Trope-a-Day: Privately Owned Society

Privately Owned Society: In what is now the Empire, long ago. Or now. Could go either way.

In its purest form, in the years immediately following the Drowning of the People. After deciding that democracy amounted to substituting a parade of replaceable jackasses for the old permanent jackasses on the thrones of tyranny – and subsequently tossing the first candidates for the position off a 400′ waterfall – society was indeed privately owned, there not being anything non-“private” left in the world. Law and contract enforcement was entrusted to for-hire and eleemosynary PPLs, justice and arbitration left in the hands of equally private deemsters, and pretty much every other necessary function that people not familiar with the theory of this sort of thing are now thinking of handled by one or another for-profit, non-profit, or cooperative (yes, kids, an internally syndicalist syndicate is every bit as much a free-market entity as a megacorporation) group.

Things evolved somewhat over the centuries, with various PPLs forming complex coordinating superstructure organizations out of efficiency, evolving towards de facto pseudo-monopoly in some areas, and for similar reasons ending up purchasing sovereign rights – which in Imperial parlance are a very limited subset of the bundle of property rights attached to real property, nowhere near as generous as what we would claim them to be on Earth – from their subscribers. These superstructures were, through evolution, the basis of the Old Empires and other pre-Imperial polities of Eliéra, and eventually for the Empire itself.

But is that a move away from a Privately Owned Society?

Well, the obvious answer is that the citizen-shareholders obviously do own the Empire and all its appurtenances. That’s what the shareholders part means. Hell, they can even dissolve it any time they like.

But a more sophisticated answer would be that the Drowning of the People marked a divergence point from our history in that it pretty much killed off all forms of legitimacy, governmentally speaking, as we use the term. You can look down pretty much every form of legitimacy/legitimate government mentioned in that Wikipedia article, and they’ve got a multi-thousand-year old philosophical tradition explaining how that’s a quaint slaver’s rationalization. You can’t legitimize the coercion of the non-consenting no matter how much bullshit you spread on it.

The only source of “legitimacy”, they would claim, is the free consent and contract of the individual, and that’s what they have. Their Divine Majesties’ Governance derives all of its power from literally every single Imperial citizen-shareholder having contracted its services – in the areas of law and contract enforcement, externality management, and some minor coordination functions – and clicked through to accept the terms and conditions of service – and, as Imperials point out laboriously to those missing the point, it has absolutely no existence apart from the sum of people who follow said service agreement…

(And, okay, the volume in which they own the purchased sovereign rights mentioned above. But even tenuous as they are, there’s an entire political faction – the Dissolutionist Tendency – which exists to argue that they should never have got into volume-management in the first place and should sell said rights right back to the citizen-shareholders.)

…and they have the seals and signatures on file to prove that, dammit.

All the terminology and practices reflect this. There’s no tax, for example, because the governance literally does not have the power to tax. All it can do is charge a Service Fee, and that service fee is strictly defined in the contract. And if you don’t pay, it’s not some special criminal offense of “tax evasion” with all manner of special investigatory powers and punishments attached; it’s plain old breach of contract.

Privately owned enough for you?

Vigorous Meritocracy

“There is something to be said for lanect governance. Not a lot, but something.

“That something is that lanect polities are some of the truest meritocracies in the Worlds. Any lanect, regardless of birth, sex, race, wealth, or popularity who – by some talent of wit, gripe, cunning, or main strength – is able to seize some degree of power within the racial hierarchy may carve his skull, name himself Warmark, and command whatever holdings he can as his “‘ak”. Indeed, such a lanect will enjoy the utter loyalty and unquestioning obedience of the uncarved, non-entity lanect from whose ranks he rose – until and if another ambitious one rises.

“Such a one is then thrust immediately into the hierarchy of Warmarks, all simply titled so, that dominates lanect space – from those mightiest who can claim multiple systems as their holdings, down to those at the bottom who can dominate little more than two streets together or at most a small factory. This hierarchy is, too, determined by ability: one who can dominate another Warmark, will. Lesser Warmarks offer service to the greater in exchange for protection from their peers, while in turn plotting to replace the greater if they can. If and when they do, they are immediately accepted in that position: success is all that matters to legitimize a lanect Warmark, not the origin of the Warmark nor the methods of his success.

“But what is most to the credit of the lanect is their whole-hearted embrace of these principles. Many species, in such an environment, would plan to avoid having strong rivals in their service that might replace them, and seek out an overlord weak enough to be unable to make harsh demands upon them, or embroil them in dangerous affairs.

“And yet, despite the remarkably high mortality among Warmarks, whose average lifespan is less than a third of the species average of 99.4 years – even the longest-lived on record, Stantur of Nemp, only lived to be 42 before his assassination in the nuclear destruction of Stanturaken – virtually all lanect Warmarks seek to attach themselves to the greatest destiny they can find that will have them among those higher, and surround themselves routinely with the smartest, toughest, most devious advisers and lieutenants that they can successfully dominate, despite – in a majority of cases – creating their own worst rivals and eventual successors. Indeed, those few who have lived at least some time after being deposed have been recorded taking pride in creating a successor more fit to hold power than they.

