Economic level. Any good Sci-Fi author has put some serious thought into the economy of their world and how it tilts one way or another. Does the world have plentiful resources? How does society handle the basics of food, shelter, and clothing? Is there a large gap between the wealthy and the poor that causes tension in the society?
In Pleroma’s Void, as is the case in Evolved, the economic level is decidedly tilted towards the rich and powerful. The resources are limited, creating a competitive environment among the classes and the urgency to find new sources. So much so that the driving force of humanity is to find and exploit new energy-rich resources (Kairos, or Pregnant Time). A consumerism economy swallows the resources faster than new sources are discovered, destroying earth and earth-two. This need for resources has perverted the morals and ethics of the autocrats in the consciousness hive and caused great suffering in society.
Some may argue that the desire for money is the root of all evil. In Pleroma’s Void the root of evil, which I define as a distraction from living a harmonious life with the world, is buried deeper. Usury is the root of evil, or the willingness to use another for your personal gain. In an economy, usury can become systemic by charging interest on debt and conditionally investing money with returns in mind.
This may make you uncomfortable. As a former financial analyst who rated companies on their potential returns, I understand your discomfort. After all, business schools preach shareholder value as the best way to focus the resources of the economy to drive growth. Allow me to break down the specifics of the argument from the business schools, and consensus in our capitalist society.
Economic value is created when the return on capital invested in the business exceeds the cost of capital used to finance the investment. To put more plainly, if a new business venture produces twenty dollars a year for each one hundred dollars invested then the return on capital is twenty percent. If the investment was financed with debt charging five percent then the economic value is fifteen percent of every one hundred dollars invested.
Positive economic value is essentially excess money generated from the business after all commitments are satisfied with operating, non-operating and payback to debt and equity holders. This means the managers of the company, who are often shareholders themselves, have the incentive to increase revenue and expand operating margins. In other words, seek out new opportunities for growth and minimize expenses, including labor expenses. This incentive, in a nutshell, defines capitalism.
Tying it to asset prices, the core driver of the stock market is whether the economic value of companies is expanding or contracting. The outlook of a growing company with expanding margins will lead to expanding economic value and therefore a higher value. Alternatively, when the cost of capital increases due to rising interest rates the economic value created potentially shrinks and stock market indices contract.
Capitalism has created stunning amounts of economic value by improving our economic standards of living and driving technological advancement. It has also widened the gap between the people with capital, the shareholders, and the people without, the laborers. However, capitalism has a darker side. It has little interest in non-productive resources, such as people without money (capital) or skills to contribute (employable to drive returns). In fact, capitalism has an incentive to reduce resources devoted to the most vulnerable parts of the population, such as the poor, children without support, the sick and the elderly, due to negative economic value. This is the morally bereft side effect of the system. Capitalism also creates a consumerism society focused on material objects and impersonal service transactions, further pushing the “have not’s” from the center of society.
A consumerism society exploits resources at an unsustainable pace with little consideration given to the replenishment or balance in the world. Global warming and the huge amount of debris in our oceans are symptoms of consumerism. Colonialism and slavery were also symptoms of consumerism as economic interests trumped moral and ethical considerations.
Now you may still argue capitalism is the best choice among imperfect options for society as a whole. And, I don’t disagree. The best attribute of capitalism is the ability to focus complex and competing interests on the desired goal. If the goal of capitalism could evolve from financial to more of a restorative role or at least a more holistic view of “societal profit,” then capitalism may still prove a part of the solution instead of the problem.
Until then the political system is the primary tool to offset the negatives of capitalism to ensure the economic level remains fair. In the USA, I’ve often said the country is a capitalist society more than a democratic one. What I mean by that is the capitalists influence the democratic process, tilting the economic level away from the individual. Corporations recognized as people and the billions of dollars spent on political fundraising are examples of the capitalist agenda dominating the democratic process.
Today, on the left we have problem solvers and on the right, we have people who put a premium on security. These two sides should complement one another when we focus on building. Instead, we fight and dehumanize each other in an effort to prove our perspective is the right one. At this point in time, it is hard to see how we exit this cycle without a war or something even worse.
Carrying these themes forward a few thousand years helped me create the economic reality in Pleroma’s Void. Please read along in Pleroma’s Void to see if capitalism ultimately helps or hurts society.