A Political and Economic Tragedy in One Part

 

In 2056, the United States of America fell into a severe economic crisis. Government economists realized some horrific news: the GDP, the key measure of the nation’s productivity, growth and wealth, had plummeted nearly 90% from the prior year. To make matters worse, statistics showed that the gap in wealth inequality had multiplied to unthinkable scales, leaving only a few individuals with massive stores of cash and the majority of the population almost entirely below the official poverty line. Unemployment was rampant, with 91% of the available workforce either unemployed or underemployed.

The President was informed and her team dashed into action to solve the economic crisis. It began with a national press conference and would be broadcast on every major news network.

“My fellow Americans, we are under siege by an economic crisis like no other before.” said the President shaking her thumb at the camera, “We’re going to fix this problem immediately with every resource at our disposal. Let me be perfectly clear: no man, woman or child will be left to fend for themselves in this unprecedented tragedy.”

The crisis had really started in 2054 with two unfortunate inventions being introduced into the marketplace. The Infinity Corporation discovered a new and powerful form of optical networking that was infinitely more powerful and ubiquitous, requiring no infrastructure and no upgrades. It provided superior computing power, connectivity and software to everyone. The company had foolishly offered the new service to business and consumers for a fraction of what traditional providers charged. This sent a shockwave in the industry, and many traditional software companies and network providers went out of business.

At the same time, Avocado Computer introduced a new type of personal computer called the Glazier that was about the size of a credit card that could connect to the new network. The computer itself would never need upgrades, would never need software or hardware fixes and was essentially indestructible. They also undercut competition with a low price point. After nearly every consumer and business bought one, they would never need to buy another again. The majority of the traditional industry would soon wither without demand for new computers.

Because so many industries now had such a boost in information sharing and processing power, a swell of new, disruptive inventions would begin to hit the market, each leaving a wake of economic destruction as thousands of companies and millions of employees would fall.

In 2055, confectioner William A. Wonka inadvertently invented a teleportation app while trying to send candy through the Glazier as part of a marketing campaign. He gave away the app in hopes of selling more candy, and while he did manage to increase his sales, consumers began using the app to transport themselves and goods through the ether. The need for cars, planes, trains and delivery companies were upended and hundreds of thousands of workers in those industries were no longer needed. Oil wells went fallow as the demand for fuel grew scarcer.

A month after Wonka’s teleportation app was launched another inventor, Flint Lockwood, invented a device that would convert material from the air and water into food. In an act of conceit and ego, he cheaply distributed the designs of the machine so that the device could be built instantly on any cheap 3-D printer. Soon everyone had an endless supply of food and so went the agriculture and grocery industry, casting off thousands of jobs. Restaurants, though, started flourishing as people seemed to still like to go out now and again.

Another pioneer invented an education system app so vastly superior to public schools and universities that people stopped going to school. Thousands of teaching jobs were lost.

And so it went on. The Print-a-House app was devastating to the construction industry. The MyDesign and GrowClothes apps ruined the textile industry. HomePower had people cancelling their utilities. Industry after industry found themselves handing pink slips and shuttering doors unmercifully. With each closing, the GDP would sink and unemployment rates kept climbing.

The only industries that seemed to be growing during this economic carnage were oddly superfluous in nature. Art galleries, museums and movie theaters started picking up in business. Theatre and opera troops popped up everywhere. Semi-pro and amateur sport teams emerged. Vacation destinations grew. As did boat sales. Economists pinned this trend on the overabundance of free time amongst the unemployed, citing that people’s insufferable boredom drove them to meaningless and unproductive activities.

With the little work that was left, job sharing became common. After all, it only took a few productive weeks of labor to purchase one’s own Glazier and cheap 3-D printer (which most people shared anyways) and essentially access pretty much everything the world had to offer. After that there wasn’t much need to work. People began to reduce their workweeks to six hours per week and most retired around the age of 28, having stored enough wealth to live out their days. Incomes looked meager compared to historical nominal values, but nobody cared because they could consume so much more with so much access and time. They would then pursue other activities such as opening art galleries, starting theatre troops, writing books or playing golf.

There were some people though who had an unusual passion for working and enjoyed it so much that they would spend the majority of their time doing it and would not retire. Their earnings were so great that their cash accounts would dwarf the average person. Most of them spent their time finding new ways to disrupt the few industries yet transformed or create new apps for the Glazier.

The President continued her press conference:

“Our GDP is in shambles, our workforce a shadow of what it was, and income inequality at an embarrassing extreme. We must restore the greatness of this country and ensure that no family live in poverty. On behalf of your congress, your government, I’m declaring a war on poverty.”