Part One – Lancashire
7 years and 5 months before the collapse
It had not been easy, but Annabel and Jim celebrated the fact that the local education authority was going to allow Olivia to take her General Certificate of Education, even though Jim and Annabel had homeschooled her for so long.
Jim mused that thousands of children with foreign heritage must have been in the same position and wondered why the central government had not passed a universal decree making education a priority for those who had been excluded.
Olivia herself was struggling with the transition to what Jim considered a ‘normal’ life, and the school referred her to a psychologist who asked Olivia to write down her dreams.
She was already scribbling in the notebook by her bed when Jim went to wake her.
“I don’t believe it,” Annabel suddenly exclaimed during breakfast. “They’ve taken our savings.”
“The Government. I was just reading on the stretch that they’ve frozen bank accounts, then I checked our account and it’s true, the money is gone.”
“At least we didn’t have much saved.”
“That’s not the point. Some people have lost thousands.”
Annabel was in a foul mood until she returned from taking Olivia to the school bus.
“I have good news,” she said as she came through the door, waving her stretch at Jim
“So do I,” said Jim, waving his.
“The Old Hall has offered me a gig.” she smiled.
“That’s good. The bookshop has offered me a lecture.”
“And more good news,” said Jim. “They are going to come and fetch all the shop fixtures. We’ll get rid of them at last.”
Jim walked down to village, to the bakers to see if they had any bread. When he got there, he found a queue of people trying to buy as much as their food cards would allow. Jim was about to join the queue when he realised that his food app wouldn’t recharge until the next day.
However, when he returned, Annabel saw he was wearing a big smile, carrying a full plastic bag.
“Did they have more than bread then?” asked Annabel.
“No, the food app isn’t charged yet.”
“What’s that then?”
“Mark was getting rid of all of his old DVDs, and he’s going to give me the machine. I’ll go back for it later.”
“I didn’t realise anyone still had DVDs.”
“What’s a DVD?” asked Olivia when she arrived home from school.
“It’s a disk,” said Jim, taking one out of the bag. “Each one has a film or some music.”
“What do you want those for? You can watch anything you want on the cloud.”
“And when you can no longer access the cloud, what will you do?”
“We’ll always be able to access the cloud.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure.”
There was a knock at the door.
“And that’s my other surprise,” said Jim. “Come and have a look.”
Olivia and Annabel followed him to the front door, which he opened to reveal a farmer leading two goats on ropes.
“Oh, Jim, you haven’t finished the pen,” Annabel complained.
“I’ll finish it tonight.”
“They better not eat my flowers, and you’re milking them.”
“Do they have names?” asked Olivia.
“Mr Benn and Mary Poppins,” said the farmer.
“Mister Benn?” asked Jim. “You promised me two girls.”
“They call female goats nannys.”
“Okay, well, you promised me two nannys and you’ve brought me a nanny and a…”
“I thought they called male goats billys.”
“They can be unless they’re castrated, in which case they’re a wether.”
“So why do I have a nanny and a buck?”
“If you don’t, you can’t have any kids.”
“What are we going to do with the babies?” asked Annabel.
“Kids,” Jim corrected. “After the final collapse, you’ll be glad of goats.”
“What are you talking about? Collapse?”
“You watch, we are on a path that we cannot sustain.”
“You don’t think things will get better?”
“I don’t. We are running out of resources, raw materials.”
“They’ll come up with something, Jim. They always do.”
“There is no silver bullet for this, Annabel.”
Jim spent the evening finishing the pen for the goats.
7 years and 4 months before the collapse
Jim went back to the village with his recharged food app at the ready, only to discover that the shop had run out of bread. He returned to tell Annabel the news, and they both sat in silence wondering what they would do.
Lucas Davis had done some planting in the garden and there were still Brussels sprouts, kale, leeks, parsnips, broccoli, rhubarb, spring cabbage, spring cauliflower and winter salad. Jim was getting fed up with vegetable soup, roast vegetables, and stewed rhubarb.
