Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

(Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow. Macmillan, 2017, 379 pp., $26.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

In Walkaway, Cory Doctorow takes on one of the most vexing matters of our time: Automation (more broadly, technological advances) is, at an accelerating rate, making human labor ever less necessary.

But what will it lead to?

A post-scarcity, egalitarian, “to each according to their wants” economy of abundance in which working is a matter of choice? Or to a version of the present artificial-scarcity economy in which there are an army of the poor and oppressed, and a few super-rich individuals who will resort to anything to retain their positions of power and privilege?

In Walkaway, the answer is both. In Doctorow’s medium-near future, there’s both a drastically more repressive version of current society — to alter the famous quotation from Lincoln Steffens, “I have seen the future, and it’s worse” — and a (small “l”) libertarian and egalitarian alternative built by those who “walk away” from the dominant “default” society, a “post-scarcity” alternative made possible by sweeping technological/productivity advances.

Therein lies the main virtue of Walkaway: Doctorow’s convincing, detailed, and attractive portrayal of that post-scarcity society and its workings.

To get a bit politically wonkish, what Doctorow describes, though he never uses the term, is an anarcho-communist society (in contrast to the other flavors of anarchism: individualist, mutualist, and syndicalist).

Other virtues include Doctorow’s insightful treatment of technological advances, notably in the liberatory and repressive possibilities they entail, and in the book’s humor, which mostly appears in its first 150 pages.

One of the main points Doctorow makes in support of a post-scarcity, egalitarian societal set-up is that meritocracy, in both authoritarian capitalist society and in libertarian alternatives, is a very bad idea, as the following dialogue between two of Doctorow’s characters, Gretyl and Iceweasel, illustrates:

“Your people are all fighting self-serving bullshit, the root of all evil. There’s no bullshit more self-serving than the idea that you’re a precious snowflake, irreplaceable and deserving . . .”

“I’ve heard all this. My dad used it to explain paying his workers as little as he could get away with, while taking as much pay as he could get away with. . . .”

“You’re assuming that because [the rich] talk about meritocracy, and because they’re full of shit, merit must be full of shit. It’s like astrology and astronomy: astrology talks about orbital mechanics and so does astronomy. But astronomers talk about orbital mechanics because they’ve systematically observed the sky, built falsifiable hypotheses from observations, and proceeded from there. Astrologers talk about orbital mechanics because it sounds sciencey and helps them kid the suckers.”

“You’re calling my dad an astrologer then?”

“That would be an insult to astrologers.”

Two other notable aspects of Walkaway are the full-spectrum sexual diversity of the characters, and that Doctorow includes two explicit, well written sex scenes. (This is in stark contrast to the usual, annoying avoidance of such scenes in the vast majority of science fiction novels, where disgustingly graphic depiction of violence is perfectly acceptable, but — horrors! — not graphic depiction of sex; the only other sci-fi authors I can think of who include explicit, fitting sex scenes in their work are Richard K. Morgan and Walter Mosley.)

As for the plot, it would give away too much to say more than that it revolves around the brutal repression of the walkaways, and their use of nonviolent resistance in response, after they develop a technology that the ultra-rich of “default” society find threatening.

The description of this conflict takes up more than two-thirds of the book, which is likely too much of it. In too many places, the latter portions of Walkaway drag. After reading the first 225 or so pages, I found myself wondering when it would ever end; I kept reading only because I wanted to see how Doctorow would resolve the conflict between the walkaways and “default.”

Anther problem with the book is that it seems disjointed at times. This is in part due to Doctorow’s using five p.o.v. characters. This isn’t necessarily a problem (see George Turner’s effective use of multiple [five] p.o.v.s in Drowning Towers), but it is here. Doctorow switches from one to another purely to advance the story, with the amount of time devoted to the different p.o.v.s varying considerably; and, as Walkaway progresses, it all but abandons the p.o.v. of what I originally thought was the primary p.o.v. character.

It doesn’t help that there’s little if any overlap — no differing views of the same things, a la Rashomon — in the events described from the different p.o.v.s, which aggravates the disjointedness problem.

Still, Walkaway‘s virtues — especially it’s detailed, attractive portrayal of a libertarian post-scarcity society — outweigh its faults.

