a tale of the twilight continuum
One of the most recent civilizations to join the Hegemony, the Plutarchs, a group of sentients from a highly advanced world, upon discovering the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations insisted on becoming a member of said civilizations. The Plutarchs (our name for them, that was the closest translation that worked in polite company, their actual translation was “the owners of everything”) were insistent they could improve galactic commerce by bringing their ideas to the community of worlds.
They insisted their way of dealing with wealth, its management and development, mastered over millennia ensured the furthering of progress, improved innovation and inspired their populace to work harder than ever with new levels of prosperity for the civilization. And while there was poverty, it was an accepted part of the lifestyle of their planet and the people who were poor understood it was their lot in life. It simply couldn’t be helped. Poverty was a natural side-effect of wealth and knowledge of that fact ensured wealth moved where it needed to be in society.
The Hegemony tended to not involve itself in the politics of worlds unless those worlds wanted to join the galactic community. The Hegemony was less than happy with the social structures and were absolutely sure they wanted nothing to do with the Plutarchs financial structures since the Plutarchs, for all of their wealth had failed to handle issues on their own planet to the standards of the Council of Worlds. While the Hegemony watched the Plutarchs and Citizens relationships, the Plutarchs insisted they should be allowed to join the Hegemony and would not take no for an answer. After a decade of watching the planet, the Hegemonic Council’s solution was a unique one.
The Council’s decision was one that did not change the inherent nature of the planet. Since every Citizen was fitted upon birth, with an automatic asset management account, which tracked their wealth and assets and assigned them a numerical value, indicating their wealth, the Council decided to build on that idea. Every citizen was fitted with a gravitic torc. A beautiful piece of jewelry that could not be removed by local scientists. The torc would be linked to the databases of the world banks and would reflected the wealth of the person, the richer they were, the more affected by the force of gravity they would become.
Once the system was installed (and it took some time, the Hegemony insisted on hiring local workers and paying them a galactic Citizen’s wages for their efforts) it would be active on all one billion of the Citizens. It was explained how the technology would work and Plutarchs who were extremely wealthy would be given a month to decide how to organize their funds. Most didn’t seem to understand how the devices would work and were unhappy with how the Hegemony decided to go about their indoctrination.
The Council tried to explain how the galaxy was a big place and worlds who wanted the benefits of the Hegemony, a community of over sixty thousand inhabited planets and millions of other kinds of biomes, artificial, virtual, chemical or mechanical, slavery of any kind was frowned upon by responsible members of the Hegemony. No race could trade, sell, or interact with the Hegemony if they engaged in slavery or slave-like conditions. The state of Citizens on the Plutarchs world easily qualified as a form of wage slavery and indentured servitude.
Citizens were unable to own property unless they were already born into wealth. If a Citizen managed somehow to become wealthy enough to afford property, they paid three times the current rate as a form of entrance fee into the Plutarch society. Most of the time, Citizens were paid only what was necessary for them to meet their monthly allowance of resources. The net result was, at the end of the month, Citizens had a net worth of zero. Sometimes it was less. If a Citizen had a net value of less than zero, they were allowed to use debt management mechanisms to keep track of that debt.
Unfortunately, once a Citizen fell deeply into debt, they were usually unable to get out of debt and interest rates ensured they would be driven to penal slavery, either by failing to pay the interest which then criminalized their poverty and ensured they were sent to debtor’s prisons to work off that debt being paid one tenth of their previous wages. Citizens sent to prison, died there and their debt was divided among their surviving relatives.
Citizens could be educated, but only one tenth of one percent could afford to do it without incurring new costs. Most were forced to get an education they could not afford and became part of a workforce that could only pay enough to keep their debt from growing, nothing more. Yes, even under these conditions, innovations, breakthroughs, developments continued to happen because people were desperate to escape their conditions. Most of those technologies were “developed” by the Plutarchs who paid their wages as work for hire, making sure the Citizen got to keep none of the funds created by their labors.
As the month wound on, most Plutarchs ran about trying to figure out how to maneuver their wealth into accounts that would make their money appear on paper to belong to someone other than themselves. Others made corporations, claimed those corporations were persons and divested themselves of their wealth. Normal Citizens hearing the news of their impending joining of the Hegemony were unable to muster much enthusiasm, especially when the Hegemony indicated it would make no changes to the status quo of the civilization.
The gravitic web was established one week before activation of the Wealth Management System and the Citizens who established it complained nothing would change for them and the Hegemony was simply a greater version of the structure of their world and it was simply preparing Citizens for their eventual enslavement as members of the galactic community. Most of those technicians were paid a tidy bonus to establish the gravitic web and were pleased to see the Hegemony was far less stingy than the Plutarchs of their world and they had better work hours as servants of the Hegemony, so they surmised it might not be as difficult when they became Citizens of the Hegemony.
A great fanfare preceded the Hegemonic Council’s arrival on the Plutarch’s world for their acceptance ceremony. The gravitic web was activated at the same time as the treaty was signed. The signer of the treaty and ninety percent of all Plutarchs died instantly, crushed under the weight of their wealth. Once activated, it could not be easily shut down. The Council retired to quarters and would wait for the next representatives of the Plutarchs to appear.
The Hegemony’s computers did not accept prevarications used by the Plutarchs for generations to pretend they were less wealthy than they appeared to be. If money could be tied to you in some fashion, no matter how tenuous, it was and the burden of that wealth was yours. The remaining nine percent were hospitalized and unable to move until they actually divested themselves of their wealth. Most died a few months later bowed under their ever-increasing wealth since their engines of prosperity favored wealth flowing uphill faster than they could figure out how to get rid of it. By the end of the month, the Plutarchs, down to the last entity were dead. The remaining Citizens, once a new governing body was elected, met with the Council and decided they would leave the Hegemony’s gift running as a reminder of where they came from.
The remaining Citizens reformed many of the rules that allowed the Plutarchs to exist in the first place. Debts were forgiven, prisons were opened, education became a service provided by the government. Prosperity would be localized, and local Citizens were respected no matter where they lived on their planet. The new reforms made it possible to be wealthy but it would be up to everyone to ensure egregious disregard for the system could never return. Gravity would handle the rest that tried.
Yes, there are rich Citizens today. You can tell them from the occasional shuffle of their step or their slightly bowed backs, tastefully dressed with very comfortable shoes. Most accept that burden gracefully and work diligently to ensure they never grow wealthier faster than they can return to the truly innovative, intelligent and capable Citizenry what is theirs, dignity in work and a prosperity equal to their effort.
The Burden of Wealth © Thaddeus Howze 2012, All Rights Reserved