This is the World Wide Web edition of J. Neil Schulman's book Self Control Not Gun Control. It's posted for informational and entertainment purposes only and may not be crossposted to any other datafile base, conference, news group, email list, or website without written permission of the author. If you wish to purchase the hardcover edition, it's available for sale at this website, or at fine booksellers everywhere.
Copyright © 1995 by J. Neil Schulman. Rights to make copies and print-outs from these files are limited by the license agreement. All other rights reserved.
An Economics Lesson
To the cynic
every thing has its price
To the idealist
some are priceless.
are the priceless items
those which cost us most?
True, not everything jingles.
But a true accounting is due.
Things finally found are a diamond lost.
Our eyes are your eyes we made cry
and our ears are a dreaded silence.
Every cause is a friend made enemy
and every right is a lonely joy.
Everything right is something left
and every step forward is one behind.
Every tomorrow is yesterday neglected
and every love is our heart torn open.
All we are given is what we will spend
and thrift cannot save us.
Keep your regrets
if you're a pack rat like me
but don't buy love on time.
The interest is usury
and no charity on earth
January 16, 1995
The Convertible Corporation: A Proposal
The following was published in the electronic magazine ShareDebate International No. 7, Winter 1991-92. --JNS
February 2, 1991
Interesting ideas sometimes come out of casual conversations. A few weeks back, I was talking by phone with Roleigh Martin, publisher of the electronic magazine, ShareDebate International, and I surprised both of us by tossing off an idea for capitalizing long-term, socially useful investments which, upon reflection by each of us, might have some merit.
We live in a society which, because of inflation and consequent factors, has virtually ceased "investing" in the original sense of the term: to place money into an enterprise for the purpose of capitalizing production of a new good or service. Nowadays an "investor" sees what has made money in the past and tries to get a return doing it again and if someone suggests putting money into a venture which has never been tried before, he is usually told that you can tell the pioneers by the number of arrows in their backs. Speaking as someone who has collected a few arrows of his own, I can understand this point of view.
Nevertheless, investment in new products and services is necessary if one is to have new products and services. The main problem is that a truly new product or service almost always takes a longer time to provide an interesting return to an investor than established investments.
This problem becomes truly profound when one considers projects which are (a) very expensive to start up and (b) will not produce a return for a very long time. Even if the return would eventually be spectacular, a prudent investor is unlikely to touch such an investment. Thus, we continue fighting wars over oil fields in the Middle East while a megafortune in solar energy and mineral wealth waits for exploitation above the earth's atmosphere--from the sun, from nearby asteroids, from our moon and other planets and their moons. For the cost of one day's fighting in the current Persian Gulf war, a fleet of manned rockets could be setting up a permanent industrial presence in space and on the moon. For the cost of three weeks of fighting, the human race could own the solar system.
But there is no current institutional structure that provides the incentive to do it.
Government cannot do it: even if the political will could be galvanized to attempt such a project, such as was done with the original moon project in the 60's, government institutional methods of operation are cost-ineffective. I will not provide a history of NASA here; leave it that it has been well documented that if NASA had been running air travel since the Wright Brothers, the number of jet aircraft in the United States would be three--and the military would be using two of them.
A profit-making corporation cannot do it: the investment is too large and the payoff too long-term to interest any sane investor in the current economic climate.
A non-profit venture cannot do it: the benefits gained by donations attract only marginal capital: money which nobody needs for anything attractive.
What is needed is an institutional structure which can provide an incentive for investment in expensive, risky, and/or long-term ventures.
What I propose to accomplish this is the Convertible Corporation: a corporation which provides the tax benefits of a non-profit corporation to those who give (or lend) it money, but also allows for return on investment when and if the investment pays off.
I do not propose to spend very many words here discussing methods of setting such a convertible corporation up. I am not an investment professional and whatever I propose in terms of specifics, the professionals can design better. Whether it would be through purchasing shares of stock--deductible as a charitable donation--which may not be re-traded and may not earn dividends for a specified period of time, or tax-free bonds which convert to stock at some future time these are details that can be hammered out by brokers and politicians.
But however it is structured, the point will be to provide a near-term tax shelter for investment in new technologies, new industries, new inventions, new services--and a possibility of a long-term return on investment (as well as deductions for when an investment goes bad).
