Trope-a-Day: No Poverty

No Poverty: Played straight in the Empire – and indeed the entire Core Economic Zone.

Well, at least as far as absolute poverty goes. Let us consider, for example, the hypothetical lowest-income citizen-shareholder in the Empire, someone who certainly doesn’t exist, having never had a single original, marketable thought in their entire life, possesses no skills, and who has never found any way to make themselves useful to any other sophonts whatsoever.

That guy, whose only source of income is the Citizen’s Dividend, can still afford a good-sized, luxurious home to live in, and – for less than the price of basic cable *here*, at that – an energy-and-cornucopia-services subscription sufficient to fabricate more food than he could ever eat, more clothing than he could ever wear, and a wide range of other assorted consumer goods even if they’re last year’s relinquished-copyright model; along with information-services access, basic-coverage tort insurance, and comprehensive medical.

That’s only going to stop being true if he manages to screw up deliberately and dramatically – and, given the generosity of Imperial bankrupty/debt law designed to encourage entrepreneurship and leave people able to function and earn more money to pay their debts in future, in fairly exotic ways. (And this is itself unlikely, inasmuch as That Guy is likely to receive a friendly visit from the Guardians of Our Harmony seeking to cure his obvious craziness even before taking it to the next level.)

tl;dr It is within delta of functionally impossible to have less than a well-off middle-class lifestyle in the CEZ in general and the Empire in particular.

Now, to mention what the trope page says is rarely mentioned, if you’re the type to concern yourself with relative poverty, then you can still find plenty of material to get hot and bothered about. The Empire got to its poverty-free post-material-scarcity state of awesomeness through the vigorous and rapacious practice of free markets and greed, and isn’t planning to change any time soon. As such, were anyone to bother computing its Gini coefficient or other such measures of economic inequality, it would undoubtedly cause some serious palpitations and flabberghast, the fantastically wealthy Numbers owning private luxury moons, and so forth.

It’s just that no-one *there* gives a damn, because the traditional ways of “legally stealing” your way to wealth are all illegal, and because it’s hard to convince people who live in big houses and own magic boxes that can make heaps and heaps of anything for twenty bucks a month that they’re being Horribly Oppressed by the 1%, the Man, or pretty much anyone else. At least, it is without idiot primate status-game instincts to help you.

Finally to note, this is something that I do pretty much try to take lightly, at least inside the CEZ. After all, to the lucky people from there, the magic box that makes whatever you want just as soon as it occurs to you to want it is the natural state of the universe, belike.

Of course, when they have to deal with the people from outside there, or, dearie me, with the people from the Unemerged Markets, they have the most terrible – “No comconsoles?” – problems in understanding exactly what the heck this poverty thing is. (See much more under Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense.) Not having a cornucopia machine of your very own is about as far as the non-cosmopolitan imagination gets.

Third Worldity in the Associated Worlds

In answer to a general question elsewhere about “Third World” nations in your setting:

Depending on whose perspective you look at it from, the Associated Worlds have lots of these. From the point of view of the Empire and the other self-designated “Core Economic Zone” powers – which is to say, distinguished by being effectively post-material-scarcity and energy-rich, most of the known galaxy is like this.

Actual conditions vary considerably, from places like the People’s State of Bantral (which could give most desperately impoverished kleptocracies on Earth a run for their money in the grinding poverty/oppressive dictatorial craphole stakes) at the low end to places resembling the Star Trek federation in which, despite having¬†cornucopia machine technology (== replicators), somehow terms like “quotas”, “allocations”, and “rations” still keep turning up, and the lifestyle is still pretty much 20th-century wealthwise.

While the difference between these cases is pretty obvious even to them, the people from the civilizations in which the average Joe lives in a mansion attended by a flock of robotic minions, can have virtually any material good for the asking, and thinks nothing of heading three star systems over for an impromptu “road trip” when the whim strikes him are not impressed, and would call both of them and everything in between poverty-stricken backwaters.

As for why – well, the standard CEZ diagnosis of either is “stupidity and/or power”. Stupidity, in the sense of having their brains eaten by bad economic ideas, like “relative wealth is more important than absolute wealth”, or “economics is a zero sum game”, or “the best way to get rich is to keep other people poor”, or “jobs, rather than the products of jobs, are good”, or “free trade bad”, or suchlike; and power, in the plain old sense of wanting to be able tell people what to do. Either of those things tends to be acutely corrosive to prosperity in general and the post-scarcity transition in particular.

(The locals in most of those places disagree, and usually have some narrative or other about, in the former-type case, how the bad old CEZ powers are keeping them down, or in the latter-type case, how their situation is actually better, safer, keeps superempowering tech in the hands of the experts, isn’t so decadent, etc. Since there are plenty of people in the CEZ who would happily give an open-source cornucopia and the open-source/public-domain fab library that goes with it to pretty much anyone who asks for one… well, the former is not exactly considered a serious complaint, and as for the latter – hey, if you like poverty so much, you go ahead and marry it, why don’t you?

That the governments and in many cases the corporate, unionist, etc., special interests that own them in much of the non-CEZ world go to a lot of trouble to keep smuggled cornucopias, or at least unregulated¬†cornucopias not running state oversight code out of their polities only gives more credence to the “it’s because you can’t strut around like a great entitled jackass and tell people how to live unless you keep your economic, etc. leverage” point of the view that the CEZ-types espouse.)

As for how they’re treated – well, a few of the interested activist types in the CEZ work actively to try to spread counter-propaganda about what life’s really like in the less, ah, controlled chunks of the galaxy, and smuggle cornucopias to friendly groups inside those nations (and, of course, when you have one, you can rapidly have more than one) to try and fix the problem – after all, it’s not the locals’ fault that they’re governed by power-hungry idiots.

(Well, mostly. It’s not like most of the Western world on today’s Earth wouldn’t instantly be classified by them as a perfectly democratic example of both economic stupidity and power-hungry jackasses, and it’s hard to argue that we didn’t do that to ourselves – as in the cases of many of the democratic, etc., polities in the Worlds outside the CEZ, of various levels of economic development – but I digress.)

But the modal member of the CEZ mostly just ignores the problem. You can’t fix stupid, and you can’t fix grasping, and you pretty much can’t do anything with these people until they grow the fuck up, so worrying about it will only give one indigestion. More wine, old boy?

While this might seem depressing, and in the short term rather is – well, the CEZ are pretty sure they’re on the right side of history, here. ¬†In the long term, it’s pretty damn hard to persuade people that refusing to touch the magic box that can build anything is for their own good, and as for banning a technology that’s freely available elsewhere – hey, that trick always works, right?