Industrial Economics

Our first challenge is to create an entire economic infrastructure, from top to bottom, out of whole cloth. No gradual evolution from previous economic systems is possible, because there IS no previous economic system. Each interdependent piece must be materialized simultaneously and in perfect working order; otherwise the system will crash out before it ever gets off the ground.

– CEO Nwabudike Morgan, “The Centauri Monopoly”

A very distinct feature of modern societies is that everything is dependent on everything else. Not by design, but by necessity. Should one part of the system suffer a critical failure, everything else would follow suit. The most dramatic example of this is if the production of electricity were to suddenly not happen – whatever you were up to before the interruption, you are no longer doing it now. The same goes, albeit perhaps not as dramatically, for every other critical system. If the water stops, then agriculture stops. If agriculture stops, then food stops. And so on, in ever more complex and interdependent chains of supply and demand.

While it might be tempting to proclaim that some aspect is more important than the others, the crux of the matter is that they are all critical. If any one component breaks down, everything stops – the only difference is the particulars. If you’ve ever played a town management survival game, you know it really does not matter whether everyone died from lack of food or from a preventable disease. In both cases, everyone died, and your next playthrough will be informed by the need to make every aspect function in good working order.

This does, however, highlight an inherent contradiction of for-profit economics. The drive to maximize profits tends to manifest as a wish to maximize efficiency. In a tautological fashion, efficiency is defined as the reduction of expenditure whilst also maintaining profitability. You gotta spend money to make money, but preferably only the minimum amount of it. There is a tendency to skimp on the things that are not quite necessary when everything goes according to plan, but become very, very necessary once disaster strikes.  On Earth, this manifested itself in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, where the lack of preparedness caused over a hundred workers to die as the fire raged. On Chiron, it might manifest as not implementing the double and triple redundancy layers that prevent things from critically falling apart, but which do not generate profit in any immediate sense.

The challenge for Morgan – and indeed every other faction – is to create a situation where it is sustainable to focus exclusively on the profitability of an activity. There is a vast range of infrastructure that has to be constructed within a long term time frame in order to enable short term profit as a social mode of organization. If you want to build capitalism from scratch, you must first construct a social universe.

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Social Psych

If you can discover a better way of life than office-holding for your future rulers, a well-governed city becomes a possibility. For only in such a state will those rule who are truly rich, not in gold, but in the wealth that makes happiness—a good and wise life.

– Plato, the Republic, Datalinks

In the annals of surviving a traumatic crash onto unknown shores, the first episode of Lost stands out as one of the most traumatic. Everything is loud, fast, blurry, in every way impossible to make sense of. Things have happened, things are happening, and there is an overwhelming sense that things will happen again, with the quickness. In short, it is something of a predicament. The same predicament as the early colonists find themselves, albeit with angrier polar bears.

A question that has to be answered is how to transition from the moment of traumatic impact to an ordered, well-maintained and functional society. It is not obvious how to get from crash site to city hall, but it has to be done. And it has to be done in such a way that the trauma becomes livable: visions of what happened will haunt your nightmares forever, but unless you help salvage the wreckage into an airtight place to live, there will not be a future within which to have nightmares. The trauma is real, but the time to process it has yet to come.

Plato is very far from this situation. His deconstruction of what a state needs in order to function, piece by piece, is useful as an analytic tool for looking at one’s own circumstance (although probably not as a blueprint for an utopian society). But unless there is time to sit down to ponder these things, or the pondering has already happened in the past, more immediate concerns will take precedence: survival first, philosophy later.

The revenge of philosophy is that there will always come a time when its questions have to be answered. How shall we live? What is to be done? Where are we going? Now that we have survived, how shall we live with ourselves?

The concept of psych brings together many disciplines we consider disparate today: medicine, philosophy, psychology, political science, sociology, education and so on. What these have in common is the endeavor to create a good life, each in different ways. The common core is what Aaron Antonovsky called a sense of coherence – the feeling of being part of a whole which makes sense and confers meaning upon one’s actions. Establishing such a sense on a societal level is something that takes time and effort, but which is also necessary for its long-term survival. Plato will not help you build a hermetically sealed dome within which an oxygenated atmosphere can be maintained, but he will help you figure out what to do once the noise dies down and you have to confront your continued existence in the world.

Industrial Base

Resources exist to be consumed. And consumed they will be, if not by this generation then by some future. By what right does this forgotten future seek to deny us our birthright? None I say! Let us take what is ours, chew and eat our fill.

– CEO Nwabudike Morgan, “The Ethics of Greed”

As the name implies, the Industrial Base technology represents setting up the first basic components of an industrial society. This means simple things like conveyor belts and assembly lines, but also more subtle things like supply chains and distribution channels. A factory is not the sum of its parts – it is a node in a complex network of moving parts, where each component has to work in order for the next component down the line to work. Building an industrial base means laying the groundwork for such a network, in such a way that miners know where to send ore, ore processing facilities know where to send its output, and factories knowing what to do with the goods. Neither of these things on their own is as useful as all of them together. In fact, there is something dystopic about a factory producing things which only ever pile up outside of it with nowhere to go; there was supposed to be more to the process.

Setting these things up is not a straightforward process, however. Especially not when on a new planet, where the local conditions are not yet extensively known. A factory has to be built specifically to process a particular kind of materials, and in order to do that it must be determined which materials are around in sufficient quantities to be useful on industrial scales. In order to determine which materials are at hand, the local area has to be surveyed and analyzed. Furthermore, these same materials have to be investigated so as to determine their usefulness. This process takes time and effort, and the results are not given beforehand. The only way to find out what can be used and what cannot is – as extensive as the libraries on Earth materials might be – trial and error.

Conversely, this opens up for new discoveries. Finding out that a new material (such as synthmetal) can do something unexpected means it can (and will) be used for that purpose. This can either be direct consumption, or as a component somewhere in the industrial chain of production. Once plugged into the system, new properties will emerge about this material, which can then be used in additional ways, generating more knowledge, and so on. Setting up an industrial base is not only building a factory; it is in many ways jumpstarting the process of industrial knowledge gathering and generating.

It is likely that Morgan makes some reference to this process further into his Ethics. Even more likely is that this quote is placed in a context of arguing that having more now is better than having slightly more later. What you have now can be used to create more things, which in turn can be used to create more things, and so on. Getting this exponential chain of events rolling as early as possible thus becomes an ethical imperative; what good reason could there be to deny ourselves the definite benefits down the line of getting a head start?