Inside the Universe of “The Good Corporation”

I recently read Lazarus Abraham’s The Good Corporation. I found the storyline’s universe very interesting and thought I would compile a reference for other readers of this fine work. All in all it was a good and timely read. I give it a 9.5 out of 10. Before I delve into the reference, here is some background on the story.

After years of sentiment decrying evil corporations destroying the environment, unjustly discriminating, and putting profits before people, walls and walls of regulations thinned the population of new corporate formations. While many academics and experts supported the regulations, it was the big corporations who were the real supporters. The lobbyists wrote the laws to protect the big corporations from new competition and provide them special privileges. But governments’ inability to enforce the contradictory or abstract rules they had adopted left them as illegitimate sources of authority, and in some cases they even had to turn to the corporations to do the enforcing. This was magnified by failed global proxy wars and the governments eventually turning aggressively on their own people in a flailing attempt at self-preservation. Large corporations became serious competitors to the tyrannical states, while a number of smaller corporate fiefdoms sprang up in the regulatory system fallout, (ie where governments retreat the free market springs up). Allegiance was no longer defined by national boundaries. Instead, it was defined by the relative economic security offered by different feudal masters, which come in the form of companies and states etc.

In this dog-eat-dog world of production, appropriation, structural hierarchy and courtly intrigue there was a man, who against all odds leads a rag-tag group of hard workers in the preservation and growth of their capital and standard of living. The story of “The Good Corporation,” centers on Dirk Mercer who founds a multi-strategy hedge fund that is at one and the same time, a community and the means to support that community. They are the funds own investors. They buy their own physical compound-like location and all the children are taught to one day take part in the workings of the fund. The fund is always up against some high risk but highly under-written investment, like contracting with pirates to smuggle cheap medicine to suppressed and over-priced markets. But my favorite was actually the simple quantitative model used to arbitrage between Ebay and Amazon. I also liked their buying distressed loans to sell the collateral properties at fair market prices and thereby help their White Collar cousins get by.

Anyway, there we have it. In a not too distant dystopian future global plutocrats exercise feudal control in their government or corporations’ foot print, and the most diligent and honest men, who still possess a choice, are faced with choosing between increasingly tyrannical governments, corporate masters, or taking their chances with one of a number of renegade factions, namely smaller firms. And in this world of nation-state fallout there are categorical groups, which are important to understand in order to follow the story. Below I’ll summarize the broader groups in the book. This is a window to that world and the powers within it. And it sounds so much like today!

Dirk Mercer's cockpit

The tyrannical governments produce nothing. They subsist by raiding weaker governments and corporations, and forcing their subjects to pay tribute. The tyrannical governments have a rigid and steep hierarchy. The Leader is the executive figurehead and makes the choices between raiding weaker states and corporations or hiring out the state and its people to act as mercenaries on behalf of others, particularly corporations that cannot sustain their own armed forces. Sometimes the Leader is a lifelong dictator and other times he is rotated as part of a sedative democratic illusion for the subjects. The Bureaucracy administers the dispensation of the state’s resources. They typically inherent their positions and are very concerned with courtly intrigue and usually laud over their own agency-fiefdoms defined by their control over the distribution of some amount of government resources. The Servants are a class given a monopoly on the use of force. They act on behalf of the Leader and the Bureaucracy to maintain order internally, and carry out aggression externally. The leaders in the Servants are functionally part of the Bureaucracy, but becoming a lower ranking Servant is the best way for the underclass to move forward. The plebs are the underclass and the biggest group by far. They are people whose day-to-day subsistence is reliant on the resources acquired and redistributed by their tyrannical government. The very roofs over the plebs’ heads and the food they eat are reliant on the success of the government’s pillaging. The plebs produce nothing, and their very lives exist solely at the discretion of their tyrannical superiors, who see them as a support base and raw materials to be ground into their projects. Because everything the plebs have comes from the state, they are completely inured. Though sickly, weak, and unintelligent, they are prone to hedonism and drug abuse. They will fight to the death to protect their government masters, because they see themselves as being one with the Bureaucracy and the Leader, often proclaiming “Hope and Change” or “We are the government.” If extremely happy or upset, they will quickly engage in rioting and the looting of their own communities.

The global corporations produce something in order to gain resources to sustain themselves, but sometimes engage in raiding by allying with tyrannical governments or other global corporations. Internally global corporations have a rigid hierarchy similar to the governments they compete and work with. The CEO is the executive figurehead and is the decider of the initiatives the firm will dedicate its efforts towards. Sometimes he refers to a quasi-religious counsel known as The Board. Management is responsible for enacting the vision of the CEO. Management often inherits their positions or achieves success through superior courtly intrigue known as “climbing the corporate ladder,” or buying a title of nobility known as “the masters of business administration.” As testaments of their good faith, global corporations and tyrannical governments often inter-marry their upper classes or exchange subjects. For example, members of Management of a global corporation will often become members of government Bureaucracy and vice versa. The bulk of global corporation subjects are workers, known as The Blue Collar. Members of the Blue Collar work at one of the global corporation’s many outlets. They receive very low remuneration. But the global corporation must ensure the Blue Collar’s are paid enough so that they do not decide to defect by becoming plebs and giving their allegiance to the tyrannical state instead.

Between the large power blocks of the tyrannical governments and global corporations, there is a menagerie of productive medium size companies known as The Firms, which is where the bulk of the story takes place. The Firms are competing groups who vie for influence with the governments, global corporations and even one another. Though they adopt a similar organizational structure as global corporations, their actual structure is much flatter in that the CEO wields much less power and must work alongside Management, and is sometimes indirectly beholden to a larger global corporate master. Because the Firms fill economic niches, they are comprised mostly of skilled labor known as The White Collar. The origins of this group are unclear, though some say the White Collar are called as such because of their typical skin color. Many of the White Collar claim to be descendents of a once strong and large group known as The Middle Class. Members of the White Collar are always faced with the threat of failure, which will result in their becoming Blue Collar or even Plebs. In order to maintain their lifestyles, the White Collar population does not genetically replace themselves, for such procreation might pose too much of a financial burden on their own endeavors. Competition between the firms is what allows the White Collars to move up in the world, but this same competition can also result in their demise.

Some members of the Firms become renegades and try to carve out their own spheres of influence and their own fiefdoms. By founding their own firm they can be a CEO and master of their own fate. But competition between the firms is fierce, and there is the constant threat of tyrannical government appropriations and global corporate hegemony. The men, who take these risks, are known as The Entrepreneurs. These men risk everything to achieve their financial independence. If they fail they may doom their progeny to a lifetime among the Blue Collar. If the government is sufficiently offended by their actions it may even put the entrepreneur in a cage, where he would be sexually assaulted by members of the same sex. But both fortunes and tragedies are made among the entrepreneurs, particularly among those connected or who know how to connect to and serve the interests of the tyrannical states and global corporations.

The beauty of the story is how Dirk Mercer and the others are able to weave in an out of all of this, save people from their fates, and build a community, all based on value-added strategies and clever insights about what prices mean, all the while avoiding the constant threat of the governments and ignorant people.