Author Cary Neeper has written a science fiction novel which explores the idea of how a steady-state economy might work in practice. She has compiled a few excerpts from the book into a post for Resilience.org which highlight some of the issues that are involved in maintaining such a society.
Tandra Grey has made her choice. She crossed millions of miles of empty space to live with her adopted family on Varok, with its promise of stability for her young daughter. But like any garden, this world depends on its caretakers—and someone is sowing bad seeds. Tandra, the elll Conn, and the varok Orram must trust each other’s alien nature to restore balance for Varok and their fragile new family.
The second novel in the Archives of Varok series, this young-adult/adult science fiction title travels with Tandra’s family as they leave a stressed twenty-first century Earth for the ancient sustainable culture of Varok, a veiled moon of Jupiter. But a genius with a hidden talent has set her eye on Varok’s wealth—and Tandra’s soul mate. Tandra, Conn and Orram must find new solutions to secure a stable future for their home and family.
Issues–Steady State Practices and Scenarios Described from The Webs of Varok
The Alkahn corridor was now dotted with independent communities separated by the farmland that supported them. "This country reminds me of the California of the early 1900’s my great-grandmother once described to me," I told Orram.
"Except that down there no one owns the land," Orram said.
"No one? Nowhere on Varok?"
"Not now. Land tenants like Orserah hold contracts for the care of the land, its soil, its water, its fauna, and its inhabitants. If I were Governor of Living Resources, I would have to schedule the counts that are made periodically for the mining quotas. They are managed by the region in cooperation with each locale."
"And those who win the bids mine the quotas?" Jesse asked.
"Right," said Orram."And resources are mined under the supervision of the locales, which have no limits on the laws they can make to protect their local people and the land they tend."
"Not like mining rights on Earth, which trump land owners’ surface rights," Jesse said. "Sometimes mining trumps rights to arable soil and clean water."
"I believe Living Resources is safe from such flareups," Orram said. "We would just be counting, watching, analyzing, painting the big picture in case some imbalance needs correcting. Like all the offices of Global Varok, Living Resources is limited to setting long-term goals and identifying extensive problems."
Junah clarified for Jesse and me. "Solutions are left to the locales, thank Harrahn. The larger regional organizations hold the quota auctions and oversee development of high tech projects like space travel, while metering ocean farming and other multi-locale projects that require lots of expertise or experimentation or technical support…"
We stood on a high mesa overlooking Ahl Vior. It seemed more like an inhabited park than a city. In the distance lay a wide plain framed with distant mountains. Waterfalls of light flooded the scene. Several small lakes dotted the valley, a sign of the plentiful water that allowed the group of locales to grow so large. Small buildings sculpted from rock and clay rose from nearby slopes as if they had grown there. Roofs sported edible gardens, shimmering with collecting troughs and electromotive plates. Many houses were nearly invisible amidst clusters of huge warm colored trees, while blankets of golden succulents gave the urban landscape a pleasant glow.
I was enchanted, drawn to the quiet beauty of this colorful, rich valley. Ellls rode daramonts, and varoks walked at a leisurely pace or rode tricycles loaded with goods. We would get plenty of exercise here. Only once on the winding paths below did I find a small motorized vehicle.
"Hydrogen powered," Orram explained. "probably rented for a long distance journey. Varok has never nurtured a source of fossil fuels, so we have had to do with lower energy sources. Wind, geothermal, tidal changes and water currents are the big ones. Efficiency, of course, is cheaper than all other options."
"And there is a stiff tax for overuse," Conn added.
"Fair warning," I said. "We’ll turn off the lights when we leave a room, right Shawne?"
"I thought manufacturers are required to take reponsibility for their products throughout their entire lifetime, including final disposal or recycling. How much of this cloth must be disposed of, every cycle? How do they pay the cost?"
"I have often wondered," Orserah said.
"It’s as though the weavers wanted the cloth to wear out quickly—so we would buy more."