You get what you pay for and you don't get what you don't pay for. We live in a society which is suffocating and drowning because it has failed to make investing in progress profitable. As they say in the farming biz, we are eating next year's seeds and, historically, that is a recipe for famine. Unless an institutional structure is created which can turn this around, then we have damned our future, damned our children and damned ourselves.
Go to Next Chapter.
Return to Table of Contents.
From a February, 1993 discussion on the Writers Guild of America computer bulletin-board. --JNS
My ex-wife was one of Joe Papp's assistants at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Before all these charges against him were filed, all I heard about Ivan Boesky was how he really didn't care for business anywhere near as much as he cared for the theater. Matter of fact, he once made a huge donation to the Public theater merely for the privilege of being allowed to join in a play reading with professional actors.
Is this an acquittal of wrongdoing? Of course not. But most of the people who claim that Mike Milken and Ivan Boesky are devils don't know business or economics, and wouldn't know financial misdoing from standard business practices for the last three centuries.
The theory of insider trading being a crime, for example, is brand spanking new. It was virtually invented by Rudolph Giuliani, * a small-time fed with ambitions of making a political reputation for himself as a Grand Inquisitor.
Anyone who looks at how the banking system works in this country will find an economic system far more corrupt at its root than anything done by private traders on Wall Street.
Private banks deposit an asset such as a United States Treasury Bill with the Federal Reserve. The bank is now allowed to loan out many times the value of that asset in loans -- creating new money out of thin air -- and the bank gets to charge interest on all the money it's created out of thin air.
That's how the federal government finds sufficient customers to buy billions of dollars in bonds.
But of course, we couldn't finance all our Great Society nightmares if the government couldn't pick our pockets, could we?
Just what is it that Ivan Boesky and Mike Milken are supposedly guilty of, anyway?
Milken offered high-risk, high-yield bonds, which he labeled as such. Other brokers may have minimized the risks to buyers, but caveat emptor: if you can't afford to lose, don't play poker. Small investors have always gotten the short end of the stick in the stock market; that's what the New York Stock Exchange was set up to do in the first place.
Milken sold high-risk bonds to finance economic ventures. That these ventures didn't pay off, and people lost money, is a function of that risk.
I suppose we're also going to be blaming blackjack dealers for every guy who loses in Vegas, also?
Boesky. Guilty of "insider trading"? Well, what is morally wrong with that? All investment is based on comparative advantage. Some people have inside information by virtue of their position. I would like a solid argument why they should be penalized for their advantage. Why shouldn't they profit from their inside knowledge? What is this fetish of creating a level-playing field so that ignoramuses can share in the profits of their knowledge? Extra points to anyone who can convince me that you can even have a market in the first place, if you eliminate all the means by which individuals can take advantage of their greater knowledge of circumstances.
Keating. Guilty as charged, of the one sin Americans never forgive: he lost money.
The Real Financial Scandal of the 80's
The real financial scandal of the 80's is that Ronald Reagan promised to get the government off the backs of the people, and because of a Democratic-controlled Congress--perhaps the most corrupt in U.S. history--he failed to do it. While the Democrats spent and taxed (an innovation over the old "tax and spend"), the federal debt was increased to over 4 trillion bucks. Where did this money go? Pork barrel. Aid programs that lined the pockets of bureaucrats--paid them salaries and benefits two and three times as high as comparable jobs in the private sector--while the capital infrastructure of a once-wealthy country was pissed away. These programs, by the way, rarely did any good for the people they were supposed to help; all they did was program and perpetuate the problems.
The Savings and Loan scandal is a scandal of government control and mishandling of the economy. Actually, "control and mishandling" is redundant: when government edict replaces pricing in the allocation of resources, mismanagement is inevitable.
The real scandal of the 80's is that while half the world discovered the marvels of the free market, this country--which was built by it--slid back into the muck of socialism, betrayed by an intellectual class of academic whores and media vipers, traitors to the free-market system that empowered their intellectual masturbation.
In previous discussions on this bbs, I've been accused of talking with the zeal of a Marxist. True enough. The difference between libertarians and Marxists, though is simple: Marxism is pseudoscience, while libertarian economics is science: it makes predictions that bear out.
