A Matter of Resources [GiTO]

[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.

6 thoughts on “A Matter of Resources [GiTO]”

  1. This looks like a job for the Pony Express. A system of mounted couriers can keep a geographically dispersed civilization organized with a united identity. Might not be immediate gratification, but it’s secure and reliable.

    And USPS postmen would have to be well trained and armed… and respected and feared.

  2. Absolutely, something like the Postal Express would exist. In many places, it uses horses and in others they’d use bicycles. (Fast-dispatch infantry units use bicycles extensively, when gasoline isn’t available.) Other places, along the Long Highway, use motorbikes or ATV’s.

    In a larger sense, alternate sneakernets are very much in vogue. Cargo ships from China carry information, along with the cargo, in a shipboard computer. Most trading convoys also have their own wireless network and carry info in the main server. Electronic data is as much a cargo, in 2039, as bullets.

    (One of the sections for a Mesh post covers alternate sneakernets.)

  3. I should have said this: the idea of a modern Pony Express hadn’t really occurred to me. I’d thought about it in the context of the old West, when I was thinking about the frontier, but the notion of there being one in the Outlaw slipped past me.

    It’s a great idea, Glen, and utterly apt for the setting.

  4. One of the beautiful things about it, from the Fed’s point of view, is that even anti-Fed settlements would sink resources into keeping a unified courier network running smoothly. Everyone wants the mail to go through.

    From a game perspective, there is a lovely romanticism about small teams of mounted couriers daring the lethal wilds to keep civilization alive. It evokes the film “The Postman.” Presumably the book, too, but I’ve only seen the movie.

  5. Several Chartered Companies (and trade alliances that represent independent truckers) pay towns along the Lone Highway to keep their local roads clean of debris and such, keep an eye out for bandits, and even repair the roads.

    (These same companies or associations also jointly maintain campsites for the convoys, complete with muni hookups (for water, sewage, etc.), fuel depots, and a hotel (for the profligate). This serves the needs of the convoy, but also helps the town.)

    For this, the townsfolk get gasoline and regular convoy stops (which offer them the opportunity to buy from or sell to the convoys). The town gets an economic boost, and gets plugged into the wider world.

    The Pony Express equivalent would negotiate similar deals, and with settlements removed from the Lone Highway. It allows the settlement to get badly needed supplies, as well as news and personal mail.

    Each outpost has a station-master, that one guy in charge of keeping supplies laid in and maintaining the local vehicle pool. When you come into such a settlement, that’s the guy to go see, to send or receive mail or just to get a feel for local politics.

    Guns can always sign on as couriers, on a one-shot or continuing basis. They’re high-value couriers, of course, and only hired when the package needs extra protection. Which usually means some kind of trouble is brewing.

  6. Glen: “there is a lovely romanticism about small teams of mounted couriers daring the lethal wilds to keep civilization alive.”

    I completely agree. There was another image I pulled out of Mesh discussions in another forum, to explain why I *wanted* flaky Internet. It has a similar appeal:

    “I like the idea of a hard-bitten Texas Ranger in the middle of what used to be Oklahoma, tracking a band of violent bandits while living off the land, hunting alien animals for food with his Utah-made AK, who has an Asus netbook, a solar panel to charge it, and a hacked-together wireless modem. Jim Bridger or Daniel Boone, but with an AK and a laptop.”

    I like finding those iconic moments, because they explain the essence of the setting much better than an essay or sourcebook could. They speak to the subconscious, and their ability to evoke images and emotions is quite powerful.

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