While Annabel cooked, Jim chopped wood for the fire. After lunch, Jim caught a bus into Manchester to deliver his lecture about post-Unity Britain at the bookshop. Annabel stayed at home to rehearse for her upcoming concert.
Before he got up to speak, Jim asked the organisers to play No One is Free by Solomon Burke.
“What I am about to tell you is not new. It is not even my idea. The secretary-general of the European Realistic Disobedience Front proposed it decades ago.” Jim began. “Political and economic power were inseparable. The princes were rich and only the rich were princes. Political power delivered the ability to extract wealth from others through coercion or conquest. The power to coerce translated into titles and castles. Capitalism changed all this with merchants emerging as a new class with economic clout if little political or social power. Economic power was distinct from political authority. Merchants evolved into shareholders and financiers. The richer you were, the more shares you could buy and the more votes you had. The few with the most shares could vote for their own interests and accumulate more shares. They essentially got to tell everyone else what to do.”
Jim paused to see whether his words were sinking in. The blank faces of his audience gave him no idea.
“Imagine a system in which no-one tells anyone what to do and you could freely choose the people or teams you want to work with and how much time you want to devote to different projects,” he continued. “When hierarchies allocate resources, the results are clumsy, inefficient and oppressive. The desire to please superiors makes full transparency impossible. They keep people in the dark about the benefits or drawbacks of working with particular managers or colleagues, how happy or dysfunctional teams are, how rewarding or boring different projects are. Under a flat management model, there are frequent gaps, but the fact these gaps exist is positive. When people discover that someone has moved from one project to another, it says a lot about both the old and the new projects and teams. When people may vote with their feet, they make a collective assessment of each project’s relative value. Unpredictability is a small price to pay for quality and efficiency.”
A hand went up in the audience and Jim acknowledged he would take the question.
“Surely there are menial tasks that no one wants to do?”
“New staff would be taken on informally,” Jim answered. “There would be no need for a personnel department. Any team can start a search to fill a vacancy either internally or externally, even if it is just to clean the bathrooms on their floor. People recruited for these roles may branch out into other roles in a way that no hierarchy would allow.”
Another hand went up and Jim deferred.
“Who decides how many people get paid?”
“A company’s income would be divided into five pots, corporation tax, fixed costs, research and development, staff salaries and bonuses. Collectively, the company would decide the relative proportions of the latter four pots on a one person one vote basis. Anyone who wanted to change the proportion going to each pot would need to propose a new formula. Having decided the amount in each pot, they then divided equally the staff salaries pot among all staff.”
Several hands shot up. Jim selected one of them.
“What about the bonus pot?”
“Every year, each member of staff is given one hundred merit points which they may distribute to other members of staff in whatever proportion they wish, they can give all one hundred to one member of staff or one each to a hundred people, but they can’t allocate any to themselves. Whatever proportion of the total merit points you receive correlates with the proportion of the budget pot you receive.”
“But the system is open to abuse,” the questioner shouted out.
“The voting system is transparent,” said Jim. “So if two people agree to allocate all one hundred merit points to each other, it will be obvious for all to see. This system eliminates one of the biggest injustices of capitalism, that the owners of a company control its profits while those who work within it receive only a wage.”
“That was Roberts’ idea,” someone shouted.
“You are proposing totalitarianism?” someone else shouted.
“In theory, Roberts’ idea was that employees should share the net revenues. However, the Unity hierarchies were just as ruthless in their imposition of power management. The formal ownership of a company is less important than how power is constructed within it.”
“Who owns the company capital?” was the next interjection
“If every citizen has a bank account at the central bank. I propose dividing this account into three funds, the first to accumulate money from salary and bonuses, the second would be a trust fund that is deposited in every citizens’ account at birth. When they come of age, they have some capital to deploy to join or start a business. Rules would protect the trust fund to stop it being used injudiciously. The third is a dividend fund into which the central bank deposits a certain amount depending on the citizen’s age and which is funded through a tax on company revenues. This fund would liberate everyone from both destitution and the cruel means testing of the welfare state. It would also allow some individuals to provide priceless contributions to society without having to run a business, for example caring, environmental conservation or non-commercial art.”