If you don't believe me, read my novel Alongside Night, written in the mid-1970's and published in 1979. Then see how much of the economic portrait I paint has come to pass in the fifteen or so years since I finished my first draft.
If you can stand to look prophecy in the face, read what happens when a government gobbles up everything in sight, and always manages to find businesspeople to blame their thefts on.
You call them Milken and Boesky. In my novel, they were called the "brownies."
Ludwig von Mises, in his 1920's book Socialism, described why the lack of a pricing mechanism would eventually destroy the Soviet Union.
Henry Hazlitt's 1940's novel Time Will Run Back described what perestroika would look like if it ever happened.
It's easy to laugh at Ayn Rand, a short vitriolic woman with a bad accent. Unfortunately, when I see the nightmare she portrayed in Atlas Shrugged happening in Flint, Michigan, she has the last laugh.
Enjoy cackling at Milken and Boesky. They may have the last laugh, yet.
Retiring the Federal Debt
It's even worse than you think. We have a $4 trillion federal debt--bonds held by pension funds, the Federal Reserve banking system, foundations, and Bar Mitzvah boys, among others. Not the sort of thing that can be repudiated without severely impacting on the old infrastructure. We also have the government spending around $300 to $400 billion a year more than it receives in taxes, licenses, fees, etc. Most of this is legislatively mandated: Social Security,veterans benefits, and interest payments on those bonds.
What does the government do when it spends more than it takes in? It goes out to the capital markets and borrows more money. And money which the government borrows isn't available as investment in private enterprises, to do things like build industries which can provide jobs here in America to produce products which are competitive with those from Korea, China, Mexico, El Salvador, and Singapore, not to mention the obvious, Japan.
The federal debt and the continuing yearly deficit, then, are an additional tax on the productive sector of our economy, after income taxes, corporate taxes, capital gains taxes, gasoline taxes, etc.
Now, if we are serious about retiring the federal debt--if we really want to get this money-monkey off our back--we not only have to zero out the yearly deficit entirely but in addition to that, run the government at a surplus. The government not only has to stop borrowing more money entirely, but it has to start paying off the capital in addition to the interest.
If Mr. Clinton is serious about this, his budget has to reduce the difference between what the government takes in and what it spends by around $500 to $600 billion dollars a year. If he were to stick to his original promise of reducing the federal debt by half within his current term, then he would have to present a budget which has within it no new borrowing and pays off around $500 billion a year of the existing federal debt in addition--that adds up to $2 trillion within four years.
Here's the tricky part. He has to do this without destroying the economy with additional tax burdens. If he raises taxes, he puts a brake on the expansion of the building of new factories, houses, and throws us even further into a depression: higher unemployment, more homelessness, more crime, more suicides.
So, we have several alternatives. We can make massive cuts in federal spending without raising taxes. This means probably firing half the people who work for the federal government, at a minimum. Or, we can screw the people who get Social Security, Veterans benefits, etc--throw them to the wolves. Or, we can repudiate the bonds, more or less, which acts simultaneously to screw institutional investors and inflate the money supply, because such bonds are used as reserves banks deposit into the Federal Reserve.
Or, we can find a source of national wealth so great that it makes the federal debt a minor issue.
This last is the only hope for our country. Every other scenario has our economy self-destructing, either in slow de-industrialization and depression, or in a more dramatic hyperinflationary collapse, followed by political turmoil.
For those who are interested in new wealth, the way to get that is to make all capital investment in new technology, education, and space industrialization tax free. It puts an extra burden on the other sectors of our economy--real estate, manufacturing, and money management--but by the principle of serendipity, there should be some new technological breakthrough within a few years that will act as a cash cow for the country.
Why is it that nobody in the Beltway can do simple arithmetic?
Can a Conservative Republican Be a Socialist Ideologue?
A conservative Republican can certainly be duped into accepting a myriad of socialist premises, unless that conservative Republican has read quite a damn bit of Austrian economics, starting with Ludwig von Mises' classic The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality.
Socialism is not a fringe ideology in this society. It is the philosophy held at the center of politics. It's just not called that, nor realized to be such anymore.
