Lybertopia

On Opposite Day, we do our best to argue in service of a position that, under normal circumstances, we argue against. Coke people might sing the praises of Pepsi, Cat people might talk about why Dogs make for superior pets, Political Types might put forward the position that is usually held by their opponents. After all, *ANYONE* can beat up a strawman. Here is the kickoff post for the symposium. Here is a list of all the posts so far.

by Major Zed

Aidan Blanchette was born in 2012, just before the Global Cliff, that perfect storm of depression, inflation, natural disasters, and new international accounting standards which had remade the world in one agonizing decade.  One country after another — bankrupt.  The United States, like many, had chosen a watchman state libertarian model because that was all it could afford.

At age ten, his public school (among the last) went private, and for the next eight years he was in and out of twelve schools as his parents tried to find the right balance of quality and affordability.  His father’s career as a software engineer had been open-sourced out of existence; his mother’s income as a nurse was squeezed by the wave of competition from midwives, near-nurses, neo-nurses, medi-mates and volunteer hygienists.  When he turned eighteen, his parents breathed a sigh of relief and gave him his birth certificate in a silver frame.  Then they went to join his grandparents in a hippy commune in rural New Hampshire.

Like most of his classmates at the University of Hartford, Aidan funded his education with loans from one of the larger banks, CitiChase.  Also, like most of his classmates, Aidan didn’t think much about trying to earn money while at school.  That was his first mistake.  He majored in graphic design, thinking that he was striking a good balance between feeding his soul and feeding his body.  That was his second mistake.

A senior year internship in the Travelers United Insurance Trust Corporate Communications department showed him how unprepared he was.  What he loved doing, digital depiction, was never done in-house.  It was crowd-sourced at unbelievably low rates of pay, more often than not for free.

He graduated with a mostly worthless degree and $150,000 of debt — in AUDollars (a.k.a. goldbugs a.k.a. 0.1 grams of gold) no less, not the perennially inflating CitiBux that most corporations paid out.  Aidan was fortunate to use his connections at Travelers United to become a contractor in the underwriting department.  It paid $20 an hour, minus space and equipment rental, but the training was free.  Just temporary, he told himself, until he could get his bearings on the way the world worked.

He had taken that temporary job six years ago.  Today, December 12, 2040, he was still renting the same cubicle.  The rented interFace — a slim black Samsung strapped across his eyes — had been upgraded a few times, but precious little else about the job had changed.

“You seem distracted, Aidan.  Perhaps you should take a walk for fifteen minutes and clear your head.”  The honey-smooth voice in his head brought him out of his reverie.  He had settled on the Lucy avatar for the ThinkNet AI early on.

“I’m alright Lucy. Can you zoom in a little?”  Take a walk!  That was Lucy’s way of reminding him that Risk Managment was poised to take over the situation and if that happened he would face performance penalties.  He either had to help Lucy get a resolution quickly or kick the problem up to a supervisor.

Aidan’s job title was Assistant Underwriter.  It was his job to help the AI to understand certain nuances of human behavior, in particular motivation, that were (still) outside of her grasp.  This particular case was an argument between two policyholders stuck in traffic on I-210 in Pasadena that looked like it could escalate into a fistfight with a pedestrian.

Lucy was pretty good at understanding conflict.  She had warned the first motorist, a Travelers United client, how her premiums were rising sharply along with the pitch of her voice. At the same time, Lucy coordinated with the other driver’s underwriter which was doing essentially the same thing.  But then a haggard, filthy man wandered onto the highway and stopped between the two cars.  Lucy could not determine his insurance status; he could have been under the Native American Fellowship or covered by an off-the-grid charity or mutual aid society.  He certainly did not look like a Rugged Individualist, but you never know.  Aidan figured him for Uninsured.  What happened next was beyond Lucy’s comprehension: the Uninsured unzipped his fly and urinated on the TU’s car.

Aidan could picture it unfolding.  No longer just a problem of real-time rating, this was going to turn into a full-blown claim, with all the complications that involved.

“Kick it upstairs,” he told Lucy.  He knew what his supervisor, Ms. Nti, would say to him later, because she had said it many times before.  “If you don’t want to do this job,” she would intone in measured syllables, “You can get tree squares, a bed, and five goldbugs a day reclaimin’ Miami!”