“And to be lazy,” someone shouted.
“It liberates the individual from the current safety net, which simply entangles them in poverty. Dividend gives the poor and unfortunate a platform. It allows young people to experiment with different careers and to study. There would be no income or sales taxes, only tax on company revenues and property. Anyone could lend to companies, they can loan to a company from their own trust fund or accumulation.”
“What happens when people fall out or want to leave?” Jim was asked.
“Then they just leave. They can dismiss underperforming or misbehaving employees with a board of inquiry. There is no golden handshake, although members can vote for a gift if they wish. With small partnerships of two members who wish to part company, each submits a sealed bid for what they feel the company is worth.”
“What about social responsibility?” came the next question.
“Their flat management structure will keep them relatively small, probably only a few hundred staff. A social responsibility act would ensure that we grade each company according to a social worthiness index by regional panels of randomly selected local citizens from a digital stakeholder community formed whenever a company is registered. These panels who grade the companies using a standard social ratings system monitor conduct, activities and effects on communities. We would publish these ratings online, available to anyone. If a rating falls below a certain threshold, we would order a public inquiry, which could cause the company’s deregistration, in which case we would shut it down or put it out to tender. This would curb exploitative practices.”
“How did it go?” Annabel asked when he returned.
“I think it went okay. Some of the audience came up to me at the end and criticised me for not talking about China, but I think they received it well.”
“Many people there?”
“Yes, it was packed, and look what they gave me,” he brandished a bag full of print books.
“What do you want those for?” asked Olivia, who had come downstairs when she heard her father arrive. “You can get all the books in the world on your stretch. They are all on the cloud.”
“And what will you do when you can no longer access the cloud?”
“Don’t be silly, we’ll always be able to access the cloud.”
“What did you get?” asked Annabel.
Jim pulled a book from the bag.
“The complete book of butchering, smoking, curing and sausage making.”
“What did you get that for?” Olivia squealed in horror. “You are vegetarian.”
“Practically vegan,” Annabel added.
7 years and 3 months before the collapse
Jim went back to the council offices, inquiring whether the university would re-open and if he could resume his old position. He was told that they were aiming to open the schools first and the university afterwards. The self-appointed regional assembly had assumed responsibility for education, and it was not yet clear how funding would be distributed, which complicated matters.
Jim left the council building and went straight to a jeweller and used whatever money he could spare to buy silver coins.
When he arrived home, Annabel was just heading out to go to a concert rehearsal.
“What’s that you’ve got?” She asked, seeing the small bag of coins.
“Jim? What is going on? I don’t have time to talk about it now, but we need to talk. We don’t have money to buy silver.”
“Wait until I get back. We’ll talk then.”
However, when Annabel returned, Olivia and Jim were already sleeping.
7 years and two months before the collapse
When Jim left, Annabel was still sleeping. The Assembly had invited him to an Antifa meeting..
The purpose appeared to be to discover the crimes of the Unity campaign by holding question-and-answer sessions with the victims.
They were particularly interested in those who had been interned in camps
“I was not in a camp,” Jim pointed out. “I wouldn’t want people to think I was boasting about my everyday problems.”
“Nonsense,” said the chair. “Your experiences are also very important.”
She gave them suggested dates for the sessions.
Jim went straight to the Old Hall, which was the venue for Annabel’s concert where she and Olivia were waiting for him.
There were about sixty or seventy in the audience, and Jim thought Annabel played very well.
“We have double cause for celebration,” Annabel told him after the concert.
“I’ve been dying to tell you all night,” Olivia squealed with joy. “But mummy made me promise to wait until now.”
“What is it?”
“You tell him, Olivia.”
“I got my GCE results.”
“I passed all of them, and I have a place at sixth form college.”
“That’s fantastic, well done.”
“I saw you put the goats together,” said Annabel.
“Well, we need to if we are going to have kids.”
“Are we going to have baby goats?” asked Olivia.
“I hope so,” said Jim.
Annabel rolled her eyes.