Junk Bonds, Insider Trading & the S&L Collapse
Junk bonds: financing for high speculative enterprises. High risk, high profit. In a market undistorted by the Fed's Keynesian money manipulation, the only people investing in blue-sky ventures would be those with money to burn: people who make so much money off more conservative investments they can afford to take the risk. Why would an institution like a savings & loan invest in such a blue-sky venture? Why not? The FSLIC was insuring the risk anyway. The main factor in profit from investment was no longer the individual performance of a particular investment, but the interest rate, as manipulated by the Fed. Money flows to minimum risk at maximum return normally. Something was masking the signals: the Fed's constant interventions. With the amount of money the federal government was borrowing to finance its debt and deficit, there was little capital available at a reasonable rate of return to invest in sounder investments with a rate of return higher than the base inflation rate. Thus, the only investments money flowed to were those, regardless of risk, that could produce a return greater than the rate of inflation. Retooling factories, beginning new production lines of manufactured goods, and taking new technologies from the lab into production didn't cut it in this market--and we started to see the economy burn out.
Insider trading. It's been legal for centuries. Why punish modern businessmen for a "crime" that didn't exist until a couple of years ago? One of the prices built into any investment is the price of information. The market accounts for this in lots of different ways: investment newsletters, the advice brokers give their clients, etc. The crime here is not that someone with inside information about a company made money on it. The crime is that nobody ever told the small investor that they were the buyers for what the large investors wanted to sell, and the churned sellers for what large investors wanted to buy cheap.
Frankly, I think the solution for this is to tell individual investors that they don't stand a chance of making a profit in the market greater than the growth of the standard industrials themselves.
The Savings & Loan Collapse. Keating may indeed be a crook; I'm not sure. But one thing I remember: he said that if the government hadn't moved in precipitously and seized Lincoln S&L, the investments wouldn't have collapsed in value and a lot fewer people would have lost their investment. This seems to me at least a reasonable possibility, and it seems a strange system of justice when a loss of value caused by Party A seizing Party's B's company is blamed by Party A on Party B.
Sounds like a scam to me, also--and I can well believe that Congress, having screwed the pooch, needed someone to hang their incompetency on for insuring every damn thing under the sun, for one thing; and their corruptness, since, undoubtedly, many were on the take.
As you quoted me as saying, Keating may indeed be guilty. But somewhere in the back of my mind is still the thought that the most damning of the evidence might have been manufactured.
Who shall guard the guardians? There are so many powerful politicos involved in this that I can't be sure whether Keating is a villain or a patsy.
One thing I do know, however: the main factors which led to the S&L debacle were largely caused by government policy, not by private corruption. Any private corruption was simply an inevitable outgrowth of market conditions in which it was no longer possible to make real earnings--earnings greater than the rate of inflation--by investing in blue-chip enterprises.
And if you want to talk about Ponzi schemes--pyramids which are about to collapse--let's talk about the entire federal government, which is so overextended (and far more corrupt than anything Mr. Keating could have imagined) that it threatens to take down the entire economy with it.
Go to Next Chapter.
Return to Table of Contents.
Two Documentary Proposals on Work and Productivity
In late November, 1980, I was given an opportunity to research and propose ideas for a documentary to be developed by Public Communications, Inc., on the topic of work and productivity, being underwritten by Chase Manhattan Bank for public television. The president of Public Communications, Robert Chitester, had previously worked with Milton Friedman to produce the highly-acclaimed public TV series, Free to Choose.
It was an exciting opportunity for me, particularly since I was flown around on a six-city tour to meet with university presidents, business leaders, economics writers, and Nobel-prize laureate Norman Borlaug, father of the "green revolution."
At the end of the research, I wrote two documentary proposals and never heard what happened to either of them after delivery. All I know is that they were never produced.
But that sort of thing isn't at all uncommon in the TV business--even public TV, I guess.
What are fifteen-year-old unproduced proposals for public TV documentaries worth? In the marketplace, zero.
But I find I regret they were never made. --JNS
That Good Ole American Know-How
4 December 1980
When I was a kid, there was one phrase that I heard over and over again, that made me proud to have been born an American. You heard it in movies, in commercials, in history classes. And whenever it was said that America was great, this phrase said why.
That good ole American know-how.
If something needed doing, get an American. Maybe we didn't have the pomp and circumstance of the English, the cuisine of the French, the wisdom of the Chinese, or the pyramids of the Egyptians, but, boy, you could count on us to get things done.