“We may not want to live under a lanect meritocracy, but we should, I deem, honor their willingness to live up to their principles to the exact and final end which those principles demand.”

– Sophontology of the Lanect ‘Aks,
L. Airin Makarios, RT,
Imperial Exploratory Service


Odious Sovereign Debt

MirrorField asks, with regard to Author’s Note: Sovereign Debt:

If this is the case, I’m left to wonder on their opinion on the concept of “odious debt”, ie. debt incurred by government *not* representative of it’s constituents. Basically, do the eldrae believe that it’s a-ok to hold joe average responsible for debts run up by government he didn’t support (and possibly actively worked against)? Or is it a simple credit risk associated with lending to dictators? Or would they simply consider members of said regime *personally* liable for debts thus incurred? Inquiring minds want to know…

Well, the first thing to note at this point is that *there* , the concepts of what one might consider a legitimate government are somewhat different to begin with.

For the Worlds in general, as I mention in today’s out-of-order trope-a-day People’s Republic of Tyranny, unlike Earth, there is no general consensus in favor of representative democracy. (And, heck, the Accord has members for whom the entire concept would be meaningless – hive minds, say, in which The Man would have The Vote – or would need a lot of revision – sophonts with specialized castes, like those of many Earth insects, in which all sophs are definitely not created equal and some subcastes may not even be sophont.)

Now, where the eldrae, the Empire, and the Directorate of Gilea & Company in particular are concerned, the thing to remember is that they’re libertists, and pretty hard-core ones by our standards. So far as they’re concerned, governmental legitimacy can only come from the unanimous consent of the governed, not the “representative consent of the governed”, or the “implicit consent of the governed”, or whatever other excuse one might cobble together. That’s what defines a Society of Consent. All other forms of government are necessarily based on the coercion of the unwilling, and therefore korasmóníë, “force-states”, all of which are mighty obnoxious in the sight of the Freest of the Free.

Representativeness as we would define it, therefore, doesn’t exactly cut much ice with them. In an autocracy, one man is wearing the jackboots. In a democracy, >=(50%+1) men are wearing the jackboots. Neither of these cases is equivalent to an absence of jackboots, but both of them are suspiciously near-equivalent to a gang of nasty little slaving thugs who probably pull the wings off flies and engage in dubious sexual practices.

Now, on the specifics of odious debt, I suspect what matters to them is continuity. Recall, so far as they’re concerned, a government is just another type of business. If your revolution just happens to be a change in management, or a takeover that still lays claim to all the assets of the business – well, corporations don’t get to conveniently forget about their liabilities just because the shareholders fired the board for making deals they wouldn’t have approved of and replaced them. You don’t get to claim the assets, the name, the infrastructure, yadda yadda, without the liabilities that come attached to them. (Although we might be willing to talk about restructuring. Maybe. If it improves our chances of getting our money back.)

If, instead, it’s the equivalent of buying the company’s assets at the liquidation sale – well, fine, then, you don’t get the liabilities (they aren’t holding Joe Average responsible, you see; they’re holding the corporate governance responsible, in short). But you also aren’t necessarily the seniormost creditor in that liquidation – if the overthrown dictator borrowed a few billion exvals to spend on battlecruisers and palaces, and you don’t want to honor the loan under these circumstances, that’s fine, but you can’t have the battlecruisers and palaces either. We have a lien and a legitimate claim on the assets of the former regime. You can’t disavow the legitimacy of a transaction and simultaneously claim ownership of the assets that transaction paid for. That’s double-billing, and pretty odious double-billing at that.

This is, of course, arguably rather a harsh position to take – but should you point that out to them, the average Imperial will shrug and point out that:

(a) As long xenohistorical experience has taught them, The Revolution Was Not (Will Not Be) Civilized, and should this turn out to be the rare exception where the new regime isn’t a bunch of equivalent thugs wearing differently colored hats, someone will probably offer to help them out with their debts later on – and if they are, why exactly do they deserve a freebie?

(b) That in any case, there’s an established precedent for being oppressed, and it worked for them, and they are deeply cynical, therefore, about this supposed “lack of support” on the part of the many.

And finally:

(c) In any case, that loan is not the bank’s money to give away. It’s their customers’ money, their investors’ money, the people to whom they have a fiduciary responsibility, and it is absolutely not their place to decide to give away their customers’ money without their customers’ joint say-so. No matter who might claim otherwise.

(Every note, after all, has two ends – and that some governments are often happy to order the wiping out “odious debt” without so much as mentioning that the other end of that note is coming right out of a bunch of pension funds, small investors’ funds, etc., that don’t particularly deserve to be stiffed is another one of those things that the average Imperial would find headbangingly dishonest. If exactly what they’d expect from a korasmóníë.)