colonies which start out earning, and said old colonies are then swept into the Core (as part of the “carrot”) and increase the overall burden the system imposes.

(This is a gross oversimplification of a lengthy period of history in which there were ups, downs, attempts at reforms, partial fixes, etc., etc., etc., but this margin only has so much space and, like I said, I don’t have access to my notes right now.)

Even given free expansion, the square-cube law would eventually do this whole mess in, but in practice, given the failure of the Propulsion Group to keep up with stargate manufacture, and that they were running into increasing span-of-control problems anyway… well, they are now in the era where the wheels are starting to come off because, among other things, the Shell no longer has its traditional safety valve (emigration) and the Core War placed far more strain on the system than it was supposed to; there’s been a lot of weakening that no-one at the top noticed until it was upon them.

1. The Republic has this problem aggravated by their prejudices against sapient computers, but really, that’s a sideshow; you’ll note the Empire has a very thriving business community for what amounts to exactly this reason. There isn’t a Culture-analog in the 'verse, but if there were, it would be noted that the Minds work hard and the illusion of post-scarcity is maintained by the willingness of the biosophs to be pets and live only on the terms that their owners permit them.

Further notes:

To a certain extent, this does rather explore the territory of “How the United Federation of Planets is kinda like the People’s Republic of Haven, only more idealistic, less militaristic, and better dressed.”

That said, when the Republic ends up, as it will have to, imposing some serious cuts on the Core Worlds, the Core Worlds Mob is going to be ugly, as you might expect from a group of people who have never had to do anything more strenuous than a hobby for, in many cases, generations .

It’s also going to be really messy when the central government stops using the Republic Navy only as an implicit stick (see the secession note above) and starts trying to use it as an explicit stick. The VN is filled with a lot of people who really believe in the Republic’s ideals and actually are there to selflessly serve their people. While there are always some who will follow any order (although a lot of them got killed in the Core War, thanks Propulsion Group!) - well, can you imagine Picard following orders to go suppress revolts and enforce tribute payments from the Shell worlds? 'Cause I have trouble with that.

The Fleet’s going to come apart messily and there are going to be lots of ex-Navy officers and starships in a dozen different “Maquis” when the day comes, of that we can be certain. It would be nice to think that the Republic Committee were, too, but…

Before we get started, I want to just express profound gratitude — I never expected anywhere near as thorough an answer as is found below. All the commentary that follows is intended as constructive dialogue; if it doesn’t fit the Eldraeverse, perhaps I (or another) can make use of it elsewhere. YVINMVBYVIOK.

For ‘slaves’ I substituted ‘sub-sophont automation’, which seems to be less of an issue for the Republic than digisophonce. That said, I think we have different definitions of ‘post-scarcity’ for the reasons I describe below.

Ah, you see, ‘post-scarcity’ to me doesn’t mean “everyone lives the life of the idle parasite”. The Empire qualifies as ‘post-scarcity’ by the definition I am using: that differential access to resources [nutrition, matter, energy, education, healthcare and/or proper maintenance] is not the primary rate-limiter to productivity or achievement. Equity of soph opportunity through open apportionment of those things in relative abundance — not equality of material outcome. Free ponies for everyone is not in the cards, and any soph who thinks replicators repeal TANSTAAFL is not paying attention to reality.

That’s the problem with configuring your system as UBI rather than Citizen’s Dividend, isn’t it? CD has a built-in limiter; UBI is writing a letter to the Hogfather.

Ah, the Niederadel syndrome – uncaring of contributing to society, unwilling to better oneself, unable to produce.

What occurs to me is how diametrically opposite this behavior is to the ideals of the, ahem, Republic. Lazing around, or even producing pointless and useless artwork, is not really ‘bettering’ oneself. I no more subscribe to the notion that the threat of starvation is necessary to compel enlightened self-interest than an Imperial would, and a UBI hardly eliminates the drive to compete – yes, property is a powerful carrot, but hardly the only one; and market forces are not the only stick.

Here’s my thought: wouldn’t drones be shunned? Pitied? Subjected to endless counseling on what is blocking their self-improvement? If the ideals of the Republic are as depicted, wasting one’s life would be essentially a rejection of the basic social contract.

Can I imagine a version of the Republic that ignores, or denies the existence of, such a problem for a good long while? Sure. What I can’t imagine is that when placed into crisis – as the Republic has been, by the failure of the Core War and the disgrace of the Propulsion Group – this anti-anti-social dynamic wouldn’t emerge.

Funny, I was thinking of them as not!Dominion.

As I said above, I interpreted the resource-gathering of the Feds to be highly automated by ‘dumb’ sub-sophont equipment. If they aren’t setting up robotic slow-freight to supply starbases with basic metals plus CHON from icesteroids and comets, their engineers aren’t what they’re cracked up to be.

Once more into the breach!

The Weber-analogy that I’d been working with was the Solarian League rather than the PRH – especially since the latter was, in both the Doylist and Watsonian senses, a somewhat artificial analogy-based model of the runaway entitlement syndrome. The Havenites didn’t come by their failures without help, whereas the Sollies very much made their own bed to lie in. The motif of the technocratic powers-behind-the-throne, who turn out not to really be as capable as they present themselves, also seemed to fit Sollies better, as did the idealism; right to the end, the Sollies very much believed themselves the center and exemplar of true civilization.

Maybe it’s just the oversimplification speaking here, but again, I find it hard to believe there is no social mechanism in place to address parasitism. It might not be pleasant, but replicator rationing isn’t exactly the end of the world.

Now if the Republic has been systematically concealing the state of the economy, or even failing to keep everyone abreast of what a citizen’s allotment consists of and why, that’s on them. And that’s plausible, even likely. But that’s a different failure mode than “replicators cause terminal sloth”.

In canon, he resigned over far less. But then, I also can’t see a society that naturally tolerates the degree of parasitism here depicted without any countervailing trends. One of which, also in canon, is deciding fully sophont digisapiences aren’t really that terrible after all…

Your monkeys, your circus – again, in both Doylist and Watsonian senses.

I’m not reading any of that stuff just yet, so I’m just going to marvel at the length of the discussion