7 years and 1 month before the collapse
“Look at this,” said Jim, showing the message he’d just received on his stretch. “They have offered me a course of five one-hour lectures to expound on the ideas I shared in my speech at the bookshop.”
“But that’s not all. The Northern Assembly is contemplating not re-opening the university in favour of more vocational higher education. Can you believe it?”
“Jim, after the last ten years I can believe anything.”
“And that’s not the last of it. There’s another proposal here, more lectures on the effect of the Unity campaign on scholarship. I had better go into the city today.”
When he arrived at the office building where he had been told to go, Jim found a crowd outside. Jim announced himself to the doorman, who was as coarse with Jim as he was being with the rest of the crowd.
“You’ll be in trouble if you don’t let me in,” Jim snapped.
“I was in a camp,” replied the doorman. “And now I take orders from no-one.”
“Me too,” Jim lied.
“Which camp?” asked the doorman.
Jim realised this was an argument he could not win and slipped away. He read that out of the 5 million immigrants that had been in the UK pre-unity, only 250,000 remained. Could they have replicated these statistics in other developed nations around the world? Could this have been another genocide? Another holocaust?
Will Atkinson saw Jim staring at his stretch and, wondering what he was doing, went over to him.
“Oh, don’t worry about him,” said Atkinson after Jim had explained the run in with the doorman. “We’re always having problems with him. He actually was in a camp but he’s completely unsuitable for his job, but they insist on keeping him, there’s nothing else for him to do. We have to do whatever the assembly tells us to.”
Jim wondered whether the country had just stumbled from one autocracy into another.
“I just came to confirm that you actually want me to lecture on Unity and scholarship,” he said.
“Yes, that’s right. One hour.”
Jim wondered how he would fill an hour on the subject because in his opinion you could address the whole subject in a sentence; either one is objective or one is fanatical.
On his way home, he saw that the cinema had reopened and asked Annabel and Olivia if they wanted to go. They did and invited Mark and Sofia so they could get a lift.
They watched a remake of Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, which Jim thought was not as good as the original. He wondered why filmmakers seemed to have an obsession to ruin excellent films by making them again.
The village had no electricity when they pulled up at Mark and Sophia’s, and the house was cold when they had walked up the lane. The wood stove didn’t seem to be efficient enough to heat the house in the cold spell they were experiencing.
7 years before the collapse
There was a ceremony in the city for the victims of Unity in Piccadilly gardens. Hundreds of people had gathered
As victims of Unity, they are told that they may be eligible for compensation. They went to investigate but were turned away from the Unity victims’ office.
“Only those who were interred in the camps were victims,” said the snooty receptionist. “You need to go to the council and apply for benefits.”
Jim was on his way to the council when he learned, via his stretch, that Quinn, the man who was trustee for their house and had tried to help them, had died.
“He was in his forties,” Jim told Annabel. “Apparently he hadn’t seen his youngest child. The child was born after they had transferred Quinn to a camp. They moved him straight from the camp to the hospital where he died.”
“That’s so sad,” said Annabel.
At the council, Jim received the same treatment as at the victims’ office and was told to apply online. He went home and found Aiden Clark waiting for him.
“How are you Jim?” said Aiden. “Glad to see you are settling in. You don’t look happy though.”
“I’m sorry. I just learned today that someone who had tried to help us has died. There was a doctor as well, who was very kind to us. I recently heard he is very ill. Are you coming to Annabel’s concert?”
“Yes, I’ll drive us all there.”
“It’s the second gig she’s got.”
“So I heard.”
“Have you been to the Old Hall before?”
“No, I heard they did a fantastic job on the restoration.”
“At least one good thing came from Unity.”
Aiden drove them to the Old Hall, and the concert went well until there was a power cut. Annabel played the rest of her set acoustically to a room full of candles and then they went home.
Jim received a message from the university announcing that they hoped to restart at the beginning of November and they would like him to be a professor again.
“Annabel, listen to this,” he said, going into the bedroom to give her the good news. “What’s wrong with your face?”