Time to take that fifteen minutes.  Aidan stood up and walked to the break area.  The U-serv was a looming metal box with a glossy finish and a two-foot-square door at waist level.  He called up the menu and arrived at the selection of cheesecakes.  He was about to point to one when a little nag icon flashed at the corner of his vision.  He gestured to open it and read: a summary of the cheesecake’s nutritional composition, his latest cholesterol readings, their historical trends and projections if he continued to eat one of those a day (as he had been recently), and the resulting expected changes to his premium rates.  Ouch.  He selected a Granny Smith apple.  A dollar fifty instead of three dollars, and potentially hundreds a year saved if he could make the right choice more often.  He opened the door in the U-serv and retrieved a recycled plastic container filled with chunks of apple.

Later, when it got to be a little past 2:30, Aidan decided to blow off the rest of the day. Being a Wednesday, it probably wasn’t busy enough that he would incur a penalty for leaving the underwriting pool.  He checked the interFace back into its safe and made his way out of the TU tower and onto the sidewalk.  Only then did he take his personal ‘Face out of its case.  It was the iFace III he had at college, severely outdated but still working.

He put it on and waited a few seconds while it connected with ThinkNet.  He checked the red umbrella icon in the lower left of his field of vision. His insurance rate was currently 5.2 cents per minute, about normal for walking outdoors in the city.

“Good afternoon, Aidan.  I am happy to report that Lucy sends her regards and says there is only a five percent probability you will incur a contractual penalty today.”  The unctuous voice of Hector did not come as a surprise, but it annoyed reliably.  It could have been Lucy’s voice, but Aidan preferred the Hector avatar when he was on the receiving end of underwriting.

Hector continued. “However, I am afraid I must remind you that you really should have interFaced sooner.  We did not have complete information on you for nearly five minutes.  Sadly, your premium rate was set to the anonymous-A standard of fifty cents per minute for that time.  You shouldn’t have to be reminded that a rate review can complicate your financial picture.”  Yeah, whatever, Aidan thought.  Two and a half goldbugs well spent to get a bit of privacy.  Being an insider, Aidan knew full well he had a lot more leeway before risking a rate review; you have to be off the grid for hours.  Besides, he hadn’t been out of range of ThinkNet cameras for a second.

As Aidan walked, he watched an antique four-wheel Subaru pick its way carefully over and around the heaved and broken pavement, hardly going faster than him.  Ever since the Main Street Co-op dissolved in acrimony and charges of fraud five years ago, ownership of the street had been in dispute and maintenance had suffered.  Hovercars and articulated six-wheelers had no trouble slipping around the car on both sides, their drivers probably wondering why this fossil didn’t just take Prospect or Trumbull.  When the Subaru got to the intersection, it stopped dead.  Could it be the driver wasn’t connected?  The rest of traffic passed through the intersection from all four directions simultaneously in the usual ballet.

Aidan caught up to it.  He tapped on the window.  “Excuse me, ma’am, do you need help getting through the intersection?”

Hector spoke up as the elderly woman opened her passenger side window.  “I really don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Aidan could see his premium rate jump to a dollar twenty five per minute.  “Shut up for a second,” he subvocalized.

He stuck his head in the window.  “Do you have insurance, ma’am?”

“Yes, with NAARP, but my GPS doesn’t seem to be working anymore….”

“You heard it Hector; help the lady.”

Moments later, cross traffic slowed and then stopped.  The lady in the Subaru drove slowly through the intersection.  Traffic resumed.

“Time to credit me now, wouldn’t you say?”

There was the slightest pause.  “I’m sorry to relay this message from the National Association for the Advancement of Retired People: we have insufficient information to grant you a good samaritan reward.  You did not provide the identity of the policyholder.”

“What are you talking about?  You just coordinated her case.  You know her identity.”

“I am sorry to tell you that the NAARP will not authorize me to divulge her identity.  You should have asked her when you had the chance.”

Aidan shook his head.  If it had been a State Trooper asking, Hector would have spat that name out in a nanosecond.  The thought made Aidan shiver.  The last time he saw a Trooper was three years ago on an underwriting-turned-risk-management case, when he watched one heavily armed and armored man arrest sixteen members of a ring that was jacking autonomous vehicles.  Rumor had it all sixteen — plus half a dozen spectators — sat in jail for over a year before a magistrate could hear their case.

“Anyway, that’s not what I was asking.  What about you?”