I felt the blood drain from my face. "You have just defined planned obsolescence, an old trick on Earth—one of the favorites when business ethics turned sour in the interest of profits."
"But where is the value in low quality products?" asked the youth.
"We call it ‘the bottom line.’ Businesses are required, even designed, to accumulate money for their major owners over all other considerations, so they lower costs and increase income in every way possible—with cheaper materials, deceptive packaging, lower pay, dumping wastes, even planned obsolescence—to accumulate profit. Everyone is trapped into that ethic; the savings required to support less affluent people’s old age often depend on passive investments in large businesses."
"We are all part owners in local businesses here," Orserah explained, "but never passive. And our customers—our neighbors—would tell us straight away if any problem arises with quality or pollution. Why would anyone tolerate such things? The costs of production, including wear and tear on Varok itself, are included in our prices. Whoever creates costs to the environment pays those costs, which certainly improves efficiency, I can tell you."
"Efficiency?" The old anger that drove me from Earth flared too quickly. "We have forgotten what that means on Earth. It’s as if its a bad thing—some kind of heresy, along with the word conservation."
"I don’t see why Mahntik wanted to distribute a new strain of web bush outside her locale. There is no profit in producing more than is necessary—"
"Unless you extend credit and rake in the interest. Credit means people can buy more, so you convince them they actually need more—say, by making sure they wear out fast."
"Credit? What would people be willing to put up as collateral just for extra cloth?"
"Nothing. Mahntik’s success depends on unsecured credit, unreported income and unpaid taxes, or my name isn’t The Green Scab."
Orticon seemed to be considering, so Conn went on.
"Mahntik has forgotten that you can’t grow forever. You can’t make something out of nothing and you can’t get perpetually more efficient. Bottom line—you can’t grow the economy and think technology will solve the disruption it causes to Varok. We’re already seeing the price for Mahntik’s web schemes. The population around Mt. Ni is exploding."
"Our populations have always been stable."
"They’d better be. Our resource quotas and the whole steady-state economy work only because our populations don’t grow—well, that, and because total recycling is enforced, and the system is based on real goods and resources—not on debt and balance sheets. Mahntik would like to fix all of that."
"OK, so we keep resource depletion near zero," Orticon said. "That’s fine for securing some unknown future, but the result is that Varok is totally undefended—we could lose everything. We should thank Mahntik for awakening us all to the danger."
"Mahntik is the danger. Think about it," Conn said. "Varok’s best defense is in the fact that every locale is self-sufficient. You’ve studied Earth; it’s a web of dependence on huge electrical grids and single points of mass production and long-range distribution—even essentials like food and water—are targets for attack. How is someone going to cripple Varok, when the essentials of life here are spread out so evenly across the map?"
Orticon paused before answering. "Growing up on Varok, I assumed everything we needed came from local production, if we didn’t grow it as a family. Each home has its own waste disposal and recycling; every locale its own wind or tide generator, its own unique solutions—"
"Solutions that a centralized body like Global Varok couldn’t possibly solve as well, from a distance, since they can’t be familiar with each local situation or individual problem—like building house ponds for loner ellls."
But that’s just it, the locales are limited in scale." Orticon gave Conn a look that said gotcha. "Varoks need to collaborate in order to advance technology. It takes teamwork and more infrastructure than a locale can build alone to learn new science, create high-tech devices—"
"And health services. Low energy wheels, mass transport, electronics and communication, our space program…" Conn was relieved they could agree. "We need the regional centers so we can work together on the big projects."
TWO ELDERS CONFRONT THEIR DOUBTING YOUTH
Conn looked to each of us in growing desperation. "Orticon, don’t you understand how Mahntik’s lying relates to what is happening at Mount Ni? Mahntik’s attempts to control the web markets are blatant disruptions that will undermine the local basis of the Varokian economy…"
"Varok suffers because the economic basis is too localized," Orticon returned with visible relief …
"Since Orram has been gone, I have continued the discussion with Earth. I got news of the ship as soon as the Word Federation sanctioned it—well after they launched. It sounds like there was disagreement over it on Earth, but a few economists and business people ignored the rest and launched a voyage here to study the steady state. They can’t believe it’s possible without an overbearing government. They understand very well that time is not your enemy when enough is saved and reused. They know Earth is in danger from overpopulation stress. They realize vital resources are scarce, and they hate what the overburden of waste is doing to fresh water and the oceans."
