Wednesday, 6 June 2012

"Judgment Day" Economics

In The Boat Of A Million Years, XVIII, "Judgment Day" by Poul Anderson, Hanno the immortal is a millionaire legally avoiding, though not illegally evading, tax, not a figure that I would usually sympathise with. However, in his particular circumstances, his actions make sense:

he has lived for thousands of years;

for all that time, he has had to conceal his longevity from society while trying discretely to identify and contact any fellow immortals (as psychic time travellers try to contact each other throughout history in Anderson's very different novel, There Will Be Time);

during all that time, there really has been no alternative to an unequal distribution of wealth in society;

he has had to provide for his own future security despite all the fortunes of war and the rise and fall of civilizations;

he has prudently stored wealth in places where he will be able to retrieve it at a later date in a different identity as his own heir or successor;

he accumulates wealth for safety and security, not for power or aggrandizement;

he is concerned about the freedom of society, not just about his own freedom of action;

he funds longevity research that may help others;

in the concluding chapter, we learn that the immortals do survive into an era when wealth is so abundant that it can be distributed equally but there is now a danger of social stagnation;

their longer term perspective keeps the immortals at the forefront of human dynamism, inquiry and exploration.

A moral for the novel: we would be well advised to develop that longer term perspective even though we are not individually immortal. If I met Hanno, I would be able to have some interesting discussions with him as do his younger fellow immortals but I would have to respect his accumulated wisdom. We see him gain that wisdom:

he is nearly killed by his own recklessness at about the age of 670;
millennia later, the wily Cardinal Richelieu has to teach him greater prudence.

Another major Anderson character, Dominic Flandry, learns by his mistakes in the Young Flandry trilogy. We see Hanno learning in the same way throughout his single long novel.


  1. Hi, Paul!

    To me, what matters is not mere "inequality," but the need to check, restrain, and limit power, esp. that of the state. As long as a socio political system is free enterprise oriented and is not too rigid, socially speaking, I'm relatively indifferent to mere forms of government. And Poul Anderson would agree with me, although he was more libertarian minded than I am.


  2. I was pleased that I managed to agree with Hanno pretty much. Moving from economics to politics, I don't think that US power structures will let any single 4- or 8-year Presidency wreck them so I don't think Hanno needed to worry so much about Moriarty!

  3. "Judgment Day" is dated 1975. In that Chapter, Hanno remarks that 1950 is almost 40 years ago. Inconsistency?

  4. Hi, Paul!

    But Moriarty/Kennedy was not the only politician to think as he does. In both the US and UK we have right and left leaning parties. What matters in many cases is what one's supporters thinks and believes, not so much an individual senator, prime minister, or president.

    One thing I think you missed in your comments about Chapter XVII of THE BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS is how it was at least partly Hanno's fault he was getting into some difficulties with the tax authorities. He had kept the pseudonym/persona he had been using till then TOO long. The "man" he was "representing" was starting to get suspciously or implausibly long lived. Hanno realized the "persona" he had been using till then should have "died" five or more years before then.

    The problem was, as Hanno realized, he had been getting bored with the tedious details of faking his "death," liquidating whatever properties or businesses he had and relocating elsewhere under a new name and starting over. Now he had no choice but to do exactly that after his interview with the tax officer.


    1. Sure, Moriarity was not alone but Hanno did say he was targetting him because he, Hanno, thought the US would not survive a Moriarty Presidency.

      You make a good point about Hanno getting bored with the tedious details etc. It did occur to me that this would be tedious. Indeed, I don't like having to keep track of the financial details of my single identity! - "enough money so that I don't have to worry about how much money I have" is my motto.

      Next, I plan just to summarise factual details about the immortals: who they are; when they were born; what they do in each chapter etc. Rather like the factual details of some of Flandry's planets. I find it interesting to have such summaries to hand to re-read and, of course, I had forgotten most of the details of BOAT since reading and rereading it once or twice.

  5. Oops! I meant Chapter XVIII, not XVII. Drat!