This is a post I originally shared during the Juggernaut blog tour when I stopped over at Prism Book Alliance. Some of the posts contained really important and interesting world-building background, so I thought I would share them again after the blog tour was over for people who might have missed them.
Envisioning the Future: The Corporate Tenements
If you follow me on Tumblr or elsewhere, or if you’ve read my book Player vs. Player, it’s pretty obvious that I take an active interest in politics and social justice issues. And one of the issues that keeps coming up in the current political dialogue is the fact that unrestrained capitalism has not turned out to be the positive, freedom-assuring force that it’s packaged and sold to the public as being. But with so much of the world population brainwashed into believing it’s a good thing, its preeminence doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.
So when I envisioned the future world of Juggernaut, my starting point really had to be: what would the world—or at least the United States—look like with capitalism run completely amok?
It actually wasn’t that difficult to imagine, and I took a lot of my queues from the past, before labor regulations and unionization put constraints on employers and ensured fair treatment of workers.
Particularly, I looked to the coal mining camps of the latter 19th century before unionization. It’s hard for us to truly grasp just how completely a company could own a person, but the coal mining operations are one example where employers really did have that much control.
Coal mining towns and camps were often very isolated, and very enclosed. Miners were frequently paid in whole or in part using scrip, or a currency accepted only at the company store. Since prices at the company store were often very inflated, this meant scrip had considerably less value than the same amount of cash would have. Because of their isolation, however, miners had no choice but to buy their supplies at the company store, which kept them in perpetual poverty.
Many miners were responsible for buying the supplies needed to make the mines safe, such as timber for shoring up the walls (which, of course, they would have to buy from the company.) Miners were also paid by the tonnage they produced, rather than for the hours worked. This means that any time they took out of extracting coal to shore up the mine shafts or take other safety measures would reduce their productivity and therefore their income. The company could disavow all responsibility in the event of a collapse, since safety was the miners’ responsibility and the miners had shirked it.
The company also owned the miners’ housing. Which meant any complaints or attempts at unionizing could leave one homeless in addition to being unemployed. Security guards were more to keep union organizers out—with full legal authority to use lethal force if they found union organizers trying to infiltrate the camp—than to protect the miners and their families.
How could one ever become prosperous or get out of poverty under such conditions?
This was the template I used for life in the corporate tenements which are frequently mentioned in Juggernaut.
In the world of Juggernaut, corporate retail and service industry giants and large factory manufacturers have been taking PR dings for the fact that their employees are on public assistance, and one of the ways in which they combat this is to build or buy large apartment complexes in which they would provide employees with company subsidized housing and transportation to and from the workplace. Rent can be deducted from their wages, and credit extended against future earnings if an employee falls behind, keeping employees perpetually in debt to their employers.
The tenements are often run-down, with sanitation, maintenance, and safety problems. Employees who report problems within their apartments will often find themselves accused of damaging the property and will be charged for repairs.
The company store sees a resurgence, in the form of an arrangement where second-run, expired, and otherwise unsaleable goods are made available to employees (again, on credit against future wages if an employee can’t afford groceries that week.) Because transportation to and from the workplace is provided, many employees have no means of getting out of the tenements. Security is provided more for the PR value of keeping crime down within the tenements than for the safety of the employees, and the security forces are private rather than public police, employed by the company and their enforcement is conducted with the interests of the corporation, rather than the employees, in mind. In the insular colonies that the tenements become, the security guards are little more than armed toughs. Disputes are supposed to be handled by the resident superintendent, who also works for the corporation.
By this point in the future, all internet access is via communications satellites and in the tenements that access goes through a company-owned hub. This means any unrest or attempts to organize for better workers’ rights within the tenement can be monitored and sanctioned. Negative reports or documentation of life inside the tenements can be filtered to quash any negative publicity.
News from outside the tenement can likewise be filtered, particularly if it’s going to stir up dissent. This can particularly influence political expression within the tenements; positive information about candidate who will not act in the corporations’ best interests can be restricted, while propaganda for candidates who will serve corporate interests can flourish. Since employees lack transportation to voting sites, as a supposed “service” a proxy system is established—sort of the electoral college writ small—where a representative of the tenement can vote for the entire tenement. That representative is, of course, employed by the corporation.
Being fired or evicted means a negative recommendation from both employer and landlord. This makes finding other employment particularly difficult, and losing one’s job is an effective guarantee of perpetual unemployment and homelessness.
Non-corporate housing is a luxury reserved for the few people who work in industries or institutions where this sort of corporate control can’t in practicality exist. Since the middle class is almost completely gone, the vast majority of America’s workers live under these conditions.
Interestingly—considering how much effort went into world-building this particular concept—both of my protagonists come from privileged upbringings outside the corporate tenements. But they both have views inside the situation, Zach through his work with the homeless and impoverished, and Nico through his mother, who was raised in the tenements and found a way to get herself out.
This is perhaps an exaggerated vision of what the future of America may be, but it’s not a completely implausible one. It’s rather bleak and grim to consider, but it helps explain how there is so little oversight or control of the military R&D operations that resulted in Project Juggernaut. With so large a portion of the voting public removed from any actual position where they can influence things, public opinion would have little to no sway on things such as bioweapons development.