“I don’t know. It’s itchy. What does it look like?”
“You have shiny red… or purple.. bumps.”
“Yes, I can feel them.”
“Let’s take you to the doctor.”
“You need to make sure Olivia gets the school bus.”
“Yes, yes, I will. Get yourself ready.”
“And Mr Benn smells.”
“Yes, I’ll move him further away, just get yourself ready.”
It was rainy as they got the bus into town. On the way, they realised a smaller amount had recharged onto their food app than they had expected and, on investigation, discovered that the reorganisation of the system had left them in a worse position than before.
On the way, they noticed that posters of the Assembly First Minister Alex, had appeared all over the place.
When they arrived, Dr Armstrong gave Jim and Annabel a warm welcome.
“How do you like my new surgery?” he asked. “I have a medical assistant and three receptionists.”
“Very nice,” said Annabel.
“Yes, I’m advising the Assembly, they’ll probably give me a position and a big title in the ministry.”
Jim thought about how pale and unwell Dr Armstrong looked, but he was obviously happy.
“Oh, by the way,” the doctor continued. “You remember that Unity police officer, the one who you told me, slapped Annabel? Committed suicide. Anyway, let’s have a look at you both.”
They followed him into the examination room.
“Well, I’m afraid you both have eczema. Probably gave it to each other. Better keep an eye on Olivia, too. I’ll give you a prescription for corticosteroid cream but good luck in finding some. If not, you could try green tea if you can get hold of any.”
At the chemist, there was a queue. The chemist did not have the cream Dr Armstrong had recommended, but could supply an alternative.
While they were in the city, Jim tried to settle matters with the university. They confirmed he would need to deliver a lecture on 18th November and approved an advance on his salary.
They returned home in a brighter mood than when they had left and Jim set to work moving Mr Benn’s pen.
6 years and 11 months before the collapse
“Up to the end of the 16th century, even global trading companies were guilds or partnerships, whose members pooled their resources to achieve that which none of them could achieve in isolation. Then, the East India Company became the first joint stock company. It created the possibility for companies with powers so immense that it would dwarf their countries of origin and could be deployed in faraway places to exploit people and resources. The East India Company grew more powerful than the British state, answerable only to its shareholders. In Britain it controlled the Government, abroad its private army oversaw the destruction of well-functioning economies in Asia and ensured the systematic exploitation of their peoples. It was the template for companies that were to follow, overthrowing governments. Freedom means as much under the thumb of global conglomerates as it does under totalitarian regimes like Unity – nothing. While we celebrated the local businesses, we turned a blind eye to the global behemoths that stop at nothing to destroy their competitors.”
Jim took a deep breath. He was delivering a similar lecture to the one he had at the bookshop and had barely paused for breath in his excitement..
“Even in this current climate of great hardship,” he continued. “There are millions working in the voluntary sector. They have managers who have no rights to fire them, force them to do things or even discipline them. The fire, lifeboat and ambulance services where these individuals work are incredibly efficient. Could the entire economy emulate the voluntary sector? I envisage an employment marketplace where individuals are free to move from organisation to organisation.”
“If this model was the most efficient, it would have happened already,” said a member of the audience when Jim took her question.
“When a system evolves, it just means it is the best to survive in that environment. It does not mean it is the best system in the long run,” said Jim. “Capitalism channels the efforts of all the greatest minds to the destruction of the planet, despite the warnings for more than half a century.”
“You are justifying a Unity policy. If I own a business and then employ someone, why should I give them an equal share in my business?” came the next question.
“The real question is, do we want the net revenues of an enterprise to be distributed by a workplace dictatorship? This is inevitable if shares are traded, or do we want the division of the company’s profits to be decided by a workplace democracy? This is only possible if there are equally distributable and non-tradable shares. It is the only system that does not make a mockery out of liberal democracy and a wasteland out of our planet. Next question?”
“I can’t imagine any greater tyranny than some random group passing judgment over us,” said the next member of the audience.