Walkaway is quite probably the best fictional description of a post-scarcity society ever written.


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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel, and on an unrelated sci-fi novel, in his copious free time.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover

“The capitalist class seeks . . . to foster and increase color prejudice and race hatred between the white worker and the black, so as to make their social and economic interests appear to be separate and antagonistic, in order that the workers of both races may thereby be more easily and completely exploited.”

–“Negro Resolution,” 1901 Social Party convention

“[T]here aren’t any ‘jobs’ left. Just financial engineering and politics. I’m not qualified for either. For one thing, I can’t say ‘meritocracy’ with a straight face. . . . It’s the height of self-serving circular bullshit, isn’t it? We’re the best people we know, we’re on top, therefore we have a meritocracy. How do we know we’re the best? Because we’re on top. QED? The most amazing thing about ‘meritocracy’ is that so many brilliant captains of industry haven’t noticed that it’s made of such radioactive bullshit that you could spot it in orbit.”

–“Hubert, etc.” in Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway

(review coming soon)

Meme of the Day 4-5-17

Posted: April 4, 2017 in Capitalism

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–today’s meme courtesy of Steaming Pile o’ Trump

amazon logo

Shelf Awareness reports that has announced that it’s starting its “Black Friday Sale” on, yes, Good Friday.

(Actually, you can make this stuff up, but it’s all too believable, given the evil that Amazon does — the dire effects it’s had on independent bookstores and on small publishers.)

Reggie Jackson

“For the right amount of money, you’re willing to eat Alpo.”

–Reggie Jackson, quoted in The Sporting News, February 1, 1988

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(from The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations)

Front cover of "The Heretic's Handbook of Quotations

With one of the most painful years in memory behind us, and an upcoming year that seems certain to be worse, it’s time to imagine a better world:

  • Imagine if people were responsible, self-directed adults who thought for themselves rather than followers who abdicate their responsibilities by worshiping power-grubbing sociopaths and their sacred texts (both religious and political).
  • Imagine if religious and political true believers had a live-and-let-live attitude rather than believing that they have the right, or even the duty, to impose their beliefs on others.
  • Imagine if people knew how to reason logically and allowed evidence to determine their conclusions rather than engaging in wishful thinking while ignoring inconvenient facts.
  • Imagine a world in which there wasn’t an inverse relationship between the usefulness of work and pay for it, a world in which those who do the dirtiest, most necessary work — farm workers, childcare workers, garbage collectors — were the highest paid, and parasitic hedge fund managers, day traders, and lobbyists weren’t paid at all.
  • Imagine if people wanted to hear original music or see original artwork rather than hearing or seeing things they’ve heard or seen ten thousand times before.
  • Imagine a world in which justice wasn’t a term of vicious mockery (as in “equal justice under the law”).
  • Imagine a world in which social isolation wasn’t the norm, in which architecture, housing design and patterns, the transportation system, and the economic system reduced social isolation rather than fostered it.
  • Imagine if the Ten Commandments prohibited slavery, torture, and subjugation of women rather than swearing, worshiping graven images, and thought-crime (coveting thy neighbor’s wife or ox).
  • Imagine if no one thought they were better than other people simply because they’re “the chosen,” “the elect,” “God’s people.”
  • Imagine a world in which some people didn’t make money by locking other people in cages.
  • Imagine if ethical conduct in business didn’t put you at a competitive disadvantage.
  • Imagine a society based on cooperation, voluntary association, and mutual aid rather than coercion, economic inequality, economic insecurity, and frantic accumulation of material goods (at any cost — to others).
  • Imagine an economic system that didn’t provide constant temptation to lie to and to cheat others in the pursuit of profit.
  • Imagine if the Catholic, Mormon, and other churches prohibited their members from breeding like rabbits rather than commanding them to worsen the population problem.
  • Imagine if the churches emphasized the Golden Rule rather than punishment of those who transgress their “moral” dictates.
  • Imagine if the churches’ concept of morality wasn’t focused on controlling the private sex lives of consenting adults  and instead focused on reducing harm to others.
  • Imagine if the Democratic Party was actually democratic.
  • Imagine if Donald Trump was a compassionate, ethical human being.
  • Imagine (and I know this is a stretch) that America really was the land of the free.