Unincorporated War

In April I reviewed the The Unincorporated Man, a sf novel that last week won the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Prometheus Award.  The novel is set several centuries hence, in a rich peaceful hi-tech society of forty billion folks, spread across the solar system. On the plus side, war, crime, death, and religion are very rare, and a minimal world government is funded only by a 5% income tax. On the minus side, virtual reality is an illegal sin, and parents help kids far less than now; parents own 20% of kids’ future income, and force kids to sell more income shares to pay for school, etc. Most kids end up owning less than 50% of their income, which reduces their ability to control their job, home, etc.

A cryonics patient from our time is revived, refuses to sign paperwork to pay his 5% income tax, and inspires a mass movement blaming corporations (not parents!) for the “slavery” of having to pay installment payments on voluntarily purchased and consumed school, etc. In April I complained:

[It] is widely praised for its thought-provoking premise. Yet I find no evidence that it provoked thought about its premise. … Among the 70+ reviews/comments on the book I’ve read, a few take a position on this idea (all against), but none engage the idea, i.e., offering arguments for or against it based on details of the book. … In the book’s 500 pages no one ever resents parents; it is all those conniving corporations. … Also, the book never even considers the possibility of non-voting [income shares].

The sequel, The Unincorporated War, is “action-packed”, and readers seem to like it, but alas it inspires even less thought. Spoilers below the fold.

The sequel begins with our anti-tax activist hero inspiring the creation of an “Outer Alliance,” of the solar system outside Mars, seeking geographic military autonomy.  They of course want our blast-from-the-past hero to be their absolute military ruler.  Since many out there accept the usual income shares system, the alliance has no official position on that issue. The war quickly becomes a total of attrition, with mass casualties, huge tax rates, and strong central management.

While the alliance has only 1/10 of the population, space folks make better space soldiers, and their generals are far more moral and clever, leading to a near stalemate for many deadly years. Religion, patriotism, and devoted submission to adored leaders all make huge comebacks, at least in the alliance.

Alliance leaders say they want total war because the central confederation has increased the rate of psych audits, a rarely used way to check someone’s sanity, and found a way to use audits to brainwash folks. But alliance leaders don’t make a public accusation about this until halfway through the book. Federation leaders say they want total war because they expect the outer solar system to economically dominate the distant future.

The books says little about why a public used to vast peace and wealth, having forgotten war and nationalism for centuries, would suddenly revel in a total war over geographic autonomy.  The book isn’t really very interested in such ordinary folks.  It seems to just be assumed that future folks are deep down very eager to return to twentieth-century ways.

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  • Michael Kirkland

    Were you able to dictate terms on your student loans? Why would you presume people in the book’s society would be able to, if we can’t?

    • Vlad

      Are you able to dictate the terms of your rent or house purchase price? You can bargain for some better price, but not by much. Would you say there is a conspiracy on the part of real estate owners to force their own terms on consumers?

      • Michael Kirkland

        There doesn’t need to be. It’s just plain, boring old market failure.

        Given that there’s supposed to be minimal government in the book’s universe, and student loans wouldn’t exist at all in ours without government support, I don’t imagine they’d have anything even approaching reasonable terms.

  • Indy

    Only “twentieth century” ways?

  • Does anyone take libertarians seriously? If they do… they shouldn’t.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

  • raphfrk

    You may not be able to dictate terms, but you can refuse to accept it.

    Also, the system would allow colleges to better compare their outcomes. They could quote the average increase in the total value of each student’s company.

    If the college course tends to add $100k to a student’s net value, then spending $10k on it seems reasonable.

    IMO, this increased transparency would reduce the cost of education rather than increase it.

    The flat 20% for parents seems questionable. Presumably, that only applies if they are actually the ones who care for the child, or is it purely an incentive for them to bother?

    Also, presumably parents can saddle children with debt for education that they received when they were children?

  • The Margin Clerk

    Well I certainly don’t take the Democrats and the Republicans seriously….clowns every last one of them…

  • I read the first book’s plot as a cautionary tale, aimed at the far future, about the dangers of cryo-revival. 😛

    Also, I accept that hundreds of years may be a different story, but Europe had several peaceful eras in recent history that lasted a generation, only to return to warfare each time: the Age of Metternich and the Belle Epoque, to name two.

  • Abelard Lindsey

    I’ll bite. I just ordered it from Amazon. I’m sure it will be an entertaining read.

    Anyways, let me get this straight. Parents get 20% of their kids future income and the government a further 5%. That’s like a 25% income tax rate. Education and other job enhancement stuff pushes this over 50%.

    Maybe I’m not following this correctly (I’ll find out when I read the novel), but this would be analogous to Western Europe which also have income tax rates greater than 50%. So, what’s the difference here? Another issue is that the parents and educational institutions you attend would have a vested interest in ensuring that you have the best possible careers so as to maximize your earnings. I fail to see why this is a problem.

    If there’s a “catch”, no one has mentioned it in this blog or the reviews on Amazon.

    Perhaps the “shareholders” in you do not act in their rational self-interest and force you to do stupid things that sabotage your career and earning capability. This is certainly possible. However, I have not seen it mentioned in the reviews to the book.

    Perhaps I should just read the book and comment on it when I am done.

  • Abelard Lindsey

    I just finished reading the first book “The Unincorporated Man”. I understand the “catch” now. Having shares in oneself owned by others is not the same as taxation, because the “share holders” can mandate your career/job decisions. In other words, unless you have achieved “majority” (this is where you own roughly 60% or more of yourself) you cannot choose to become a starving artist or do the “lonely planet” thing of hanging out on the beaches of S.E. Asia. So, the system really is tantamount to slavery or, at least, indentured servitude.

    There are other issues as well. In theory, this concept of personal incorporation should be beneficial to all parties because your “share holders” have a rational self-interest in helping you have the best and most lucrative career possible. In reality, investors do not always act in their rational self-interest. Also, speculators will manipulate the share prices of people either for short-term speculative gain or to prevent oneself from buying back their shares in order to keep them from reaching majority. These actions are analogous to those of Wall Street speculators, only that in the novel they have a direct limiting effect on your personal freedom.

    A third problem that is not prominently featured in the novel is that people tend to engage in “bureaucratic” behaviors. That is, company managers like to build personal empires with lots of people underneath them simply because they like the feeling of being in charge of others, even if it does not represent optimal profitability. The system of personal incorporation described in the novel would be completely vulnerable to this kind of abuse.

    It is entirely understandable why the “hero” of the novel wants to end this system, even though it has been clearly successful for a vast majority of people for nearly three centuries.

    I have not read the second book and, therefor, cannot comment on it.

    Overall, the book makes for good, entertaining SF.

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