Our folk heroes were Ben Franklin standing in an electric storm with a kite, Eli Whitney and his cotton gin, Bell saying, "Mr. Watson, come here--I need you!"
It was Tom Edison staying up twenty-two hours a day looking for the right filament for a light bulb, that crazy Robert Goddard and his toy rockets, Henry Ford saying, "You can buy a Model T in any color, just as long as it's black."
It's Einstein coming to Princeton to work in freedom, Land with his instant cameras, Lear with his personal jets, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin standing on the moon with a TV camera sending their pictures 238,000 miles back to the whole world, and in the name of the United States of America, giving the moon as a present to all mankind.
This last was only eleven years ago, but doesn't it seem a generation away already? All we hear about today is inflation, pollution, hostages, Saturn, unemployment, Abscam--
Yep. We're still at it. We still have the know-how. Name another country with robot space ships photographing Saturn.
That good ole American know-how. It's what made us great and, if our armor is a little tarnished lately, it's what will make us great again.
And all it takes to get all this creative energy flowing again, is to get the obstructions out of the way.
But even the roadblocks aren't enough to stop us completely. The fellow who's built the better mousetrap isn't going to be stopped by a few rats. So even in today's regulated, bureaucratic, Simon-says world, Americans are still the most innovative people around.
In interviews, in walks through offices and factories, in talks with expert psychologists, authors, scientists, astronauts, and businesspersons, in movie clips and animated segments--in other words, in a fast-paced Sesame Street-for-grown-ups--we will look at the spirit, theory, and practice of American ingenuity at work.
How about the idea-incentive program at Eastman Kodak, a company that tells its employees, "Don't work harder--work smarter"?
A clip from the classic movie The Fountainhead showing Gary Cooper as architect Howard Roark giving a courtroom defense of the American genius then segueing to author Ayn Rand talking about the American industrialist as hero?
A film clip of John Wayne as oil firefighter Red Adair, then a segment with the real-life Adair?
Interviews with actors playing historical figures like Ben Franklin, Bell, Edison, Ford, John D. Rockefeller?
A segment of stop-motion animation by award-winning filmmaker, Mike Jittlov, showing American inventions at work?
A Green Revolution segment with Borlaug.
A tour of California's Silicon Valley, which is creating a computer revolution?
A look at the Ford commercials a few years ago about "Ford has a better idea," then find out what some of those better ideas were and who made them happen?
A talk with psychologists about the creative process where do ideas come from? Perhaps Thomas T. Kuhn, author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions?
A look at American craftsmanship, with a visit to William Moennig & Sons, Violin Makers, in Philadelphia?
A look at the mythology of know-how in film clips from classic movies about American inventors and innovators? Don Ameche as Bell? Young Tom Edison?
How about a segment on Rube Goldberg? American know-how was so much a part of our way of life that there were even cartoons about it.
The space program. Get Heinlein or Bradbury to give us a brief history of it, and a look where it's going.
How about using Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man as theme music?
Years ago, when we heard about good ole American know-how, it was said with pride. We had it and we knew it. It's what made us great. Today, the phrase is used as a mocking echo.
Actions follow ideas. Put those words back into America, and we might get some of that greatness back.
Time Off the Clock
5 December 1980
So you want to take a look at productivity in America, today, with an emphasis on what we're doing right and how we can make it still better?
We in America today--as I write this, in December, l980--are caught in a paradox. The past two centuries have lifted us out of the world's historical poverty and stagnation and even with our current problems we are still the most prosperous civilization this world has even seen. Yet, the causes of our prosperity are not generally understood, and because we have not been able to make these riches universal, there are those among us who damn them, and would rather that we all be made equal. Equally poor, that is.
A second paradox. We measure change in decades, now, rather than in millennia, yet we forget what the world was like a scant century ago.
Would a mother in 1880, who could expect to lose at least one of her children to disease, have believed a world in which kids are inoculated against polio, measles, rubella, and chicken pox before entering school--while diphtheria, rheumatic fever and smallpox are historical curiosities7
(On the other hand, how would a mother of 1880 have dealt with a world in which the greatest killers of teenagers are reckless driving, alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide?)
