The retrofuturist impulse may vary between different thinkers and writers, but the overall attraction is to conceive of a world without the backlog of errors that make it so difficult to put ours on a better course. Not to say we couldn’t change our world, but the lack of clarity and will makes that unlikely. My hope is that we will see an appetite develop for some significant changes in society before the current depression ends, but I fear that conditions will have to become more than simply painful for most of us before that can happen.
Few people would balk at restoring a more equitable distribution of wealth – except of course those who enjoy the current huge disparity. This is not to take away the incentives that prompt capable people from exerting themselves in ways that benefit all society, but to return to socially acceptable standards. According to an article by Bill Bonner in “The Daily Reckoning”, the income spread between the average wage and the CEO’s salary in 1970 was 39 to one; now, with the average CEO remuneration at $37.5 million annually, the disparity is 1000 to one.
What was wrong with 39 to one? Nothing except the phony computations of “performance based compensation” that grew out of a US Congress attempt to tax extreme payouts. One has to wonder why they didn’t know enough to revisit the legislation when it failed so massively.
Another quote from the article says – “Retired CEO of DuPont, Edgar S. Woolard, Jr., did. In 2005, he was chairman of the NYSE’s executive compensation committee. As to the need to pay such high compensation in order to get good talent, he replied with a single word: “bull.” But did not the super-paid super-CEOs create super wealth? It was a “joke,” said he. He blew the whistle. But no one came a running.”
There is one other word appropriate to use in this situation – fraud. This diversion of wealth is another burden placed on our society by the same lack of adult oversight that allowed billions of phantom dollars to blow the financial system apart with the mortgage bubble and the derivatives bubble. We are in a fix now because the gullible investors finally realized that the leverage they thought was such a clever tool to make them rich was nothing but illusion and scam.
In the Gaian world I portray in the Iskander series, the investment of capital in enterprises that advance society and produce products of real value can lead to the accumulation of wealth, wealth held to be respectable. The wealth accumulated in our world by those who merely trade paper warrants and occupy an obstructive place between the producers of necessary items and the customers who need them is not respectable, and is a form of robbery from the Commons. The price of a barrel of oil went from $147 to less than $47 within a matter of days in 2008 – not because of a lessening of demand, or because it was of a lesser value, but because the credit upon which the financial bubble had been formed to speculate in it collapsed. I’m still looking for consumer groups to begin the civil suits to recover some of that $100 disparity – the fakery – for the people, ourselves, the consumers – who were robbed. The lack of that recompense would only be acceptable if the organized criminals who speculated in oil all went bankrupt when the easy money dried up.
Does writing fiction help create the conditions for a better future? Inasmuch as we become the people in the stories we tell about ourselves, yes. It does not produce rapid results, nor perfect ones, but Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is credited with playing a vital part in the ending of slavery in the US. The Wikipedia article says “the novel had a profound effect on attitudes toward African Americans and slavery in the United States, so much in the latter case that the novel intensified the sectional conflict leading to the American Civil War.” I’m not looking to start a civil war, and I’m not Harriet, but I’d like to think the Iskander series novels will point out the ways societies take shape and generate the interest in readers to investigate the places where our world went wrong. More on the philosophies and outlines of developments on Gaia next time.