Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Future of Capitalism

Here's a quote from Heinlein's first published short story, "Lifeline," which was published in 1939:

"There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back."

It seems appropriate to a time period when large businesses that have failed to practice good capitalism are asking to be saved the burden of responsibility. Corporations are just not capitalistic models. That's why they are unconstitutional.

I'm looking forward to the time when corporations own nukes. This will almost guarantee Post-Apocalyptic Scenario #1.

1 comment:

  1. It's been many years since I read that particular story, but I do remember that its main character, the eccentric inventor Dr. Pinero, creates a device that, for a modest fee, can tell the sufficiently curious how long they have left to live, down to the second. Its unworldly builder reasons that a prudent man would wish to know when the black camel will kneel at his door, the better to order his financial and personal affairs.

    At one point the life insurance companies, unable to buy Pinero out and desperate stave off technological obsolesce (i.e., stay in business), take him to court on some legal pretext or other. But thanks to a shrewd lawyer--perhaps the one who utters the words you quote, although I can't recall for certain--the case gets thrown out.

    Of course, there are additional complications...

    Whatever his flaws, Heinlein had a superb grasp of how the collision of an irresistible new technology with immovable human nature affects society.

    This peculiar genius of Heinlein’s comes through in another of his tales, "Solution Unsatisfactory," published not only a year before America's entry into the Second World War but also prior to the start of the Manhattan Project. He wrote it merely to pay off a mortgage, but nonetheless managed to forecast that an atomic weapon constructed by a top-secret American military program would be dropped on an Axis city so as to bring the fighting to a quick end, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. Heinlein even predicted that the Russians would master this menacing nuclear technology after the war and cause all sorts of trouble for the United States. While not exactly great literature, "Solution Unsatisfactory" remains an amazingly tough-minded and accurate bit of extrapolation, one never equaled by any other science fiction writer, not even Heinlein’s idol, H.G. Wells. I should also add that the story’s quite entertaining.

    Here it is.

    One last thing. Heinlein went on record with his belief that ultimately the human race would survive and prosper. You just might have to pay off those credit card bills after all.