I felt as if I had made some impression. Orticon seemed to be listening. "If Leyoon was right, then Mahntik is ignoring the… most basic principles…"
"They’ll hold, Orticon," Conn said. "Mahntik has underestimated the commitment of varoks to the steady-state. Don’t invest in her causes. She serves no one but herself."
"I’ve said it before, Conn. The Free-minds believe Varok is vulnerable because of its tight rationing of resources," Orticon said. "We need to expand our energy infrastructure and use more resources to build up our defenses."
Conn’s eyes narrowed with frustration. "Right! Some Earthlings would be eager to agree—an arms race is great for business."
Orticon scowled. "And what’s wrong with growing businesses, making a better life?"
Conn went ballistic. "Don’t even think it! Don’t you realize the deep pit Earth has dug for itself, going that route? How are human beings ever going to get off their dependence on cars? Start converting highways to railways? How will they shovel their way out of their dependence on war and the debt mess? Require more collateral or convince everyone to pay-as-you-go, as they did before World War I? Or maybe they’ll put a stop to the rich man’s game of casino economics. Maybe they’ll limit income differences to 10%. You think they’ll do that tomorrow? For Harrahn’s sake, don’t buy into Mahntik’s schemes. Technology can’t solve these kind of problems. Don’t take Varok down that road."
MAHNTIK THE TRAITOR TALKS TO A YOUNG AUDIENCE
Mahntik made her entrance down the stairs to her hearth room swathed in yards of luxuriant warming cloth. She smiled at the delegation…secure in her sense of control…
"We have good news, " she announced. "The Lake Seclusion Locale has voted to increase its population density. Our business is growing rapidly there, and we have a growing inflow of capital to rebuild the defenses of Varok—we will show our visitors from Earth that we can not be taken, in any sense of the word."
She stepped from the stairs onto the hearth stones, so she could look over the crowd of youth as she spoke.
"…Defense against future human invasions must begin with a significant economic base. Such a base is being established beneath Mount Ni."
"Don’t the taxes take most of your excess income?" one Free-mind dared to ask. "How have you alone saved enough to begin to build the industry needed for weapons design and manufacture?"
"Taxes are graduated in order to assure equity and equal opportunity," Mahntik tried to reassure him, "but there is no restriction on savings. And Globak Varok has granted me a special exemption for our work."
The youngster was not deterred. "But how could you accumulate so much? In every in locale, the money supply is held constant to discourage production beyond need."
"I have redefined our needs." Mahntik snapped. How shocked these naive enthusiasts would be, she thought behind her block, to know what fraction of my earnings are reported, how many of the credits in every locale are owed to me now.
"When we shift production to defense items, which other things will go out of production?" another youth asked. "Which will give up their resource quotas, and in which locales?"
"Ah—there is a mistake in your thinking, dear boy," Mahntik said, adding just enough edge to her voice to emphasize patience with his ignorance. "There is no longer a limited supply of anything—for us. Our purpose is more sacred than resource limits, more important than depletion quotas! Who among you would disagree? To be strong, Varok must grow. It is time we utilize our natural potential. It is foolish to save our resources for the unknown generations of some unknowable future—or for invaders from Earth!
"…Why do we live like simple farmers when we have the knowledge to live better than the forebears?" She paused to let the idea sink in, watching with relish the Free-minds’ shocked reactions to her blasphemy…."What we call waste or desolation now may be called necessity or beauty by future generations, by the species that replace us."
copyright 2012 Carolyn A. Neeper
To buy the book, read more excerpts, and find out more about the world of Varok, visit http://archivesofvarok.com