25 Jan 2055 | 1300h
‘Thank you all very much for being here today, and thank you all for being on time.’ Mayor Kiyoshi Krispyman sat behind his desk, smiling amiably at those gathered before him. If one looked closely, it was possible to pick up a trace of tension behind the mayor’s eyes. Acacia Thompson picked up on it immediately.
Acacia was one of the three that had been selected to speak with Mayor Krispyman after the protests of 20 January. As a member of the media that took a hard stance in favor of the protests, her perspective would be valuable. Alongside Acacia were Paula Genoflaxis, the head organizer for NIANS, and Todd Felstein, the leader of the UNI Cohort of NIANS.
Todd felt rather proud of himself for getting into another situation where he was able to speak with someone in an influential position of leadership. Even if he had mostly gotten into these situations as a sort of pest, it was a great start in what was sure to be a long, successful, or, at the very least, persistent future of activism.
In addition to the three protestors were Jarek Spuck, the CEO of MineShaft and the youngest millionaire currently living in New Idaho, and Rachel Gonawitz, the CEO of Mapper, another New Idaho-based company that offered guaranteed pay to contribute to her effort to generate a virtual map of the world in real-time. Jessica Jordan was also, of course, in attendance, and sat away from the two distinct groups, prepared to take notes.
‘Thank you for having us, Mayor Krispyman,’ Acacia Thompson said. ‘I’m sorry to be a bother, but I must request that you please move from behind your desk. The power dynamic you are implying sets an uncomfortable precedent for the three of us who came here together. Especially the females.’
Kiyoshi obliged, hoping this would help everything move along as smoothly as possible. He removed himself from his seat and sat on top of his desk with his feet crossed at the ankles.
‘I apologize for the inconvenience, Mayor Krispyman,’ Acacia repeated, ‘but this position you have moved to places you higher than the three of us. This sort of implication leverages the power you have over us as a male in a position of leadership in a way that is both unfair and a bad precedent for any leader that wishes to negotiate with those he is in charge of.’
Kiyoshi moved back to his first position, behind his desk. ‘I apologize for your discomfort, Ms. Thompson,’ he said. ‘I will assume my original position, trusting that, regardless of your position and gender, you have come prepared with intelligent and logical arguments that transcend any unintentional presumptions I may have about your character.’
Acacia took a deep breath and scribbled something in her journal.
‘As it stands,’ Kiyoshi continued, ‘I have invited the three of you here, along with the two most prominent employers offering a Guaranteed Income Program. My hope is that we are able to talk through exactly what your issues are and take steps to address them in a way that leaves everyone sufficiently satisfied.
‘Now, my first question is for the three of you,’ Kiyoshi said, directing his question to the protesters. ‘What is the best outcome you could hope for after this meeting?’
‘I’ll take that one,’ Paula said. ‘Mayor, all we ask is that you follow the precedent set by the entire country outside of New Idaho. Neither Mr. Spuck nor Ms. Gonawitz offer anywhere near the federal minimum wage for their employees, and this has resulted in an extreme wealth gap between those who work for places like Lucid Labs and the University and those who can only find work through these Guaranteed Income Programs provided by people like Mr. Spuck and Ms. Gonawitz.’
‘If I may add something to this,’ Acacia added. ‘I can already presume the response these two capitalists will have in regard to the increase in wages. If I’m wrong, let me know, but I feel Jarek and Rachel will say that an increase in wages will no longer make it economically feasible to employ everyone. If this happens to be their argument, that these capitalists cannot play by the rules followed by literally the whole country, I would request that we remove the system of Guaranteed Income in favor of a Universal Basic Income.’
Kiyoshi nodded, listening intently to their response. After it was clear they were finished, he fielded the next question to the two CEOs. ‘For Jarek and Rachel,’ Kiyoshi started, ‘Is it feasible to do what they are asking for? And if you refuse, please explain.’
‘Do you want to go, or should I?’ Jarek asked Rachel.
‘You can start.’
‘Okay,’ Jarek said. ‘I believe we are on more or less the same page, anyway. Acacia, Paula, and Todd, right? Great. Well, what Acacia said is more or less correct. If we are forced to pay the federal minimum wage, we will no longer guarantee work for everyone who wishes to put their time in and get paid. I believe Rachel will agree that today’s current state of automation is not exactly where we would like it to be. We each have a slight preference for human workers. That being said, if the price of human capital rises, it would be impossible to continue and grow our enterprises at the rate we do currently. If we were to simply raise the wage for those who work for us right now, we would have to cut a great percentage of our jobs. Even if we did find a way to pay the federal minimum to everyone who currently works for us, there would undoubtedly be an unsustainable flow of employees into our workforce if we were still expected to guarantee a job, now at a higher wage.’
Rachel nodded. ‘It isn’t as if we don’t want families to have a livable wage. Jarek and I both employ hundreds of skilled workers at a rate generously above the federal minimum. For unskilled, guaranteed work, however, you’re right, Acacia. It doesn’t make economic sense to pay more than we currently do.
‘Right,’ Jarek said. ‘The way I see it is this. We have basically given people the opportunity to get paid for playing a game. Sure, Rachel’s program is much more visually appealing than mine, but I try to make MIneShaft at least somewhat gamified. I know it’s not, like, Mario Brothers or anything, but it is still voluntary application of game theory that pays out. This hardly exists anywhere else. I like employing people. I want to attract the best talent to the MineShaft team, and when they come to work, I want them to stay. But I also have to make a profit.’