One century? Try fifty years. Would a world half a century ago, in 1930, barely used to airplanes, radio, talking movies, and medical X-rays have believed in the possibility of robot spaceships sending back color TV pictures of Saturn, computers that play games with your kids, and laser surgery that can make the blind see again?
A third paradox. We live in an age of cynicism--of energy shortages, pollution, inflation--of "lowered expectations."
Yet, today, we have in our possession the technological and industrial capability (just add a teaspoonful of will) to give the whole world our current standard of living and to give us a living standard greater than the richest among us today.
Energy shortages? Ten satellites orbiting the Earth in the year 2000 could beam down on laser beams enough solar energy to supply all America's energy needs. Cost per megawatts less than nuclear, coal, or hydroelectric power. Pollution: none. Risks: fewer deaths than the coal cycle; no potential disaster risk comparable to dam bursts (the highest cost in lives of any power source), much less nuclear meltdown. Investment needed to get them into the energy network: about the same as the Alaskan pipeline.
A greater standard of living than the richest among us today? Can David Rockefeller, for all his wealth, expect to spend his retirement in an environment where reduced gravity could be expected to give his heart twenty years past his present life expectancy? What are those twenty years worth? Not too long from now, if we get busy, we can extend that possibility to large segments of our population if they'll move to habitats in space.
Habitats in space? Who'd want to move to outer space?
A lot of people, probably. Space is limitless--no possibility of overcrowding because you build as many habitats as you like, as large as you like. Mine the asteroids and the moon for materials and use the sun to smelt what you need. To move things around, you only use energy to accelerate and decelerate not to keep going. That makes transportation dirt cheap even from the asteroid belt.
Who'd want to live in space? Who'd want to live in an orbiting city of several million people--less crowded and more comfortable than Atlanta or Houston--designed to be pollution free, with factories, farms, and homes within minutes of each other, but totally separated? Swimming pools and ski slopes within a ten minute ride on an electric shuttle? Weather designed to taste? Who'd want zero-gravity honeymoon hotels, flying on wings strapped to your arms--just like birds--sunlight on tap 24 hours a day (You'd prefer 26? Okay.) but shut off by closing the blinds. No traffic jams, mosquitoes, locusts, roaches, rats, flu season, earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, blizzards, monsoons, tidal waves, mudslides, or smog?
Their jobs? Mining the moon? Manufacturing foamed metals in zero-gravity? Pharmaceutical production? Who knows? How do you say "I'm in software" to our friends from 1930?
But somebody's going to have to service those solar power satellites.
As for those who decide to live and work back on Earth, with most of the dirty jobs moved into space where they can't pollute anything, the Earth will become a cleaner, safer, less crowded, and more comfortable place to live, also.
You want to discuss work and productivity in 1980? How can we discuss problems today when we'll have completely different problems in a few years?
The worker of 2030 will have a job as incomprehensible to us in 1980 as the explanation "I'm in software" would be to someone from 1930.
If we wish to get some perspective on work and productivity today, we need a view based on change. We need to look back, to see where we came from, and we need to look forward, to see where we're going.
"Yesterday is gone," says science fiction author Robert Anton Wilson, "the Future is now, and the Present is becoming the Past even as you read this."
One thing's for sure. If Time is Money, then the future is worth quite a bit because it's all we have left.
The Future. You'll be living there the rest of your life.
As that great philosopher of metaphysical logic, Johnny Carson, says, "If you buy the premise, you buy the bit."
The premise is that we need to use change as the lens to focus on productivity and work. Looking at the present doesn't tell us anything meaningful. The bit is what we need to make the focus come alive to make it television.
We need a gimmick.
And, we're in luck. We already have an entire field devoted to using change as a lens to examine ourselves and our problems. No, not futurism. These people are amateurs, much too wrapped up in the short-term problems of today to see tomorrow very well. They suffer from lack of imagination in their projections, so they're always wrong.
The field I'm talking about can claim the largest box office movie of all time, Star Wars, one of the most popular and enduring TV series of all time, Star Trek, and a formidable part of publishing industry profits.
Science fiction isn't about cute robots and laser guns any more than Hamlet is a story about a ghost. The cute robots and laser guns are just to get the kids interested: they have the most flexible minds.
Science fiction is the literature of change--so defines the dean of science fiction authors, Robert A. Heinlein. Heinlein ought to know with 40 science fiction books to his credit, half-a-dozen million-sellers among them.
