Friday, July 5, 2013

The Welfare Matrix

The Welfare Matrix; a modest proposal

          What becomes of society’s losers? Jared Diamond asked a similar question; what becomes of the losers of tribal warfare? He found three solutions. For sparcely-populated hunter-gatherer societies (politically-incorrectly called ‘savage’), the losers are driven off the land, to starvation or more marginal land or dispossessing someone else. For middling-density pre-state agricultural societies (‘barbarians’), the losers are exterminated, down to the last woman and child.  And for high-density state-dominated farming societies (‘empires’), the losers are enslaved.
          These three solutions translate to the modern criminal code. The savage ‘Jacksonian’ solution is exile; the barbaric ‘Hitlerian’ solution is capital punishment; and the imperial ‘Pharaonic’ solution is imprisonment. But are these the only alternatives?
          The Romans experimented with another solution; bread and circuses. The idea was to keep potential trouble-makers too well fed and entertained to desire revolt. It’s a drain on the imperial economy, but less than revolt is, so it’s a sound insurance policy; an investment in public order. How would this translate to the modern age?
          I propose the “Welfare Matrix”. It would work this way: when one of the losers of society's internal wars needs Welfare money, he has to put on the virtual-reality helmet and go into the Matrix, where the Welfare Bureaucracy resides. So instead of standing in endless lines in a brick-and-mortal building, you stand in endless lines in a virtual building. There will be video-game characteristics built in - you have to zap demon attacks, first-person shooter stuff like that - just to keep people busy and venting their frustrations. The Matrix is hard enough that you have to work all day for the Welfare, and the Welfare is stingy enough that you never get off the Matrix.
             This suggests the question; are we already in the Welfare Matrix without knowing it? Given endless virtual work for virtual pay? 

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