Energy bank

Life is merely an orderly decay of energy states, and survival requires the continual discovery of new energy to pump into the system. He who controls the sources of energy controls the means of survival.

– CEO Nwabudike Morgan, “The Centauri Monopoly”

There is an old saying that you can’t take it with you. ‘It’ refers to money, and the implied destination is the afterlife, whatever it might turn out to be. With money being what we are used to seeing – currency and bank accounts – this is an eminent truth, rooted deeply within the material conditions of our situation. On Chiron, things are ever so slightly more metaphysical. If life is energy (and energy is life), then you can indeed take it with you, either through an orderly unleashing of the accumulated power into the general environment (presumably to the same state of entropy you went to), or through some sort of symbolic outburst which causes some big event to fire which ultimately culminate in – nothing.

A big hurdle in power generation is what to do with it. To be sure, being able to produce monumental amounts of energy during peak performance is impressive, but it is not necessary to do so at all times, and it would cause the machinery to degrade at too fast a pace to be sustainable. It would also burn fuel for no particular gain. Most of the time, what is needed is a moderate output, with a little extra on top to prevent brownouts. Producing at maximum capacity would thus be both wasteful (seeing as no one uses the power generated), and counterproductive. You can’t take it with you, as it were.

An economy based on accumulated energy turns this on its head, however. Not only is cranking up the generator to the max profitable – it is the very definition of profit. It still runs into the same hurdle of having to go somewhere. The surplus that is not pumped into the energy grid for consumption has to be put into some sort of storage – a big honking battery, to use a technical term. By calling this facility an energy bank, the game is ever so slightly making a pun out of the situation – it is both an accumulation of batteries (a bank) and a financial institution. It would have been sufficient to simply call it a bank, but it would not have conveyed just how intertwined power and wealth are.

An interesting question arises with regards to just who is put in charge of these institutions. On the one hand, ensuring a steady supply of power is crucial to life on Chiron. On the other hand, as we have seen here in our own timeline, there is profit to be made by being able to direct the flows of currency. It is possible that these banks are merely big backend batteries that hum along with only occasional maintenance. It is also possible that they become a reincarnation of the power companies of yore, who were none too discreet about how power can mean both energy and political influence. As with the recreation commons, I suspect it differs from faction to faction.

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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.

Hologram theatre

Richard Baxton piloted his Recon Rover into a fungal vortex and held off four waves of mind worms, saving an entire colony. We immediately purchased his identity manifests and repackaged him into the Recon Rover Rick character with a multi-tiered media campaign: televids, touchbooks, holos, psi-tours—the works. People need heroes. They don’t need to know how he died clawing his eyes out, screaming for mercy. The real story would just hurt sales, and dampen the spirits of our customers.

– “Mythology for Profit”, Morgan Stellartots Keynote Speech

The quote you just read does us the service of doubling down on the bread and circuses aspect of drone management facilities. The difference between a how a hologram theatre and a recreation commons is presented is stark and telling. The latter are different, unique, an expression of the values and virtues of the different factions that build them. The former, however, are sites of standardized marketization and products ruthlessly focus-tested so as to generate maximum output per energy input. In short, here too we see the difference between the fledgling outposts of the last chapter, and the emerging rapidly advancing civilization we see here. It takes a village to raise a child, but a keynote speech requires a lot more infrastructure than that.

This is not to dismiss the Morganite market cynicism as pure ideology. There is a grain of truth in their assessment that simply telling it like it is will not produce the desired outcome. People do not go to the movies to revisit the traumas and troubles of daily life; quite the opposite, they go there to escape. This is true both for those seeking to maximize profit and those who merely wish to keep the populace complacent. Bringing forth the full frontal mind worm fury in full-resolution hyperrealism is counterproductive. Distraction is the name of the game of popular culture. But, to quote George Lipsitz:

For all their triviality and frivolity, the messages of popular culture circulate in a network of production and reception that is quite serious. At their worst, they perform the dirty work of the economy and the state. At their best, they retain memories of the past and contain hopes for the future that rebuke the injustices and inequities of the present.

We can not postulate that popular culture is an accurate representation of the world as it is, in some sort of true form. We can not, however, go all in and claim it to be all lies. The most useful way to think about it is somewhere in between: there are some true things shown in the theatre, some false, but social reality is constituted by the things people see and talk about. Most of the images and topics of discussion have, throughout the centuries, tended to come from the theatre – be it stage, screen or hologram.

It is tempting to speculate about what kinds of cultural artifacts the different factions create. The Spartans might reimagine 300 in about as many versions; the Believers would make at least one vid about the one pair of footsteps; the University would simply upscale the old Carl Sagan classics. What the Cybernetics or the Cultists are up to is anyone’s guess, though I imagine there’d be quite an underground market for a very specific kind of vids wherein the two different factions meet and greet.

The Merchant Exchange

Human behavior is economic behavior. The particulars may vary, but competition for limited resources remains a constant. Need as well as greed have followed us to the stars, and the rewards of wealth still await those wise enough to recognize this deep thrumming of our common pulse.

– CEO Nwabudike Morgan, “The Centauri Monopoly”

The Merchant Exchange is one step above the developmental levels of the Industrial Base required to build it. Where the base is concerned with getting things moving in a figurative sense, the Exchange is all about getting things moving in a literal sense. Logistics and finance are the name of the game, and the base that builds the Exchange are the London, Singapore or Hong Kong of the new world. It would be the place to go for commencing commerce, international or domestic. Which is to say, it would be a competitive advantage of note for the faction building it.