“I would rather a group of random citizens deciding whether my company is serving society than a totalitarian government like Unity,” said Jim. “I can think of no better check on power than someone who has been selected who probably doesn’t want the power. By the way, if you want to improve our public schools and hospitals? Pass a law which demands that all elected officials, whether international, regional or local government, must send their children to state schools and use public hospitals. I think you would find that the quality of our schools and hospitals would suddenly improve.”
The crowd cheered.
After the lecture, Jim received two offers to repeat it, one to the teachers’ union and the other to the members of the majority party in the assembly. The second invite came with a promise to email membership forms to the party.
Jim woke up with a terrible head cold. He made coffee and sat down to write, but the party membership forms were sitting there in his email inbox, looking back at him. He felt like he would be a coward if he joined, but also a coward if he didn’t. On the one hand, he worried that joining a party that was courting him was egotistical, but he considered the party the lesser of all evils. It was the only one pressing for the exclusion of the Unity extremists while on the negative side, replacing restrictions on freedoms with other restrictions on freedoms.
A confirmation message from the university, asking him to attend to finalise matters, distracted him. He resolved to fill in the form and join the party.
He told Annabel his intention.
“Good,” she said. “What made up your mind?”
“I think that not being in a party these days is a luxury which is tantamount to cowardice, or at least extreme apathy. It’s the only way to get us out of our current problems.”
“I’ve had more invites to lecture as well.”
“Things are looking up.”
Jim went to the university to see what Unity had left of the place and to prepare his new post-Unity course.
He saw Henry Harris, they both ignored each other. Jim felt awkward because others were trying to introduce them. King saved Jim.
“Jim! How are you? How are Annabel and Olivia?”
“Good thanks, and how are you?”
“Very good, thanks. You must have heard that I am to be the head of the section.”
“No, I hadn’t heard that.”
There was an awkward pause.
“I have joined the party,” Jim broke the silence.
“Really? Are you sure?”
“I have a confession to make,” said Jim. “I really fear the future of people of foreign heritage. Tens of thousands of immigrants used to arrive in Manchester every year. Now there must be less than ten thousand in total and yet, those with foreign heritage hold many of the top positions in local government.”
6 years and 10 months before the collapse
Jim arrived late to a meeting at the assembly building where he had been asked to give a lecture at a cross party meeting.
“I hear that they have elected you to the cabinet,” said Dr Armstrong, who was there trying to improve his chances of being asked to be health minister.
“Yes, unanimously proposed by all four parties.”
After Jim had delivered his standard lecture, he added more about concepts for central banking, all taken from ideas over 25 years old.
“To get the public to stay with their central bank accounts, we will give them a 5% tax relief as long as they pay their tax in advance while giving them the right to change their minds and spend it in the meantime. Because private banks cannot offer this amount of interest, or offer tax relief, money will migrate from private banks back to the central bank. Every newborn will continue to receive a trust fund which cannot be used until the baby is an adult. Income and sales tax will be abolished and instead of 5% tax relief, the central bank will offer 5% interest on all balances. The amount in the central bank will be transparent so that no-one can create additional money without everyone knowing. The US, UK and Europe created trillions of dollars, pounds and euros for the ultra-rich 0.1% while the masses drove themselves into the ground, working for a pittance. We will encourage community cooperative money brokers to pool the savings of individuals to fund worthwhile enterprises. I’ll answer your question.”
Jim indicated a member of the audience.
“How do you intend to control the overall supply of money in the economy?”
Jim recognised the assembly’s finance minister.
“The central bank’s charter will be clear. They will adjust the quantity of money to regulate prices and enable the production of socially valued goods and services for society. When average prices rise above a threshold, the central bank would increase the interest it offers to savers, encouraging people to reduce spending, at other times, when economic activity is too sluggish, the interest rate would be reduced and/or the dividend increased.”
“But will the central bank become independent of the government?” asked the finance minister.
“The central bank will become independent of the government, but not of society. Monetary committees will decide the supply of money, comprising a rotating panel, chosen by lot, using an algorithm that ensures fair representation of all members of society. Multiple local currencies will run alongside that of the central bank’s. The point of these local currencies is to keep value produced locally in the local community. In this way, transfer of wealth from one region to another can be regulated by increasing or decreasing the amount charged for exchanging local for national currency in proportion to the imbalance in wealth and trade flow between the two regions.”
