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The Unincorporated Man (Sci Fi Essential Books)

The Unincorporated Man - Dani Kollin, Eytan Kollin Welcome to the world of The Unincorporated Man! It’s 350 years in the future, and most citizens are incorporated entities whose shares trade on the open market. Do you think your class valedictorian is going to go far? Buy some of his shares today, while they’re still cheap! When he eventually becomes a hotshot executive, you’ll be entitled to dividends representing a share of his earnings! How about those noisy neighbors next door? Can’t seem to get them to turn their stereo down? Maybe it’s time for a hostile takeover! Buy enough shares of them, and you can put a motion to their governing boards that they get rid of their stereo. Better yet, if you can leverage a majority ownership of them, you can make them move! How about your sister-in-law? Does her new business idea have “flop” written all over it? Sell her short! No reason her failure shouldn’t be your profit! …just be sure to buy through an anonymous broker; if she catches wind of what you’re doing, it could make for an awkward Thanksgiving.Does all of this sound kind of crazy? It’s the rich and complex world envisioned by co-authors Dani and Eytan Kollin. Here’s how it works: each citizen is incorporated at birth, with their personal portfolio divided up into a fixed 100,000 shares, which pay dividends (a fraction of earnings), and carry voting rights in the person’s major life decisions. In lieu of taxes, the government gets 5% of each person’s shares. Parents get a 20% stake in their children (and cannot sell those shares before the kids turn 21), both as compensation for raising them, and for disciplinary leverage. The remaining 75% belong to the individual, who will usually need to sell large lots to pay for his education and other major purchases. By the time most young people enter the workforce, they are only minority stakeholders in themselves, working for the day they can reclaim a majority position. In some ways, it is a very workable system; society prospers because shareholders have a stake in their fellow man’s success. The downside is of course the loss of autonomy that goes with constant accountability to shareholders. Without a majority position in oneself, shareholders can force unwanted career choices and other personal decisions on an individual, in the interest of improving profitability. If the person rebels and sabotages his portfolio (i.e. his life), stockholders can sue for mismanagement of their assets! Freedom from the tyranny of incorporation comes only to the few who attain the elusive dream of supermajority (71% ownership in one‘s self). So who is the unincorporated man in all of this? He’s 21st century billionaire Justin Cord. After developing terminal cancer, Cord has himself frozen, Walt Disney-style, in cryogenic stasis. In the chaos of a global nuclear war, something called the “virtual reality plague” (explained later in the book) and a period of socioeconomic upheaval called “The Grand Collapse”, his stasis pod is lost down a remote mineshaft. Three hundred fifty years later, it is accidentally discovered, and he is revived. The company which revives him wants payment in the form of shares, but things get interesting when he refuses to incorporate. Through a plausible strategy, he’s managed to bring enough assets with him from the past, that he’s cash-flush. Plus, his odd situation makes him a minor celebrity, so he’s soon earning money on book deals and interviews. Why incorporate? Soon reality shows are following him around, and the average Joe is enviously dreaming about how cool it would be to have no accountability to shareholders. Before long, a minor political party taps into this public sentiment and makes unincorporation a political issue. Naturally, the people and institutions with a vested interest in the incorporated system are determined to force Cord’s incorporation, and to castrate the nascent political uprising. Some of the details here are brilliant. There are two high-stakes court trials which hash out the question of Justin‘s right to refuse incorporation. I love that: a futuristic book without robot attacks, or bug-eyed aliens, whose battles all occur in court! I realize some of you out there might mistake this for “boring”, but it isn’t. There are some bizarre curves thrown in, which I couldn’t spoil if I wanted to, because it would take too long to explain the backstory. Suffice it to say that there is a LOT of corporate intrigue, and not everybody is who they appear to be. Additional confusion results from sentient artificially intelligent personal assistants, the bizarre effects virtual reality has on society, and nanotechnology which makes everything from buildings to peoples’ bodies fluid, dynamic, and constantly changing. It’s all really fun stuff to think about.It wasn’t until the final third of the book, when the unincorporation movement began to spread, that I started to realize this novel has an ideological bent. It is Libertarian, but with an unconventional angle: it recognizes corporate power is as much a threat to individual liberty as governmental power. That’s something Ayn Rand (whose “objectivism” is really maniacal selfishness dressed up in Libertarian clothing) never considered. Then again, she also never considered writing a fast-paced and engaging story, set in a fascinatingly imaginative world, and populated by sympathetic and multidimensional characters who have interesting dialogue with each other. I only hope if they make a movie of The Unincorporated Man, they’ll let Rush do the soundtrack!