A pause.  “I beg your pardon?”  A blue dot appeared under the umbrella in Aidan’s field of vision.

“I meant you, that is, my own insurer, TU, rebating me the premium surcharge,” Aidan said quickly.  He didn’t want to confuse Hector and get a live underwriter watching.  The blue dot disappeared.  “Going up to that lady was a justifiable risk, wouldn’t you say?”

“Oh, I’m afraid the Joint Actuarial Group Experience Rating Committee at Travelers United disagrees.  Statistically speaking, what you did was very foolish.  It might even lead to a rate review.”

Jaw clenched, Aidan stepped off the curve and crossed the street.  Traffic flow automatically adjusted around him.  He saw his premium rate was at twenty five cents a minute, down from the crisis, but still much higher than it was before he saw the Subaru.

“How come I’m not back to five point two?”

“You really need to calm down, Aiden.  It is not healthy to be walking across this broken pavement in your current state of mind.  You are not paying sufficient attention to your footing.  You could sprain your ankle or even break a leg.”

On the opposite cement sidewalk, Aidan made his way quickly up the street.  By the time he had covered four blocks, his premium rate was below five cents a minute.  Probably the benefit of aerobic exercise.

Aiden ducked into one of his favorite shops, Jay’s Guns.  Jay was a squat man in his sixties, with quarter-inch-long grey hair carved into symmetrical spiral patterns.  His ‘Face looked to be military issue, a semi-cylinder of thick clear plastic covering mid-forehead to the tip of his nose.

“Aiden. Ready to buy that Ruger Four yet?  Or do I have to start charging you for fondling it?”

“You don’t have to take it out of the case today, Jay.  I’ll just look through the glass.”

“Judging by the insurance pop I’d have to charge you today, I’d say you’re making progress.  Of course, I could arrange to finance your end, too, if you wanted to walk out with it right now.”

This was a conversation they had at least once a month.  Nearly any policyholder could buy a gun; the sticking point was the premium you would have to pay to keep it.  The seller had to pay a one-time premium to his carrier, too, for the extra liability, but that was tiny in comparison.  Companies like TU used very sophisticated predictive models to assess the risk; generally a long period of observation was needed to assess the psychological maturity and stability of a person.  Aiden looked up his current rate – an extra five cents a minute to own it, fifty cents per minute when actually holding it in his hands.  Still way too expensive, but down dramatically from before he went to gun school.  Maybe in another year or two, depending on pay increases….

“You’re with TU, right?  You know, they only let something like fifteen, twenty percent of their policyholders own guns.”

Aiden didn’t want to debate the difference between “letting” someone do something versus charging for the privilege of being protected from consequent contingencies.

“Maybe you should shop around, get a break.”

“I work for TU, I already get a break.”

“I’m just sayin’.  Probably ninety percent of NAARP carry.”

“Do I look ready to retire?”

“I’m just sayin’.”  Jay suddenly grinned, providing a fleeting impression of a wolf.  “Maybe you could go RI.”

Another perennial joke.  “Student loan.  My net worth is negative six figures.  Where am I going to come up with the cash to post a two million dollar surety bond?”

Jay shrugged.

“Besides, everyone charges Rugged Individualists a lot more for everything.  Market Price of Risk.  Everyone knows that.”

Aiden went back to admiring the piece.  For a minute, in silence, he and Jay shared something like a sacrament.

“Gotta go.  See you around, Jay.”

“Live free or die, dude!”

Funny, Aidan thought.  That’s just what Dad said as he and Mom boarded that bus to Laconia.

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35 thoughts on “Lybertopia

  1. For what it’s worth, I had two gigglesnorts during this episode.

    “If it had been a State Trooper asking…”
    and
    “Probably the benefit of aerobic exercise.”

    This was a real pleasure to read. Thanks.

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    • +1 – this was a stellar read. Feels a lot like some of the old Asimov stuff, or perhaps some of the other futurist-based short stories I used to read as a kid.

      There’s one I can’t remember the title of; the entire human race (except for one individual) are implanted with an information chip, able to access books and everything through a radio network. Computer system goes haywire, starts forcing people to do things (like break an arm to determine precisely how much force it’ll take to do so) to catalog more and more knowledge. I can’t remember the title of it though.