At the end of the lecture, a young woman approached Jim and introduced herself as Luna Adams from the Manchester Evening News. She asked whether she could have a transcript of the lecture.
“I’m afraid I don’t have one,” said Jim. “But I would be happy to discuss the ideas with you at another time if you like.”
Luna thanked him and took his number.
After an exchange of messages, Jim invited Luna to the house for an interview.
“You have been an outspoken critic of the IMP,” she began.
“The IMP still lends money to bankrupt countries on terms that are the equivalent of debt bondage,” said Jim. “When a developing country can no longer raise the money it owes to foreign bankers, the IMP steps in to lend the money on the condition that the country transfers public property to the international oligarchy. It is not different from the IMF and results in school and hospital closures, cuts in pensions and wages below the poverty line.”
“But what should it be doing?”
“Its role should stabilise the world economy and to invest directly in the regions of the world that need investment to develop, without putting them into debt.”
“Isn’t that just the old socialist dream of a magic money tree?”
“No, there are levies on net exporters of goods and money that would help to stabilise world trade and global money flow. They should channel the proceeds of these levies into free development funds for the world’s least developed regions. At the moment, the net exporters and importers still end up with trade surpluses or deficits.”
“Yes, Professor Smith, I know how the balance of trade works.”
“Then you know that we have had a trade deficit with Germany for the last century and deficit countries have to borrow more and more to afford to buy the goods from the surplus countries. This continued reliance on international bankers is very dangerous and the situation becomes worse when the country has to borrow in a currency other than its own, for example, having to borrow in euros to pay Germany, or in rubles to buy gas from Russia. As soon as banks stop lending the UK euros and rubles, it cannot finance its debt. Germany and Russia are happy to lend us euros and rubles as long as we keep buying their products and resources. As soon as they stop lending us the money, the complete house of cards collapses. The IMP agrees to lend the UK the missing euros or rubles as long as the UK agrees to impoverish their people and sell the family silver to the global oligarchs. Of course, when you get a populist government like Unity who were happy to blame the Chinese and Germans and Russians for their surpluses, then the people blamed these countries rather than their own government or the IMP for their own poverty. It poisons the deficit country’s democracy as it has done in the UK and the US. Trade imbalances never end well, which is why they must be managed.”
“How would you prevent this?”
“Joining the global digital currency and pressing for IMP reform so that it sticks to its founding principles. They should penalise countries for running a large surplus or deficit by charging a trade imbalance levy. This should fund sustainable investments in public health, education, renewable energy, transport and organic agriculture, mostly in the less developed regions in the world. It would also fund migration flows of a human movement project. These are not loans but transfers. To avoid the levy, a country should import roughly the same value of goods and services as it exports. We could fix the levy at 5% of deficits and surpluses and then rise to 10% later.”
“It won’t balance trade.”
“Even if it cannot balance trade, it will generate funds to be invested in underdeveloped regions. The point is to curtail global imbalances, especially the flow of money from one economic block to another. There should also be a surge funding levy to prevent investments in underdeveloped regions from causing a boom/bust.”
“What is a surge funding levy?”
“It’s a fee on international transactions that kicks in above a certain threshold and increases in proportion to the speed and volume of the transfers. They also use the fees for international development. These funds should also help developing countries adhere to the stricter emission limits required to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”
“How are exchange rates determined?”
“There would be daily auctions to work out exchange rates. What I am talking about is an almost fully automated system of global discipline that balances out trade and money flows and funds the transition of developing regions to low carbon energy, sustainable transport, organic agriculture and decent public education and health systems. We just need international agreements to reform the IMP and conduct international trade in the global digital currency.”
“I am impressed,” said Luna. “Could that agreement be achieved?”
“It is the US, the UK and Brazil who don’t see the benefits, the rest of the world is already striving towards this system.”
