Beacon Of Centauri 5
Part 2 (Continued)
It wasn’t long after this presentation that another committee was set up, by recommendation of the International Advisory Committee on the Analysis of Observational Evidence of Extraterrestrial Intelligence, to begin to look into the trade and resource possibilities with ETI. Dr Kellen Farber was called in to chair the Committee for the Analysis of Economic and Resource Potential concerning Extraterrestrial Intelligence, his time as chair of the IMF making him an ideal candidate.
He agrees to see me in the Chateauvieux restaurant in Geneva. I can see he’s full of anxiety and frustration.
“As soon as the first questions were asked about communications with ETI, there were mumblings of the possibility of trade and commerce. It was our objective set up a framework for the discussion in how such trade should be approached.
“Let me tell you, if Dr Rice thinks he had his work cut out for him with his IAC, this committee was a nightmare. Trade on Earth has always been between tribes and nations. It’s always been with the view of becoming more successful within that framework – which implies growing in power with respect to everyone else. To put it bluntly, our planetary economics was based on a competitive nature, which meant getting one up on the other guy, and even with ETI’s discovery still would.
“The discovery of ETI brought a lot of questions to the foreground – some of them quite daunting. We had nations who wanted trade to be done independently of each other. The US and the EU were big supporters of this idea. But this approach could drastically broaden the wealth gap by seriously undermining developing economies – pushing them further back
into Third World status, possibly even creating a Fourth World status.
“They tried to pass off the idea with the promise of added Aid and the so-called ‘trickle-down effect’ (which you don’t have to be a marxist to see was bollocks in this situation), but everyone knew that all this economic ideology sought to do was keep the top at the top and the bottom at the bottom. For years in the IMF I helped propagate the idea of the trickle-down effect, because it works in a closed system to some degree. The problem with it is that there really isn’t any real effect.
“Think about it, all those with big money line each others pockets and pay little back to those who do the hard work that line their pockets in the first place, either through paying the correct value for goods and services, or through taxation – because they dodge both responsibilities. The serfs in First World countries are kept from feeling like serfs by the credit dream.
“Basically, First World countries take over the resources of Second and Third World countries and subject the populace of those countries to horrific working conditions and poverty, but that pays for the serfs of First World countries to live in comparative luxury – even though they still have to work horrendous hours with no security of work or accommodation.
“This under class remain serfs and will be let go of without a moment’s notice, or oppressed for trying to fight against this system (one of the beauties of the system being that you can make a significant section of this underclass do your dirty work and fight anyone who might be trying to secure a better future for the whole – Murdock was great at this manipulation). The top class will find every tax dodge to stop them from actually paying what they owe to a society that has helped them produce what they have, using the trickle-down effect as a way of justifying it. The underclass can work ridiculous hours, often with 2 jobs to keep their head above water, and get taxed more for having a second job (thus earning less than they produce), but your top financial class will be taxed proportionally less and work less, often using tax dodges and ‘havens’ to pay a pittance of their earnings in comparison to everyone else .
“They weren’t kidding anyone anymore. Even ‘at home’, in the first world countries, civil unrest was rife from the liberal groups which had grown up with this realisation. And don’t forget that the discovery came at a time of heightened tension with regards to resource management and climate change – both of which were very closely linked.
“We had proposals that this discovery should unite the global market, leading to a completely new and revolutionary idea of economics, possibly introducing a single global currency unit – which would enable us to better trade with ETI as a whole. This idea really was most favourable, but the least practical in the short term, due to the ammount of work it would take and the ammount of economic upheaval it would implicity create.
“The spectrum of ideology was quite broad, with both extremes feeling passionately about it all and the middle ground favoured by few. Some argued that the beginnings of a deprivatisation campaign should be set up. This was attacked as neo-communism. Some suggested that the markets would be determined by business as they always were, which got criticised as global capitalism, with the potential to widen the poverty gap to levels inconceivable if unchecked by responsible governments.
“When the visuals came through, I tried using them to point out the resource and trade potential we could see, as a way of highlighting the potential benefits to all humanity – and thus explain how a responsibly unified approach to trade would be best for everyone. The new mining equipment, new healthcare techniques, new energy sources, new information technologies. Even things we didn’t expect that we were better in (though there was the time lag, which made all this hard to predict), that they would want to trade from us. But people couldn’t take their eyes off the short term issues.
“Making any headway would have taken years just to prepare for.”
(Picture by Matt Becker)
I inquire as to what went wrong in the committee. Surely he had the best team of experts in the field to offer advice and mediate. Surely he could have put forward some firm grounding for future economic models.
“It didn’t work like that. You have to understand, we were there to promote debate and proffer suggestions to COPUOS, most of which got thrown out by all sides. We were not there to make policy.”
But again, surely his experience and expertise should have come into the arena? Maybe force a few hands?
“We tried, dammit. But we’re talking about 2 polar extremes here. On one side you’ve got groups who demand a share of the growth of the species’ resources – literally fighting for their right to survive. On the other you have groups with all the world’s treasure going through their banks daily, completely unwilling to yield to any handout strategy, just because Joe Blogg in his paddy field is having a hard time.
“It was worse than the fears of the German reunification and of the fears of the European single currency – and any good history student can tell you how heated things got with those 2 chapters of the late 20th Century. Shit, we had resource wars being threatened… We had resource wars going on!
“There were African rebels taking hold of mineral and oil deposits around the continent intent on seizing back what the First World was reluctant to share. Nigerian rebels held up the petrol production of the country for months – that caused chaos. Even rebel groups in Columbia were making headway against the government, both for the resources and the drugs. They even thought that ETI might have a market for getting high! They were probably right.