‘In that case,’ Kiyoshi said, ‘I suppose I must respond to the request for Universal Basic Income. As it stands, the government of New Idaho does not have nearly enough funds to generate a Universal Basic Income that could approach what Jarek and Rachel are offering to those who choose to work even twenty hours a week within their programs. Our own government’s for-profit ventures simply do not add up to what they are willing to pay. Bringing in any more money would mean that we demand money from the public, enacting coercive taxation that goes against the philosophy of this city.’
‘Oh my god, are you done?’ Acacia scoffed. ‘I’m sorry, but it’s hard to take you seriously for very long, and that was excruciating. First, Spuck and Gonawitz. You talk about how you care about people, but in nearly the same breath you say you care about profit. Well, which one is it? Profit or people? From this conversation, it’s pretty obvious you only care about the former.
‘And you, Mayor Kiyoshi,’ Acacia continued. ‘I appreciate you allowing us to speak with you in your office, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sufficiently disgusted with what is coming out of your mouth as well. “Oh, no, we can’t have taxes!” Not like, what, literally the rest of the world? Even if having taxes just means giving those who have the least in society a leg up. Now I see why you refuse to get on our level when you talk to us—you are inherently against equality. You refuse to tax those who have plenty of money to give to those who have literally nothing. It’s disgusting. We could—and should—have much more taxes in this city.’
‘I have to say,’ Paula spoke up, ‘I do agree with Acacia on this one. You all should care about more than just profits and electability. It’s a very selfish way of looking at the world. Many of the citizens of this city are wealthier than almost anyone in the country, while those living near the jungle can hardly afford a private room for each of their children.’
‘If we are forced to follow the federal minimum,’ Jarek said, ‘I can promise you that I will have no choice but to remove my GBI Program. With a higher tax on top of that, MineShaft would be automated so fast your head would spin.’
‘But if you’re taxed enough to provide UBI, nobody will have to work in your MineShaft,’ Todd pointed out.
‘If I’m taxed enough for UBI,’ Jarek said, ‘I can’t promise I’ll even stay in New Idaho. What would be the point of living in such an isolated city if it’s not financially viable?’
‘My god, all you people care about is money,’ said Acacia. ‘It’s truly sickening.’
‘I appreciate all of your receptivity to our issues,’ Paula said, ‘and I know Acacia’s language is rather strong. But I have to say, I do agree with her. It is very sad to see that money is worth more to you all than the wellbeing of your fellow citizens. I would also like to see UBI instated in this city if these companies continue to refuse federal law.’
‘In any case,’ Kiyoshi said, ‘it will have to go up to a vote.’
‘He’s right,’ Todd said. ‘And even with the population in the Jungle, there are far too many rich folks living in New Idaho for anyone to vote for a tax increase.’
‘Then freaking sign it into law!’ Acacia said. ‘It’s so easy for you three, rich, privileged white men—‘
‘Rachel’s a woman,’ Jarek said. ‘And Kiyoshi’s Japanese.’
‘Well,’ Acacia said, ‘you might as well all be white men! Here, capitalists, how’s that? Even the mayor is trying to turn a profit with his government rather than tax his citizens. He’s the most capitalist politician I’ve ever seen. You three privileged capitalists can easily just twiddle your thumbs while people are dying in the jungle! Or at least they feel like dying. All because you rich bastards aren’t willing to pay taxes like the rest of the freaking world! God!’
‘Acacia,’ Kiyoshi said, ‘there’s really just not much we can do.’
‘You keep saying that,’ Acacia said. ‘You just keep on saying that if it helps you sleep at night. But you’re going to find out one way or another that you can’t keep people down forever. Trust me, you’ll find out.’ With that, Acacia got up and marched out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
‘I apologize on her behalf,’ Paula said. ‘You know, she just has strong ideals, and you have to respect that, even if you don’t agree. I do have to admit, however, I am very disappointed in you, Mr. Krispyman. I really had faith coming in here that you cared about your citizens more than this. I just hope we can smooth this out before, you know, anyone else gets involved.’ She stood up in front of the mayor’s desk, bowed slightly, and said, ‘we’ll be in touch.’
Todd left behind Paula without saying a word. He was hoping to brainstorm the next steps for the University Chapter of NIANS before they parted ways. Kiysohi, Rachel, Jarek, and Jessica remained in the office.
‘So she’s threatening to call the feds, huh?’ said Jarek once he was sure they had all left.
‘That’s what it sounded like,’ said Kiyoshi. ‘And Jesus, that Acacia girl. She sounded like she was about ready to burn down the Labs.’
‘I feel for you, Yosh,’ said Rachel. ‘That’s a lot on your plate.’
Kiyoshi shrugged. ‘We all have a rough situation to contend with. I wonder if we should reach back out and make a greater effort to negotiate.’
‘Nobody is going to want the feds brought in,’ said Jarek. ‘Once that happens, they’ll never leave.’
Kiyoshi nodded. ‘Getting the Feds involved would be the worst case scenario. The end of our little experiment in self-governance.’
‘And I’m sure Lex wouldn’t be very happy about that either,’ Rachel said.
‘Mm,’ Kiyoshi said. ‘Isn’t that so? I guess I ought to give Lex a call.’