[Note: When you’re building something from scratch, sometimes you have to back up a little and change some things to fix a mistake or two. I’ve largely avoided that on this series of posts (at least that you’ve seen), which is a goddamn miracle. But I need to change something now: I’ve mentioned that telecommunications are limited to 2-3 miles, but that should be 25-30 miles, depending on the power of the transmitter. I’m going back to edit the original posts in my notes, and using that figure going forward.]
Most people don’t appreciate how deeply economic issues permeate our lives. What we as individuals, and we as societies, are capable of are strictly limited by the resources we have available to us. What raw materials we can draw on, what we know how to do with those raw materials, and how many people we can keep alive, functioning, and willing to do things with them, all strictly govern what a society can do.
It’s theoretically possible to build a series of repeater stations across the continent, from New York to California, and avoid the telecom “shroud”. It’s 2845 miles from Albany, New York, to Sacramento, California. That’s only 114 different posts, set slightly less than 25 miles apart.
Each post would need power, of course, a tall antenna, a radio transmitter, routing equipment, a building, people to operate and maintain the equipment, people to protect the building, food and water for those people, working sewage, ammo, spare parts for everything, transportation to and from the site, a power generation facility, people to protect and maintain that, munis (supplies and services) for those people, and…
In the Outlaw, each emplacement is a separate tiny settlement. And each requires a noticeable investment in resources. And one outage — one successful bezerkegang attack, a nearby Emergence, or even a heavy summer storm that knocks out power — would void the whole chain.
And that’s just from New York to California (taking in Utah along the way). What of a chain to Texas, or the Dakotas, or Xiyatu, Mexico, Vancouver, Quebec, or Alaska? And then there’s Outlaw settlements — how to bring them in?
Within the borders of a polity, maintaining a telecom network is possible. Difficult and expensive, perhaps, but possible. But stringing a series of posts across the Outlaw, and investing the manpower and resources to protect each one, is simply not practical. And it’s all down to economics.
The country has been locked in a Long Depression since the Collapse, meaning:
- Many people are out of work, and most that are employed work in agricultural fields, on a subsistence basis. They generate little economic activity.
- Credit — money that can be loaned to businesses, startups, or the government — is tightly constrained.
- Industrial output and employment is weak.
- Economic output (the value of goods and services produced in the economy) is stagnant.
Complicating this (and, to an extent, contributing to it):
- The country runs on a largely barter-based (commodity exchange) economy. Those poor farmers in Utah (and New York, Dakota, California)? They trade for what they can’t make themselves, and barter interactions generate no tax receipts, nor do they contribute to the larger economy.
- Fed currency is only accepted in the Fed, and not even all of that.
- The tax base is nearly nonexistent (meaning the government is almost totally broke).
- Most economic activity takes place “off books”, in barter exchanges or the Outlaw economy (black market).
The economic problems of the Fed are a tangled web, and the presence of the Outlaw makes them even tougher. Increase taxes? People go to work in the Outlaw economy, and the government loses money overall.
Issue new currency? The Outlaw works on barter (most things being standardized against a single Browning-made 7.62mm shell), and Outlaw settlements hate the Fed. If the Outlaw economy won’t take Fed bills, no one will (outside of Manhattan).
Borrow money for government spending? From who, and how can you pay them back?
The Fed can’t even occupy Manhattan, its own capitol, being limited to one half of one half of the island, and unable to police all of that. There’s an open air market selling illegal weapons and contraband within sight of the Fed headquarters building, and they lack the manpower to shut it down permanently. That’s how starved for resources the government is. (Independent polities — Texas and Xiyatu — are not much better off.)
It costs money and resources to build a relay chain. Without money, you can’t build it.
The Fed lacks the manpower, firepower, and material resources to maintain even a token presence in the Outlaw, much less a string of forts across the continent. Unable to build, man, and maintain a telecom network, people accepted the worst imaginable, but only available solution: the Skywave Mesh.