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    • I think it’s supposed to relate to the struggle of libertarian thought regarding “ideal libertarianism” (where everyone is responsible through tort law for any adverse action towards others) and what it’d actually be like to be required to have total knowledge of the risk level?

      Some of the other descriptions relate to what happens when things get too privatized.

      As futuristic writing goes, it’s damn good and I applaud the author.

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        • Living in such a paternalistic hell hole, my premium rate would probably be thousands per second by the end of the day. After awhile I’d just be all “F*CK YOU COMPUTER!!!” and start eating bacon-wrapped deep fried cheesecake in between spliffs.

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            • Isn’t paternalism when the government creates a law that uses fines, taxes or jail time to dissuade people from doing things that the government thinks are harmful to them? Paternalism does not mean you can not do what you want. I hadn’t realized it took away ones freedom to say “to hell with this I’m gonna do what I want to do anyway, I get fined…oh well.”

              In my opinion this is the hell that is at the end of that road that is paved with good intentions. And….the bottom of that dang slippery slope.

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              • Isn’t paternalism when the government creates a law that uses fines, taxes or jail time to dissuade people from doing things that the government thinks are harmful to them?

                Yes. But what’s described in the story is pigovianism, not paternalism. To a paternalist, there are right choices, and there are wrong choices, and the goal of paternalistic policy is to coerce you into making the right choices. A pigovian recognizes the heterogeneity of preferences. There are no right choices or wrong choices, just different choices with different costs and benefits, and the goal of pigovian policy is to make sure that those costs and benefits accrue to you and not to someone else.

                The story’s about insurance. If you want an insurance company to bail you out when things go wong, then of course you should pay a premium proportional to the risk that you’ll need to be bailed out. If you don’t agree with your insurance company’s risk model, you can switch to another. There’s even a company that doesn’t do any monitoring, but that costs more, partly because it tends to attract higher-risk individuals, and partly because risk-based premia actually do cause people to behave more safely, because they’re no longer able to externalize the costs of risky behavior.

                This is as it should be. The alternative is that you get to enjoy all the benefits of a risky lifestyle while sharing the cost with some other schmuck. The only reason this even sounds oppressive is the unrealistic assumptions the author makes about how much minor, day-to-day choices would affect premia.

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                • The alternative is that you get to enjoy all the benefits of a risky lifestyle while sharing the cost with some other schmuck.

                  By the way, being able to externalize the costs of your personal choices is how children live. Having someone there to bail you out no matter how much you screw up is just the friendly side of paternalism, and it’s inextricably bound up with the dark side.

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                • Somewhere I feel is a government that has decided that all people must have insurance. Also that insurance must cover all things. Or did this insurance company just take on the role of determining risk and mandating that people pay them all on its lonesome?

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            • You can do anything you want, as long as you’re willing to pay the price.

              …as determined by an omnipresent entity that thinks of you as a number and not an individual human being?

              Note that he cannot avoid this constant evaluation of his conduct against their view of The Common Good without being a millionaire. The default condition should be freedom, not compliance. If others don’t like how you live your life, provided it isn’t harming them the correct response indeed is “f*ck you”.

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        • Nope, doesn’t make me feel any better. I was at lunch with my brother today. Told him that I’m afraid that Wall-E would become a reality. This is just a different version of WALL-E. So concerned with making everything safer, better, sanitized that we are willing to take free will and the humanity out of being human. In the world described above I would sign up for being a human battery. If my body can’t be free, please let my mind continue to think it is.

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  2. I found myself enamored of the idea of a constantly updating number in my peripheral vision telling me how likely my current circumstances are to cost me money. It’s like the fuel consumption read-out in my car.

    You must’ve read “Super Sad True Love Story,” eh?

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  3. Laconia.

    ha.

    I’ve wondered if the collapse of Old Man of the Mountain, Webster’s calling card for the place where they make men. Does collapsing down the side of Cannon Mountain indicate the New Hampshire man factory got outsourced? Likely, it’s due to higher premiums for real men. Less risk in those damn hippies.

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  4. Ah…New Utopia. Back then I was naive enough to think that that was actually going to take off. I guess the first red flag should have been that it was headed up by a guy who named himself after a fictional character. I looked it up just now and it turns out that he died earlier this year, so the name wasn’t terribly apt.

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  5. You left out the part were he is jailed for 5 years for practicing Assistant Underwriter without a license, and fined all the years of back fees.

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