“Thank you very much for your time, Professor Smith. I must go, I have to pick up my daughter, I left her in daycare.”
“How old is she?”
“Can’t her father collect her?”
“We are divorced.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“No need to be. It was an amicable split.”
“So have you always been a journalist?”
“I studied political economy, but I always wanted to be a journalist, but when Unity was in power, I was deemed ‘politically unreliable’. So I worked as a film extra for a while, got married, had my daughter, got divorced and now I’m here.”
“What do you think the future will bring?”
“I don’t know. I have no faith in the current coalition.”
Another lecture, building on the others, this time focusing on land.
“From the 13th century, common land has been enclosed. Between 1604 and 1914, over 5,200 individual enclosure acts were passed, affecting 6.8 million acres and kick-starting capitalism. We should transfer all land titles to regional authorities.”
There was a murmur of disquiet among the gathering. Unity had already nationalised all freeholds, and some had only just got their deeds back, many others were still waiting.
“We need a great ground reform act to establish a grounds common authority for each county which will hold the freehold titles. We would grant existing landlords free lifetime leases. We would divide the land between social zones and commercial zones. Rent from commercial zones would fund social housing and other social projects in the social zones. I disagree with much that Unity put in place but the common ownership of property was a move in the right direction.”
A collective gasp showed how astonished the crowd was to hear anyone agree with a Unity policy. Polarisation in society still existed, just the balance of power had changed.
“We should not throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Jim pleaded with the disgruntled crowd. “There would be two types of commercial zones, one for houses occupied by those willing and able to pay market rates and one for commercial businesses. A permanent subletting auctions scheme would manage the zones. At the beginning of each year, anyone who occupies a building in a commercial zone as a business or a resident will bid for how much rent they are willing to pay for the coming year. If they bid more than the current occupier, then they may take it over after a transition period. Set the value of the property you occupy too high and you pay too much rent, set it too low and you risk eviction. Questions?”
“How are land and houses distributed in the social zones?”
“A county wide people’s assembly will oversee the division of land between commercial and social zones, the division of commercial zones between business and residential use and the distribution of properties within social zones. We will randomly select its members using an algorithm that guarantees fair representation of various groups and communities living in the county.”
“Yes, but who qualifies for social housing and, out of those, who gets the more desirable properties?” the questioner interjected.
“Once we have allocated you a property within a social zone, we would guarantee tenure. When a property is vacated or we build a new property, we would allocate the property using a randomised digital raffle. Everyone seeking a property is included but we increase their odds of winning according to an assessment of their needs and decreased according to the value of their savings, in other words, their ability to bid for a commercial property.”
At the end of the lecture, the warm applause he received heartened Jim, but he suspected the gathering was being polite. He observed many sceptical faces.
“Alex is turning down all claims for compensation,” Jim complained to Annabel. “I’ve been told I would have to sue. The university said they can increase my salary, but only if I drop my claim for compensation.”
“You’re not going to?”
“Of course not. I’ve received a receipt for my application to register as a victim of Unity.”
“Have you read the article in the Evening News?”
“I’ve just had a message from someone complaining about it. They think you wrote it.”
“Oh shit, let me have a look. Oh no, it looks like I am making myself out to be the victim. There is very little of the content of the lecture. It is as if I am trying to portray myself as a martyr.”
Jim began sending messages, telling people he was not responsible for the article. He even emailed the editor and copied the individuals he wanted to witness his protest. He didn’t want to be associated with the waves of arrests which were purging the country. He worried that the continued divisiveness would eventually lead to civil war. The regional assemblies were clamouring for power from Westminster and Westminster, seeking to quieten the unrest was conceding to regional demands, leaving itself impotent.
The Northern Assembly was riding on the back of the working class popularity of Jim’s suggestion for land reforms, but there was no sign they were attempting to implement the measures that he had cribbed from the economists of decades before. There was no sense of fairness, the Assembly was just confiscating land it wanted and this made Jim the villain, as the person who had the temerity to suggest keeping a Unity policy.
Not ready to leave Jim and Olivia?