From Mark Twain to H.G. Wells to Heinlein, science fiction has just the gimmick we need to examine work and productivity, today, tomorrow, and yesterday. It's called time travel.
Twain used it in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court to compare medieval England with l9th century America. Wells used it in The Time Machine to project his views on class conflicts to a society where workers are debased troglodytes and the upper class are their cattle. Heinlein used it in his l950's book The Door into Summer to compare his future projection of 1970 with his future projection of 2000--to prove that progress does make things better.
You want a documentary on work and productivity in America today? How about making your interviewers three young actors (two guys and a girl?) portraying future college students, say, 100 years from now. We start in their class on 20th century history where they're discussing the economic crisis of America in the 1980's. To them it's a dusty dry subject--just something to learn, pass a test, and forget.
Until their professor (played by 1970 Nobel Peace Prizewinner Dr. Norman Borlaug) springs a surprise quiz on them for the next day. A quiz they're completely unprepared for.
"What was it," the Professor asks them, "that got the Americans through their crisis?"
As the students discuss their problem after class we get a glimpse of their society. It's solved many of the problems we face today. There's power to spare, no pollution, no unemployment or inflation, taxes are a thing of the past (everything is handled through direct-use fees, memberships, and insurance premiums), transportation is quick and efficient. Expensive to portray, you say? Not to the experts of videotape, with their Magicam miniatures, blue screen, and computer animation.
How far out do you want to get? How about putting their classroom in an orbiting space habitat between the Earth and the moon--at the gravitational balance point between them, nearer the moon?
But they're still stuck with this surprise quiz. That, at least, hasn't changed in 100 years. And being college kids, they decide to bend the rules a bit to do some unauthorized spot research.
They steal a time machine. A space ship, actually, that can also travel backwards in time.
And, of course, they blow it. They set the controls wrong and go a century too far back they end up in the l880's. Which gives us a look at work and production in that era. When factories were just becoming popular, lifting civilization out of agricultural poverty. When pollution problems were first being dealt with by the courts, and creating--by their decisions--the pollution problems of the future our present. When instead of auto exhaust the big problem in cities was horse droppings.
But, they get back into their time machine after a bit and finally make it to our present in the 1980's. They start traveling around today (once they manage to get some current clothing) to actual factories, businesses, shopping centers. They conduct real interviews with real assembly-line workers, proprietors, and employees.
It also seems logical that the students seek out various experts of our time who might be able to give them some answers. One of those people would be Dr. Norman Borlaug, who would also play his present-day self.
And, we can have some fun. At the end of an interview, say, with assembly-line workers in the General Motors factory in Detroit (unknown in advance to the workers, who think the interviews are for a normal documentary), the students are interrupted by the black-uniformed Time Police, whose job it is to make sure the students don't accidentally change the past (our present) thus ruining their present (our future).
I can see into the future a bit myself. I see a two-page photo-story in TV Guide asking what sort of public TV documentary has Nobel-Prizewinner Dr. Norman Borlaug standing in a futuristic classroom wearing Buck Rogers tights, and who are these black-uniformed guys with the funny ray guns chasing three young interviewers through the General Motors factory?
Tights and plastic ray-guns don't run up the budget very much.
At the end of their travels through present-day America, our students are captured by the Time Police and returned to their classroom where they wrap up a discussion of what they have learned with their professor (Dr. Borlaug).
One thing's for sure. This wouldn't be just another boring documentary.
The Third Industrial Revolution by G. Harry Stine
A Step Farther Out by Jerry Pournelle, Ph.D.
The High Frontier by Gerard K. O'Neill, Ph.D.
Expanded Universe by Robert A. Heinlein
* Yes, this is the same Rudolph Giuliani who's now the major of New York City and lauded by Republicans as the savior of New York. Rudolph Guiliani is also the Republican mayor of New York City who endorsed Democrat Mario Cuomo for governor against the victorious Republican George Pataki in the November 1994 election--and, as I've demonstrated elsewhere in this book, Guiliani's being anti-gun should have been taken as a warning by Republicans that he couldn't be trusted.
Rudolph Guiliani is one Republican I wish would go against the trend and become a Democrat. He's a ruthless opportunist whose political career I hope stalls where it is. --JNS
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