SF and Future Business

The other day, as I was considering the origins of war, some observations came to me. When I thought over history and what I know, I realized — again — that most wars have economic origins, regardless of their widely identified or proximate causes. Helen didn’t have the face that launched a thousand ships, regardless of what Homer sang and others later inscribed. The Mycenaeans were after the lucrative Black Sea and Asia Minor trade dominated by Troy.

But that led to a second observation — that very little science fiction or fantasy actually deals with the hand-maiden of economics, that is, business itself, or even delves into the business rationales that explain why so many business tycoons cultivate political connections. Charles Stross’s The Clan Corporate deals with alternate world mafia-style types who mix special abilities, alternate worlds, murder and mayhem with business, and more than a few books cast corporate types as various types of villains. While I know I haven’t read everything out there, it does seem that books that deal with business itself are rare. One of the classics is Pohl and Kornbuth’s The Space Merchants, and two of my own books — Flash and The Octagonal Raven — deal heavily with business, but I can’t recall any others offhand.

Considering just how involved businesses have been in the disasters and wars of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, it’s rather amusing that so few SF authors have taken on the challenge of dealing with business directly. Is it so impossible? Or is business just dull? Let’s see. One of the strongest factors in contributing to the Civil War wasn’t slavery, but the desire of indebted southern planters to repudiate their debts to New York bankers. Because of the influence of U.S. business types in Hawaii, a U.S. warship in Honolulu effectively supported the pseudo-revolution that overthrew the independent Hawaiian monarchy and turned Hawaii into a U.S. territory. The need for a shorter route for U.S. shipping prompted the U.S. to foment and encourage, and then support militarily, an independent Panama… and made U.S. construction and domination of the Panama Canal possible. Most of the industrialized world collaborated to put down the Boxer Revolt in China because they didn’t want existing trade agreements — and profits, including those from the opium trade — destroyed. Japan effectively started its part of WWII in order to gain resources for Japanese business, and Hitler was successful not just because of popular support, but because his acts restored German business. And, of course, despite knowledge of what was going on in Germany, during the early part of WWII, a number of U.S. companies were still in communications with their German counterparts and subsidiaries. More than a few industrial firms in the U.S. were opposed to an early pullout in Vietnam, and interestingly enough, the Texas-based firms prospered greatly, especially after Kennedy’s assassination. Now we have a war in Iraq, which occurred as oil demand continued to grow in the U.S. and after Iraq had given indications that it wanted to base its oil sales on the euro and not on the dollar. And those examples are barely the tip of the iceberg.

So… is business really that dull? We have expose after expose about what happens, and each year it seems to get more sordid… yet comparatively few authors seem to want to extrapolate into the future. Or is that just because none of them feel that they could possibly imagine anything wilder and more corrupt than what has already happened?