Most of this advantage would come from being first. A planet with only one site of commerce and exchange makes very little sense, and it is only natural to find other such hubs across the geography. Being unique would be the mark of a small planetary economy, but being first also means being able to set the rules for further transactions. Furthermore, the second and third such hub would have to establish connections with the first hub, thus increasing its connectivity. While they would functionally do the same things as the Exchange, they would differ in that they do not have the institutional gravity coming from being the prime mover. Once something becomes a habit, it becomes hard to shake it; once a sufficient number of sufficiently wealthy merchants makes a point of being at the Exchange at all times, it becomes a profitable habit to boot.

Mechanically, this secret project adds one energy production to all base tiles that are not xenofungus. Given that most tiles produce no energy at all, this is a substantial improvement. Ironically, despite Morgan being quoted (with their leader quote to boot), the Morganites initially stand least to gain from this advantage. The extra income is tied to the number of citizens per base, and with the population limit of four per base, the additional energy is less than expected. It does, however, speak to this being an early project: it facilitates commerce between people, and it can only facilitate to the extent that there are people to be facilitated.

As time passes, the Exchange becomes less of a crucial financial nexus and more of a prestige operation. A profitable prestige operation, to be sure, but nowhere near the monopoly envisioned in the quote. Nevertheless, staying attuned to the energetic pulse of the economy is a very Morganite thing to do; energy, after all, is life.

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?

Morgan Industries

The Morgans view energy as life itself. This is the one core tenet that propels the faction forward and motivates its every action. Energy, being both power and money in the Alpha Centauri setting, is literally the thing that makes things happen. This main insight of physics is turned into a societal ethos, and thus more energy always becomes preferable to less energy. Energy used now can be translated into more energy available later, which means that it becomes imperative to set in motion the process of compound interest as soon as possible: the return on investment is only as large as the initial investment, and down the line those who are industrious will profit way more than those who are not. Or, as it is stated in the leader quote:

Human behavior is economic behavior. The particulars may vary, but competition for limited resources remains a constant. Need as well as greed have followed us to the stars, and the rewards of wealth still await those wise enough to recognize this deep thrumming of our common pulse.

– CEO Nwabudike Morgan, “The Centauri Monopoly”

It is unclear whether the switch from currency to energy as prime means of exchange happened before or after the long journey to Planet; cases can be made either way, both with interesting implications. Regardless, the fact that money now exists in the form of energy means that accumulating a large wealth becomes a means in itself. Energy can be used to buy or sell things, or it can be used to quite literally make things happen. A factory needs energy to run, but it will only run if someone is ready to invest in it; if its potential profitability is unsure or too low, investors – power brokers – will turn their attention elsewhere.

This state of things dramatically puts economics at the heart and center of every endeavor. The market quite literally decides whether things will happen or not. But it is not the same economics we are used to. “Supply” and “demand” have imploded into each other, and have to be seen in a different light than we are used to. Having vast quantities of energy means that your demand for a particular thing quickly translates into a supply of this very thing – you can, by choosing to invest your energy in something, make it happen. The question of what to do ultimately comes down to two things: personal preference and the prospect of future profits.

The fact that the Morganites embrace both of these as valid options is represented in gameplay terms by the fact that bases can not grow beyond size 4 before constructing a Hab Complex. On the one hand, the citizens that do inhabit Morganite bases are more likely to generate a profit than citizens of other bases (by virtue of the Morganite bonus to its economy rating). On the other hand, investing in large scale infrastructure is not likely to generate immediate returns on investment, and it is in any case more tempting to invest in more luxuries for oneself. Along the same lines, investing in communal goods such as a standing army is always less profitable than investing in more particular goods, and thus the Morganites have a penalty to their support rating.

The fact that energy is rooted in immediate physics – power is either present or not – rather than the speculative fiction we call money, means that there is little doubt whether an investment is profitable or not. Either you end up with more energy than you started with, or with less. There are no uncertainties in this regard. Given the lack of uncertainty, there are clear incentives for going with what works on a ruthlessly physical level: if something does not work on the level of physics, it does not work on the level of economics, and thus it is better to do literally anything else. This has the effect of creating a society very closely tied to the material conditions of its perpetuation: energy is what makes everything happen. Thus, knowing the ins and outs of physics means knowing the ins and out of economics. Morganite science does not progress because one theory is better than another, but because its immediate application is more profitable. Economics as physical reality also becomes social reality.

It is interesting to note that this ruthless materiality is something that the Morganites share with the Hive. The question of whether or not something works is central to the instrumental rationality they both employ. An efficient factory is a good factory, regardless of which faction owns it. The difference lies primarily in what the end product is used for; the Morganites, as we have seen, are not averse to diverting energy and resources to fulfill the wishes and whims of individuals. The goals are different, but the means are very much the same.

Should the Morganites happen to lead humanity into its transcendence, it would very likely lead to a combination of ecology and this strange energy-based economy. While growth for its own sake has a very specific biological term associated with it – cancer – the notion that energy permeates everything is a core tenet of ecological thinking. The more energy there is in an ecological system, the more ecology there is in that same system. Post-humanity in this scenario would thus be the gardeners of a very energy-intense ecology, dense vibrant paradise jungles where every single falling leaf is quickly reabsorbed into the economy. This vision might seem counterintuitive, until we remember the first founding premise of this faction: energy is life.