Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Commonalty

Daven Laure, a Ranger of the Commonalty, says that economic planning is impossible even for a single continent (1). I disagree. I think that, in the kind of advanced technological future envisaged by Anderson, an educated population freed from drudgery and possessing, at least potentially, vast social wealth and a refined communications technology would be able to plan production of necessities and to allocate remaining resources for research, recreation and creativity while maintaining the maximum freedom for each individual within a dynamic social and cultural environment. I regard this not as philosophical speculation but as a practical proposition. Of course, its feasibility remains to be determined in practice. As long as such a system does not exist, there will continue to be minority economic control, whether private or bureaucratic, as envisaged by most sf, which projects familiar social relationships onto unfamiliar technological contexts.

I do agree with Laure that economic planning is neither possible nor even desirable on the scale of a galactic spiral arm. Each planet should be self-sufficient. Whatever the arrangements on each planet, an interstellar market would not involve the stockpiling of food or medicine needed elsewhere or sweat shop labor on one planet producing luxury items for another. With many entire planets, with vast distances between them and with a universally distributed high technology, such oppressive features of a market economy would be relegated to a remote and primitive past.

The Commonalty is "...a private, voluntary, mutual-benefit society, open to anyone anywhere who meets the modest standards." (1)

We are not told what the standards are. The Commonalty maintains services like space rescue and is hired by planetary governments. One such government asks the Commonalty Rangers to investigate the newly arrived Kirkasanters who tell an implausible tale and may be a threat to humanity. When Laure accompanies the Kirkasanters back to their home region of space, the "profit," or return on the investment in his ship and training, is the scientific knowledge gained. OK so far. Laure also mentions individual quadrillionaires in the home civilization. That informs us that, on at least some of the planets, the market economy is of the kind known to us in which one of the commodities bought and sold is labor power. I think that alternative arrangements would also be possible on particular planets while planetary populations either bartered or bought and sold knowledge and technology.

Laure also says, "The people of the Commonalty don't get into wars." (2)

This makes sense. The Commonalty is interstellar. If, on that scale, there is no incentive for imperialism - grabbing raw materials, trade routes and markets, then defending them militarily -, then there is no reason for war. On the other hand, the industrially valuable planets Satan and Mirkheim became causes of conflict earlier in the History so could something similar occur with the Kirkasanters' heavy metals rich Cloud Universe? We are glad that Anderson wrote so much and wish that he had written more but he could not have gone on forever. He did show us interplanetary exploration, the Grand Survey, the League, the Troubles, the Empire, the Long Night, the Allied Planets and the Commonalty.

(1) Poul Anderson, "Starfog" IN Anderson, The Long Night, New York, 1983, pp. 242-310 AT p. 291.
(2) ibid., p. 251.

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