Money is the Root of All Good
Money Is the Root of All Good
BY PATRICK WILKINS
Urgent! Class AA emergency for Universal Relief!
Stock market crash on planet Lyrane, where people live
by economy based on good deeds. Cause unknown. Suspect
galactical manipulators of watering stock.
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, October 1954.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
Kalgor, capital of the Galactic Empire, is not, as one would expect,one solid city. As a matter of fact, it is more suburban and rural thanmany farming planets.
The reason is obvious if but considered. The galactic government andthe equally large galactic businesses are so immense that they must bedistributed throughout the whole galaxy, with only the very cream ofthe hierarchy located on Kalgor. Thus, each company would have only onesmall building—but with a communication web that enfolded macroscopicenterprises.
Universal Relief Incorporated was typical of this arrangement.Although its warehouses and offices throughout the Empire could form amegalopolis in themselves, the fountainhead on Kalgor was a two storybuilding.
In that building there was excitement. People were rushingfrantically—the teletypes chattered in a frenzy—the air was staticwith urgency. It manifested itself in the quick jerky motions, in thevoices held just below the cracking point.
Universal Relief served the function that used to be handled by the RedCross. They were disaster rectifiers, succor and reconstruction wastheir business. But they were a business—declaring annual, taxableprofits and dividends and, in general, a profit-seeking firm.
They received regular payments from planetary governments, much likepremiums with insurance, and in case of emergency they were to providecomplete relief as swiftly as possible. There was no chance for graftin their business, for they were closely checked by the government andcompeting organizations like Galactic Aid, their closest rival.
This business was now apparently faced with a crisis and its staff wasfeverishly trying to cope with it.
Roald Gibbons, President of Universal Relief, was the only person notaffected—at least not apparently. His indolent posture, his quiet greyeyes reflected nothing of the hectic activity.
This made Kim Roger nervous.
"I don't think you comprehend the seriousness of it, Mr. Gibbons," hewas saying.
"I am not thinking of the seriousness of it. I just want the facts."
"Very well, sir. Two days ago, the Lyranian stock market crashed."
"You will have to go back further than that. I can't possibly know thehistory of all the planets in the Empire. That's what I pay you for.Give me some background."
This little speech made Kim lose his clutching hold on his patience.Roald Gibbons had just taken office after the death of his father, whohad managed the galactic firm for twenty years. By merely being theboss's son, Roald had achieved the reputation of being an ignorant,careless playboy. His professed ignorance of the planets confirmed, inKim's mind, this reputation.
With an effort, Kim resumed. "The planet of Lyrane, the only habitableone in the system of Lyrane—Copernicus sector—was colonized by asocio-economic sect for the purpose of testing its slightly radicalbeliefs.
"This sect maintained that an individual should not be paid on thebasis of the work he did, but for the good deeds, or good thoughtshe had. A small stipend was paid for actual work or production, toestablish a workable basic economy and trade. This stipend was enoughto cover all the basic wants of the individual.
"To procure luxuries, a citizen had to use the money he received forhis good deeds or thoughts. Every time a man helped an old lady acrossthe street, or came up with a bit of philosophical wisdom, he couldrecord it with a central office and receive his luxury pay from thegovernment.
"The purpose of the system was to make people emphasize virtue andquality in their lives. Instead of concentrating on profit for profit'ssake, they would have to consider the inherent rightness and beauty ofwhat they were doing."
"In such a system," Roald asked, "how could such a thing as a stockmarket possibly develop?"
"Very simple, sir. This luxury pay, issued in a different currencythan the commodity pay, could be used in any way a person saw fit.Some people naturally developed the idea of investing stock in aparticularly virtuous or intelligent person. Every time that person dida good deed, the stockholders received a dividend from his luxury pay.All of the scientists and philosophers, therefore, became corporationsin themselves, with as many as five thousand people holding stock inone man."
"Sorry, Kim, but I don't get it. How could these incorporatedindividuals get any luxury pay for themselves if they had to hand itout to their stockholders?"
"The administration would allow for that. A person received luxurypay in proportion to the number of stockholders that he claimed. Thegovernment had to do this since they indirectly were investing in thesecorporation-men—but I'll explain that later.
"The corporation-man lived off the original investments ofstockholders, with some of the stock solvent for sales. In this way,the individual would profit from "good-doing" by receiving many newinvestments."
"What is the social makeup of this Lyrane? It seems to me it would bea lunatic fringe de luxe, with every hack writer, thaumaturgist, orevangelist climbing aboard the gravy train."
"On the contrary, it is a social structure of the finest minds in thegalaxy. The rest are all weeded out. Although the motives of the systemare idealistic, they are enforced with a rigid practicality. Theydemand quality and truth, and gauge it with the revealing yardstick ofpublic consumption and approval as measured in sales and polls."
Roald gazed out at the pastoral countryside surrounding this vitallittle nub of a billion-credit business. He swung back to Kim, andsaid, "But the basic difficulty would be determining just what a gooddeed or thought is. How in God's name could they determine that,when every act or word that anyone ever commits or utters is open tojudgment by so many different standards. For instance, what about thecase of the man who trespasses to save a person's life. How are yougoing to rate that sort of thing?"
"Mr. Gibbons, I am an economist, not a philosopher. It is the wonder ofthe galaxy that these people did establish and maintain this system, inspite of obstacles such as you mentioned."
