I love strange books with compelling titles and The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth fits the bill. This book, first published in 1952 but with the seventh and last printing taking place in 1972, was printed in the U.S.A. It’s based sometime in the future and looking back to it’s publication in 1952 from a 2012 vantage point is a bit strange. Pohl and Kornbluth obviously had to design a future that was credible to a 1952 readership still infused with memories of World War II and trying to deny the existence of the Korean War. In some ways, that’s not too difficult a task, but in other ways the challenge is daunting. For instance, the characters in the book still use phones like in 1952, board planes on the tarmack at airports and smoke incessantly, but space travel is common. The book is about the marketing business and how it has evolved. Lies are common and the bigger the lie the better. Products are not simply advertized anymore. Marketing businesses create products to sell not based on their utility but on their salability. (How far is THIS from our current reality?) They are trying to sell people on Venus colonization. How can they make Venus attractive to potential colonists? It’s virtually uninhabitable. I leave it to you to find a copy of the book to see how the main character in the book, Mitchell Courtenay, gets along. What I want to highlight here is a simple paragraph on page 7 of my edition of the book which reads:
“Fowler Schocken inclined his head. ‘Thank you, Matthew,’ And he meant it. It took him a moment before he could go on. ‘We all know,’ he said, ‘what put us where we are. We remember the Starrzalius Verily account, and how we put Indiastries on the map. The first spherical trust. Merging a whole subcontinent into a single manufacturing complex. Schocken Associates pioneered on both of them. Nobody can say we were floating with the tide. But that’s behind us.”
Indiastries [my emphasis]. ‘Now that’s prescient,’ I thought to myself. Pohl and Kornbluth project into the future a trend that was in its infancy in 1952 with post-war globalization and geopolitics, that is, the corporate drive to find cheaper raw materials and labour wherever they might be. Of course, that’s a movement or trend that started long before epitomized by Christopher Columbus and his P3 venture, but did it ever take off after WW II. Now, global business corporations scour the globe like bottom feeders, looking for the cheapest raw materials and the cheapest labour. In the case of raw materials, its a little more difficult than with labour. Raw materials are found where they lie in the earth. It’s possible for hard rock mining companies, oil producers and other exploiters of the earth’s ‘natural resources’ to more to parts of the earth previously unexplored to uncover precious commodities like gold. Canadian mining corporations are all over Mexico, Central and South America mining and exploring for minerals. That doesn’t mean Canada has no gold left in ‘them thar’ hills, but the ‘business climate’ is much better in Mexico and the near absence of environmental regulation (or their enforcement) is just fine, thank you. And labour is cheap, cheap, cheap. For secondary or value added manufacturers and businesses operating in the service sector, the ‘Third World’ is their oyster. They’ve managed to cut deals with impoverished governments all over the world to set up export processing zones (EPZs) which are sometimes secured compounds, sometimes entire cities or regions, where powerful global corporations can set up shop, exploit cheap labour, pay no duties, no taxes, and face no environmental or health and safety regulations. Corporations have flocked to the EPZs. ‘Our’ corporations are abandoning North American, Japanese, European, Australian and South Korean labour and moving production to EPZs or other facilities in the ‘Third World’ at an exponential rate. There is no turning this around. China and India are big players in providing cheap labour for ‘our’ corporations making it hard to pick up any ‘consumer’ product these days that’s not manufactured there. But make no mistake about it. Those products are not Chinese or Indian products. They are Nike, Apple, Dell, Monsanto, Nestlé, Wal-Mart, etc., etc, products produced by cheap labour in poor countries bypassing ‘expensive’ labour ‘here.’
So, Indiastries. Looks like it’s well on the ways to reality. India harnessed as a whole by a single manufacturing trust. With how rapidly things are changing these days, how far down the road can that be? Pohl and Kornbluth were pretty prescient guys. Only problem I find with their scenario is who’s going to buy all these wonderful products made in India and elsewhere in the ‘Third World?’ Won’t be workers here because they’re putting us out of work as fast as they can. We’ll see how it goes.
- This is a re-blog of a post I wrote in 2012. I think it’s quite relevant following my last post.