I was reading about the current US President’s success in getting hospitals to actually declare up front what procedures will cost. I think if that was translated into books I might well have taken up something cheaper and less potentially destructive, like smoking. Or maybe even heroin…
Books, when they’re done well, are the cheapest form of entertainment, of travel, or indeed of a euphoric drug that keeps us addicts coming back. That doesn’t mean it works out ‘cheap’ over the long term, or necessarily good for us. It’s a solitary and sedentary pastime. Okay, probably still better than smoking or heroin. Better than cycling or a Vegan diet, because readers seldom become interminable and sanctimonious bores about books. They’d rather read more, than tell you about it. And the only people they do tell about books tend to be their fellow addicts.
Books – well done ones at least – have a subtle way of entertaining and at the same time getting inside your head and potentially influencing the way people think (ergo the big drive to ‘capture’ publishing by the modern Left. Someone needs to explain the bit about ‘well done’ and ‘entertaining’ and that you catch more flies with honey than bile.). I must admit I love straight escapism, but also enjoy some of the books that make me think. And as often as not – as long as they entertain as well, I get a fair amount of pleasure disagreeing with the author as I do being influenced (Some of Mack Reynolds’s book spring to mind. His ideas on what sport fishermen want out of sport fishing are a hilarious misunderstanding of them). In some, indeed, the point the author is making is how badly that would work (L Sprague de Camp – Novarian Cycle).
I’m having the delights of pure rent-seeking rubbed into me (pure: as in no benefit accruing to the target of rent-seeking – as in farmers using a river to transport their goods to market. The local baron puts a chain across the river and charges toll. He didn’t build the river, or improve anything for the farmers. All he does is obstruct, and take a profit.) This is fairly typical of government regulation, and inevitably you will be told they are ‘helping’ you. Various imaginary or very low risk reasons will be concocted to justify this. One of my current one is where the local council with the power vested in them by the state, are protecting my neighbor from our (two people’s worth) sewage treatment wastewater. I live on a farm, a long, long way from a neighbor and we are both well above the wastewater outlet. The chance of my wastewater getting to a neighbor… would take a Biblical flood. And beside the fact that the poor fellow would be far too busy building an ark to care – the dilution would be hundreds of billions to one. But that doesn’t stop the council extracting hundreds of dollars for doing nothing of any value, and forcing me to spend thousands of dollars to achieve absolutely nothing that I couldn’t for five hundred, and harassing the hell out of me. The designer, plumber, the seller of the specialized bits the designer mandated did give some degree of ‘value’ for their rent (back of an envelope – about the same as trad publishing – where the writer earns around 6-8% on that paperback, and 93-94% go to these other fellows). Of course I don’t actually need any of those, and could achieve the same without them, but their services and goods are worth something, just nothing like what I have to pay — because the government mandates I use them, and pure rent-seekers make sure I do.
It’s something that has bothered me for most of my adult life. I suspect that pure anarchy would be also be very unpleasant. Aside from sewage running into your neighbor’s porch, it’d last about as long as it took one guy to set himself in power and… seek rent. For anarchy to stand a chance you need huge amounts of space (possible in space, perhaps?) and eventually people do need to interact, if only to breed. But as with all things there has to be something between the extremes.
I’m still battering my way through two books at the moment – and they’re moving along, albeit not as fast as I would like: stress doesn’t help. But my head was toying with writing something relating to my current predicament with rent-seeking and petty bureaucrats, and society. I was thinking about this when I wrote STARDOGS (what 25 years back) which was before (but not long before) I wrote the first part of SPACE GYPSIES –which had a corrupt President Harris doing dirty deals with the Chinese, and an FBI who might be role models of the current lot. Bearing in mind I hadn’t yet had my run-in with the rent-seekers here yet, that was pretty prescient. I hope GYPSIES isn’t!
It struck me – back then — that we motivate bureaucracies wrongly (whether you talk about those who run large Corporations or small town councils). All bureaucracies come into being with the excuse of running things better than anarchy – no sewage in your neighbor’s porch. They move with the speed of chain lightning to serving themselves, and entrenching their power. The benefits or protections they provide are almost a trivial side-effect. And in time (not even necessarily a long time) they become parasites that, if they don’t kill the host, sure as hell cripple it, for very small benefits. In a biologically engineered system of governance as I was writing about, the ‘bureaucrats’ running the system are built to only benefit when the host (their society) does well –and the less there are, the greater their reward-share.
Ah, yes. It’s nice when you write fiction and can make things up. But maybe I need to write a society where the rent seekers have to declare the costs, and benefits and the probability of the risk they ‘protect’ their host from. An extension of the concept of declaring procedure prices in a way.
Or how else do think we could deal with bureaucrats – besides wood-chippers?