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September 2003
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Strong merchants, weak governments

In science fiction it is common enough for corporations or other strong private interests to be dominant with the "government" being relatively weaker. One might ask whether such is realistic, or if it merely be literary fantasy. I opine that, with qualifications, it be realistic.

There are numerous instances in history where strong private interests (usually mercantile or "criminal") were stronger than the "government". Typically this happens when the government, for some reason, is weak. Examples include: The Hanseatic league which Anderson may have borrowed for the Polesotechnic League; a period in Wyoming where rustlers dominated the legal process; the control of Panama by Noriega; the attempted control of Columbia by the drug cartel; possibly the control of Venice by the mercantile oligarchy; the domination of Hawaii by the Missionary Merchants during the republic; the dominance of the Church in the middle ages; and the United States early in the twenty first century.

The common feature of these periods seems to be that the government is either weak or is effectively identical with the controlling private interests. In the long run the central government always wins -- the business of government is ruling; the business of business is making money. And as the master said, "Gold will not always get you soldiers but soldiers will always get you gold." (And the student commented "Unfortunately their pay roll is usually higher than what they bring in".)


This page was last updated September 1, 2003.

home
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Science Fiction
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September 2003
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