Galactic Society and Economics

The economic and social conventions of Z4, where almost half the scenes in Friendly Invasion occur, represent a galactic civilization's way of solving the problems of financing and doing the work required to operate isolated, relatively vulnerable, space habitats of necessarily limited scale. But considering that no artificial habitat will last forever in the dangerous environment of space, "counterplanets" like Z4 are hardly islands unto themselves. Not only do they need to cooperate and communicate with other counterplanets, but they participate in an unceasing effort to build new ones -- whether as replacements for counterplanets that are damaged beyond repair, or to expand their galactic frontier.

Humanity stands at the very dawn of its space age. At present we are only 200 years into the age of significant augmentations to human productivity. The scientific and technical advances responsible for increases in productivity are also responsible for medical and agricultural advances that have helped the world's population to grow at an unsustainable rate during these same 200 years. Here is a table showing what has happened, and what will happen if the human population continues to expand at the present rate :

World Population (in billions)   

    Actual
  (UN estimates)  .
  UN Projections
(assuming constant fertility)
1804 1.0 2025 8.273
1927 2.0 2050 11.089
1960 3.0 2075 16.371
2014 now! 7.264 2100 28.646

This world is already a crowded place where virtually all naturally fertile land has been put to intensive use. Only marginal lands are available for further agricultural expansion. How can the world hope to feed 28 billion people 85 years from now? Perhaps we can hope that human fertility rates will decline to the point of population stability? Actually, that's been happening in many European countries, in Japan, and to the Caucasian population of the US. It's also happening in less developed countries that have made it a policy to encourage education of women, such as Iran where the 1960 fertility rate was 6.93 children per woman, and by 2010 the rate had dropped to 1.77. Remarkably, in recent years there have been more women in Iranian universities than men. But there are still many countries where women are generally uneducated and treated as 2nd class citizens. And in such countries a family's hope of seeing their children grow up is often shattered by war, or insurrection, genocide, ethnic violence, disease, or famine. Such conditions encourage fertility rates like these:
Mali 6.86; Somalia 6.61; Chad 6.31; Burundi 6.08; Nigeria 6.0; and DR-Congo 5.98 [UN estimates for the period 2010-2015]

Even if world population levels off before it reaches unsustainability, this planet has another dire problem: productivity itself. While globalization and "outsourcing" may seem to be responsible for employment and wage stagnation in countries like the US , globalization itself is actually the result of advances in communication and transportation technology. We are riding the technology tiger! One consequence is steadily increasing productivity wherever capital can profitably offset labor. There is little doubt that this trend will continue to accelerate, as it has been doing for 200 years, and the inevitable result will be fewer and fewer jobs in relation to overall production. The brunt of job-loss will be in the lower skill sectors where automation, robots and drones will replace people. As the trend accelerates the rich will become richer, the poor more numerous, and the world economic and social order as we know it will become increasingly unstable.

These two horsemen of the prospective apocalypse inching toward us -- massive overcrowding and massive unemployment -- are inevitable unless humanity adopts some radically different system of socio-economic organization. The system portrayed in Friendly Invasion may help stimulate thinking. In this science fictional setting there is free education for anyone who wants it; a private consumer products and services sector constrained by limited markets and various other impediments to private capital accumulation but with easy access to high productivity capital equipment; a public service and infrastructure sector financed in large measure by renting floor space to the private sector; and a Spartan subsistence sector for people unwilling to work or temporarily exiled from the working sectors for whatever reason.

While these science fictional arrangements may seem natural enough for a society living in space habitats, how would any such system work on this planet? It is not difficult to imagine subdividing the planet up into localized free-enterprise jurisdictions; in fact this was how the planet worked before the industrial revolution, when rulers maintained tariff barriers to keep most production activities within the kingdom's borders. It also is not difficult to imagine capital formation, investment banking and real estate shifted from an ownership to a rental footing. Given these expedients, and the ready availability of high productivity machinery for most production operations, each free enterprise jurisdiction should be able to meet the needs of its population with relatively minimal resort to imports, exports, or long-distance goods distribution.

But given this style of operation, production to fulfill local consumption needs would only employ a modest proportion of the workforce. Such arrangements would be unworkable unless the rest of the workforce had other production or service functions to keep them busy and earning enough to support satisfactory lifestyles. The logical conclusion?...humanity needs an ambitious set of long term projects to absorb its excess productivity and energy. What could be more fitting to this task than the space-habitat program described in Friendly Invasion? As Amrit the space bird says on page 325, explaining the origin of space faring civilization, "Inevitably, civilization spread out." / "Why?" / "Nature populates every ledge; every suitable tree . . . everywhere new nests, new life."