“Most of Southeast Asia threatened to shut down their exports of Cereal. The Industrial nations were getting ready to squeeze them, troops were getting mobilised. It was beginning to echo the First World War. All we needed was a good assassination – and we nearly got that on the Prime minister of the UK. God knows, if ETI was watching, they probably wouldn’t have wanted to have anything to do with us!
“It was all my team could do to try and keep the peaceful negotiations going around the table. We had walkouts every bloody day! Dealing with the philosophical ramifications of this discovery in terms of contact was fine, but when it came to hardcore economics people were going for blood. I’m just glad nobody was stupid enough to think they had the representative power to bring nukes to the fucking table!
“Do you remember all those scandal allegations?”
Dr Farber’s team was forever immersed in allegations of corruption from all sides. He even threatened to resign, until the Secretary General himself stepped in.
“They were all lies! Designed to undermine our team and put each side’s agents in their place. Every month new inquiries were being opened. The loss of time and manpower was unbearable. Some of our greatest thinkers and mediators, suspended for weeks, even months! Just trying to keep the advisory team impartial was becoming a battleground. Even my successor at the IMF was fighting to keep the hounds off his back.
“It’s no wonder we never even got near an agreement for a draft report to the General Assembly. My team spent more time giving evidence in courtrooms than they did round the fucking table!
“You want to know who really saved the UN from fragmenting? WE DID! But where’s our Nobel peace prize? Where’s our pat on the fucking back? Nowhere. And do you know why? Because we never presented anything to the General Assembly, we never got any consensus – because we were too busy trying to stop World War bloody 3!”
Dr Farber is visibly shaking with rage. Suffice to say that, although I sympathize with the position he was in, I am feeling very uncomfortable. But this is a man known for his calm and reasonable approach before his appointment on the committee. I can only conclude that his behaviour is a key signifier of just how tough his job was and how close to fragmentation – and possibly war – we got.
He looks shocked at his actions though, and calms himself down, apologising to me. He doesn’t need to, the stress has become self-evident. It has almost cost the sanity of one of our leading economic thinkers.
“I don’t really mean to belittle Dr Rice. I actually like him, and he did a lot of work to get things to where they were, the contact protocols and constant data analysis were hard enough, that’s why we needed a separate committee for this. It’s just that we were in hell. Literally. We had little support, no power, and no leeway given.
“I’m still not sure if we could ever come to an agreement. God knows, a single currency approach wouldn’t have worked on any such small time scale, no matter how favourable the idea to some. Even the most liberal approaches would have taken years to put into practice – by which time trade may already have started.
“That’s no exaggeration either. Just look at the EU. It took several treaties under several forms and 45 years to even begin trade in a single currency unit. Even now many nations aren’t part of it, either by choice or because they still have a way to go to get their economy stable enough to fit the criteria – and that’s with some of the not so poor ex-eastern bloc being ‘supported’ by some of the strongest economies on earth!
“Think about trying the same thing with the poorest countries (many of whom have long bread queues) and the richest countries (who don’t even have mobile phone queues). Let alone the fact that you have dictatorships and oppressive regimes involved, who many ‘enlightened nations’ won’t even consider sharing a single currency unit with – and those with differing ideologies, who will barely talk to each other, let alone trade (North and South Korea, for instance).
“It would take centuries, and maybe more to get close to a favourable outcome. By that time we probably would be in physical contact with ETI.
“And I knew that the most favourable outcome was to have some sort of common currency unit in place, because if ETI had one, they’d have an economic advantage over us. And if ETI didn’t have one, then it would certainly help our position in negotiating with a civilisation that may well have been very much advanced of our own, or even (as proved to be the case) just very much different to our own.”
“It’s a good thing I never mentioned the truly most favourable outcome though, because no one in their right mind would have been ready for it yet. A movement towards a common interplanetary currency unit – only after the first stage had been reached (our own common currency units), and we could be reasonably happy with the integration of our economies on such a large scale. That would be a project over centuries if ETI was in the same boat as us economically, maybe millennia – but it could be less if they already had a common currency unit.”
He pauses for thought, looking out of the window at the vineyards, with a weary smile on his face. I ask him if they were to reopen the committee, would he consider going back?
“It would be a good thing if they reopened the committee with at least a modicum of sense and ability to negotiate for the far future. Far sightedness and long term plans are crucial in this sort of strategy and in surviving any movement off this planet. But it’ll take a lot to get me back on that table.
“All that time, I think I had that Monty Python song going round in my head. The one that ends ‘And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space, cos there’s bugger all down here on Earth’.”
I fear Dr Farber is being overly pessimistic of his fellow man. After all, the new Secretary General has virtually guaranteed himself only a one term office, by instigating Aid and education funds to businesses in the world’s poorest countries, from the world’s richest, which are obligatory in all but name, as well as sanction directives for both nations and businesses found to be wanting – part of Dr Farber’s first phase that he proposed for discussion. Some have called it Marxism through the back door, others say it’s a beautiful idea, but enforcing it will be difficult and costly. Though many hope that making countries responsible for responsible business and holding those with experience and knowledge more accountable for the sharing of it (both by teaching and by going out to help practice it) with those in need, will be the first tentative steps towards a global economy ready to face the future of humanity.
The final shock to Dr Farber’s pessimism should be that the greatest supporter of these resolutions and reforms was China. Throughout the events of that time, China certainly shocked a lot of people. It had grown tired of being seen as the nay-sayer of UN policy. New thinkers had come to the fore – not too radical, but new. They had long ago began to set the foundations for China as an economic superpower, through determination and attempting to regain investor confidence. It is uncertain how far China would go to support further global economic reforms, or what motivations they may have, but just that they supported this first step is seen by many as a vote for hope.