Monday, January 21, 2013

The 10-12% | Jedi, Economics, and the Hyperelite

One of my prized possessions.

Star Wars is one of those things nerds could–and do–argue about for hours. I'd be chief among them. You want to have one? Please do. I relish the opportunity, because instead of emotionally maturing as a child, I learned about Star Wars.

Part of the problem is that Star Wars became too big to be coherent decades ago. The expanded universe was fun, but with the release of prequels and now the promise of non-George-helmed sequels, there's new canonical information that has to be wedged into old B-grade canon, much of which was frankly better and more sensical than the new information.

Certain things get dropped by the wayside, however, and always have. Example: beings tend to need to buy things with money.

Star Trek has always maintained that its Federation is a post-scarcity society. Cheap energy is made freely available all as a common good, and combined with replicator technology, functionally all necessities and luxury items can be created by anyone with enough time and effort. Careers exist more for the betterment of citizens and at their own discretion than on any real need for goods. Functionally, it is a socialist paradise. Only backward, tangential worlds and the Ferengi maintain capitalist ideals.

Star Wars takes place in a galactic-scale capitalist culture. Banks have their own clans, Trade Federations start civil wars or tarif rates and embargo disputes. The capital of all known systems caters to the support of an upper-echelon elite, high above the lower strata of Coruscant. In the Outer Rim, slavery is a common and accepted practice, especially on worlds controlled by the Hutts, an entire species primarily devoted to being crime lords.

Perhaps this has something to do with the level of technology achieved in each universe. Star Trek has faster-than-light travel, dematerializing transporters, and the ability to replicate anything from basic elemental building blocks, themselves saved as pure energy as if via transporter. Star Wars, meanwhile achieves FTL transport, but transporters are relatively unknown and widely considered impossible, although short-range models have been demonstrated effective. Largely, however, means of production and distribution of goods remain in line with what we possess currently. Goods are produced either by hand or machine (sometimes both!) and curried from A to B by ship to be sold in stores for currency. Want a nice nerf steak and a cup of caf for a meal? Go to the ship's galley and heat up a couple. Principles of technology may be more advanced, but the long-and-short of it is Aunt Beru had to go to market to buy her blue milk that came from a dairy farmer.

Herein lies a problem for the narrative. In Star Wars we rarely get to see what the average being is doing in the galaxy. Dictation and data pads are mentioned somewhat frequently, credits as a form of currency as well, and "(re)freshers" exist so that gentlefolks can scrawl out an invoice or missive, buy a BlasTech DL-44 pistol, or take a sanisteam after a long hyperspace jaunt.

Except that's boring, and as an audience, we tend to follow the action. If protagonists ever involve themselves in a financial transaction, it's either illicit, or cover while surveilling. Consider primary characters:
  • Jedi
  • The Republic/Rebel Alliance/New Republic/Galactic Alliance/Galactic Federation of Free Planets and associated militias
  • The Empire
  • Smugglers
These are not the types to necessarily lament a lack of access to funds. Han Solo and his bands of rogues? They steal what they need, blast through security, and make a delivery to earn their payday. They've all won and lost fortunes a dozen times over–Lando Calrissian is famous for it. If a job didn't go bad, we wouldn't read about it. Federal governments don't exactly request expenditure reports during a war either. While the Rebels acquired their superior X-Wing fighters specifically through capture of the plans and defection of the creators, the Empire has entire worlds' resources at its disposal. It is an evil, tyrannical dictatorship, after all.

At the top of society, the Skywalker-Solo clan own multiple apartments, furnished many times over with expensive accoutrements and the highest, often illegal security measures. They are heroes upon heroes. Leia was Galactic President, for god's sake. Twice. The sheer volumes of riches lavished upon them necessitated teams of specialized accountants just to manage. The result is that none of these characters ever need to worry about money for the rest of their lives, and being appropriately paranoid for the eight most important beings in the galaxy, they have access to secret assets.

There is never any mention of these elites ever receiving spam mail.

Even the Jedi are above the need for funding. Between all the money funneled into the organization through Luke and his friends, government subsidies and "gifts" of tactical armaments during times of crisis, the Jedi are perhaps the most well-trained, well-funded, well-organized private army in existence, and yes I'm including the revived Mandalorian warriors. They maintain leagues of accountants whose sole purpose is to ensure that their investments allow them to function completely autonomously from any governmental oversight.They go to the laundry and are handed a new robe from the Coruscanti employed by the Jedi Temple. They travel to Ilum to pick their own crystals to construct their own lightsabers. If the cost of antimater and fusable material were not so expensive, one might almost consider this a green movement. Rather than living as ascetics, Jedi exist in a post-scarcity near-paradise simply because they have more money than some star systems.

As of 40 years post-Endor, there are approximately 400 known living Force users in the Jedi collective. Let us double that number to account for spouses and non-Force-wielding family members who enjoy the perks of residing within this hyper-elite group. Let us round off to an even thousand to compensate for the rotating cadre of bandits, allies, and planetary elites who operate within their bubbles of influence.

Of the 100 quadrillion sentient beings living in the Galaxy, that makes the Jedi and their surrounding parties civilization's top 0.000000000001%.

They are The 10-12%.

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