"All right, we'll discount the philosophical angle. I still don'tunderstand it. How about big business? How could that develop with thissystem? They certainly need it to support a planet."
"That's the easiest part of it. People would use their luxury pay toestablish businesses. At these businesses men could work their fivehours a day to get their commodity pay. It was not only possible, butmandatory that such businesses develop. There were two types: massproduction of commodities, with a regulated profit in commodity pay;or specialization and production of fine merchandise that was sold atcost, but which the government paid for in luxury pay in proportion toits quality as thoroughly tested.
"However—all big businesses were closely controlled by thegovernment. They would grant franchises so that there would be nocutthroat competition, and supply was regulated to meet demand.Therefore, business itself was stable, and there was no opportunityfor speculating in its stock market. That left only the variablecorporation-men for actual stock market trading—and that is whatcrashed.
"Let's take a writer, for example. He writes a book, and a publishinghouse prints it. The people buy it—spending luxury pay. The publishinghouse has to convert that luxury pay to commodity pay to cover costsand payroll. They make no profit, the book being sold at cost.
"That book has to sell so many thousand copies to receive luxury payfrom the government. Then both the author and the publisher receiveluxury pay in proportion to its sales, which is the indication of itsmerit. The luxury pay that the publisher receives goes in the pocketsof the executives. The luxury pay that the author receives—which ismuch larger—goes to his stockholders.
"Since the author is the source of this transaction, the people investin him and not the publisher, for they can't get any great return frominvesting in the publisher, but they can from the author.
"Actually, what the whole thing amounts to is a complete shift ofemphasis from big business and its speculations—which is what we'vealways known—to individuals and the intangibles and variables of theirideas and deeds."
"There is only one question left," Roald said. "The government dolesout all this luxury pay. Pray tell, where do they get it?"
"There are two parts to the government. There is the actualadministration, with its members drawing set salaries and unable todraw luxury pay, to prevent graft; and then there is the EconomicsCommission, which controls luxury pay.
"This Economics Commission is a business. They invest in galacticcorporations, such as ours, and make a profit. That's part of theirmoney. Then—and here's the secret—any time a book is written, orfine merchandise produced, it must be sold on Lyrane at cost. But thegovernment sells it throughout the galaxy for a profit, and keeps thatprofit to redistribute in luxury pay to Lyranian citizens.
"Anyway, the system finally blew up, and now we're holding a messy bag."
"But how could it? Why?"
"That's just it. Nobody knows what brought it about, but suddenly themen who were corporations just stopped producing. They stopped doinggood deeds, stopped writing, stopped research, and what-not and,consequently, stopped drawing luxury pay.
"Naturally, their stockholders got mad and wanted to sell, butincorporated men couldn't liquidate and the values of the stocksdropped to zero, along with the value of the luxury pay. The result wasa depression and a lot of angry people."
"A planetary depression is not such an outstanding emergency that itshould cause Universal Relief to be in such an uproar. I believe thatit is merely a Class B emergency, with complete regulations on properhandling."
Kim was so earnest in his reply that he leaned over and almost rubbednoses with his superior. "On the contrary, sir. There are otherfactors, so it's not so simple. This Lyranian system has been workingfor ten years now, and the Lyranians want desperately for it tosucceed. They are almost fanatics on it, trying to prove the value oftheir system so that other planets will adopt it—which God forbid.
"Naturally, the resentment against the corporation-men for betrayingthem has turned into hatred, with murder, riots and a civil war inthe offing. Yes, their politics were unitary and stable until thisemergency, but you'd be surprised at the number of political factionsthat can be formed and develop hostilities in a period of crisis."
"Could it be an attempt by some faction to seize power?"
"Impossible. The way it was set up, political power was not desirable,being unprofitable and mostly drudgery. If they upset the apple-cart,the balance was so fine only chaos would result and there would benothing to take power over. The only reason parties have developed nowis due to differing views on how to rectify the situation, and blamingdifferent things for being responsible. But no power motive."
"Very well then, the situation is a Class A emergency, but we'vehandled them before."
Kim allowed one fleeting sigh of despair. He had thought for a whilethat this Roald could take hold, could be competent, but—
"If you have ever consulted our financial records, sir," he said withheavy sarcasm, "you would find that our largest contribution comesfrom Lyrane. They have established our organization as tops in thegood-deeds field, and nearly every person on Lyrane has stock in us,along with a sizable payment since we threw a high premium at them,fearing just this eventuality."
Roald appeared thoughtful, then said, "Well, continue with standardprocedures for a Class A emergency. I'll see what can be done."
Kim made one last desperate appeal. "I firmly believe that this shouldbe a Class AA emergency!"
"Your field of specialization is overriding your business sense, Kim.You are fascinated, as an economist, by this Lyrane system, and youwould like to see us put it back on its feet so you economists wouldhave a live experiment to observe. I'm sorry, but it isn't practical.You know how fantastically expensive a Class AA is, and no one planetis about to get it."
Kim cowered mentally. This wasn't the indolent playboy, but the OldMan, giving him a good dressing down. He left the office with restoredfaith, but a faith that was interlaced with doubt in regard to RoaldGibbons.
Roald appeared to Kim to be uninformed and incompetent; but on thecontrary, he had learned the business thoroughly from his father. Therewas one division of