Billy arrived at the small spaceport adjacent to Research Colony 35 at noon and met up with his research team. It included the research scientist who was Billy's boss, a rover driver who happened to be ex-military, and another technician. The four of them met up with a shuttle pilot and they all boarded into a large shuttle that carried a four-wheeled rover on its underbelly.
The shuttle lifted vertically in a smooth graceful manner and then jetted across the horizon, leaving the Southeastern Coast of Sargasso behind them as they soared above the South Sargasso Ocean. If one had only seen the fertile green coastland behind them one would not have guessed that half of the planet was covered by harsh desert.
As they reached cruising altitude the pilot looked over at Billy and said, "Haven't seen you on any of these flights before. You new to Kanangar?"
The research scientist interjected: "He's from the Tau Sierra system. Arrived here a couple weeks ago and went through training, all the usual HR bullshit but this is his first mission. I needed a new tech after Sandy left for law school."
The pilot switched his casual gaze to the research scientist (the shuttle was now on autopilot) and said, "Ah, the Tau Sierra system. I've been there a few times. So was Billy a spacer or was he planetside?"
"Hell if I know," the research scientist said. "XGD hired him and sent him to me. Why don't you ask him?"
The shuttle reached the coast on the other side of the South Sargasso Ocean and flew over an arid mountain range. Soon they were flying over the Southern Great Desert, and they began to lower their altitude as they approached the foothills of the Equartic Tundra to the north.
Billy looked out the window and noticed a desert mining installation.
"I thought that development was off-limits to RC worlds," Billy said.
"The Mining Guild has a strong lobby in the Federation parliament," the research scientist said. "Lithium deposits like the one below are too good to pass up. But it's not all bad. Who do you think paid the bill initially when the RC colonies were first established?"
"So you mean the Guild is just using the RCs as an excuse to bypass planetary mining regulations."
"More like digging their own graves," the scientist said. "Institutions like RC35 pave the way for a new kind of system where individual achievement is reinforced by a sustainable rewards system. Historically, once a significant segment of the population is engaged in such a system, the middlemen tend to become obsolete."
"That doesn't make sense. Why would the Guild finance something that would ultimately lead to its downfall?"
The scientist laughed. "Why would a king fund a religion, or a high priest finance a school of artists?"
"To increase their power?" Billy asked.
"Right on, Einstein!" the scientist exclaimed. "Those in power must always look to new avenues from which to expand their influence, or they implode like a black hole. A long time ago, when the guilds and mega-corporations carved out the first interstellar empires they soon learned that an economy based only on the availability of raw material is intrinsically flawed."
The scientist grinned (he enjoyed hearing himself talk). "Overproduction. Before the advent of the interstellar economy nations and mega-corporations could simply sit on their monopolies, first oil in the twentieth century and then transition metals in the twenty-first, and reap the benefits. But asteroid mining changed all of that. Sure, many of the metals are quite rare to find even in deep space, but the availability usually outpaced civilization's ability to consume it. Factor in colonial rebellions and the free trader movements, and it's not too difficult to imagine the predicament faced by governments and NGOs alike."
"They produced too many goods, but the workers weren't paid enough to consume them."
"Wrong! That's what the guilds want you to believe. Even if all of the profits had been split equally among humanity, the economy still would have collapsed. Can you guess why?"
"Because if you pay everyone the same there's no reason to work hard."
"Wrong again! This time you're reciting corporate propaganda. Even in the early Soviet Union everyone had to work, and work hard they did—both for material possessions, although to a lesser extent than their western counterparts, and also for prestige as well as the prospect of being shipped out to ancient Siberia."
"So what was it about the socialist countries that made them collapse?"
"It was their inability to innovate and expand. Their beurocracies stagnated, and their economies collapsed due to mismanagement. The interstellar corporations would have met a similar fate—and many did, after all that's how the guilds came into being—had they not realized the need to expand through radical diversification."
"Like expanding into the biotech industry."
"Yes, but industry and government leaders alike soon realized that in order to spur innovation, individual achievements must be rewarded generously. This lead to the extension of patents from twenty to two-hundred years, as well as government micro-grants to small business startups that demonstrated promise for growth."
"So that's why I always hear people calling this the Age of the Artisan."
"Yes, but to be accurate I would say that we are still caught to some degree in the Age of the Merchant. But you have the idea: Warrior, Priest, Merchant, and finally Artisan. Not the Age of the Worker—for you only labor away at the same tasks and do not bother to innovate or improve yourself, you will undoubtedly stagnate to an existence worse than slavery."
"Like in communism."
"Sort of—although to be more precise I would say the problem there was that those societies tried to reach the Age of the Artisan by simply cutting out all vestiges of the Priest and the Merchant, which simply caused them to revert to a repeat of the Age of the Warrior. But you get the point; the Age of the Artisan is approaching soon, but we must never forget the Warrior, the Priest, or the Merchant—all are necessary in the long run, and the success of one leads naturally to the progression of the next, regardless of whether those in power are actually cognizant of this perhaps oversimplified paradigm."
An artisan, Billy thought to himself. Well, I suppose that what we're doing is sort of like art.