Monday, 14 April 2014

It's Cyberpunk, Jim, But Not As We Know It

I spent part of yesterday afternoon chatting with Nate over Skype making a podcast. (Watch this space for further details.) For part of the conversation, at least, we talked Cyberpunk 2020. We didn't get very far. But it reminded me of a post I wanted to write.

Players of Cyberpunk 2020 and similar games (Shadowrun, Cyberspace, etc.) will be familiar with the humorous anachronistic visions of the future which they entail. One option is to embrace this. I ran a game of Cyberpunk 2020 for a couple of months two years ago, with the conceit that the 1980s vision of the future had actually come to pass - there was still a Soviet Union and a Cold War, the Militant Tendency were still in charge of Liverpool City Council, and you had to long on at Dataterms(tm) to use the internet.

Truth is always stranger than fiction, though. Consider the fact that, as these articles from the Economist imply, food smuggling, waste disposal and wildlife smuggling, rather than drugs, might be the wave of the future:
According to the FLARE Network, an international group of campaigners against organised crime, criminal groups in Italy make around €14 billion a year from being mixed up in agriculture. In some parts of the country mafias control food production and distribution; Franco La Torre, FLARE’s president, says they also enrich themselves through fraudulent claims on EU agricultural funds. Increasingly strict regulation of waste disposal has created another profitable opportunity for organised crime in Europe—particularly, according to Europol, for the Italian Camorra, ’Ndrangheta and Cosa Nostra.

It's not only that there's easy money to be made, it's why get involved in drugs when it can land you a stiffer sentence?:

Some crooks who once focused on drugs have switched to food, says Chris Vansteenkiste of Europol, partly thanks to the falling profitability of the former. The proportion of Britons reporting having taken drugs in the past year dropped from 11% in 1996 to 8% in 2012. Not everyone is a junkie, but everyone buys food and drink. Stagnant wages and unusually high inflation since the financial crisis have increased people’s hunger for bargains.  
Perhaps most important for crooks, humdrum crime is safer. Penalties for hawking counterfeit biscuits are considerably lighter than those for smuggling drugs or guns. For some intellectual-property theft, such as ripping off DVDs, criminals might face ten years in prison, says Stuart Shotton of FoodChain Europe, a food-law consultancy. If there are no fears about safety, he reckons that six months is more likely for crimes involving food.

Smuggling counterfeit biscuits may not be as sexy as the latest illegal cyberware or "stimsense" or whatever, but is in its own way even more cyberpunk. Imagine a future in which perpetually low interest rates brought on by crippling national and private debt have caused inflation to rise to 25-50%. Wages can't keep up - or, at least, the wages of the ordinary man on the street can't. The rich, who live in their isolated compounds, they're fine. But the 'squeezed middle', desperate to fight off falling living standards, increasingly turn to contraband food, drink and cheap knock-off goods smuggled from the wealthy futurescapes of South Korea and the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the rich are after their own contraband: bored by readily available drugs (which by now have been totally decriminalised) and the constant availability of user-specified bespoke porn, they have turned to exotic animals to display their wealth. The existence of strict environmental regulations only make it that much more exciting to be able to take your pet Hyacinth Macaw to the pool party at the nearby K-Pop starlet's rooftop apartment. You've heard the mayor's daughter is bringing her latest find - a mountain gorilla, fresh from Rwanda. They're going to make it fight a puma. It's going to be a blast.

1 comment:

  1. Rainforest Giant16 April 2014 at 03:02

    A good way to find what is taxed too highly is where there is tons of smuggling and black market activity the tax is too high. If you want to know if it is not taxed heavily enough check to see if there is no black market activity. This works best for 'sin taxed' items but will work for anything.

    Government has diminishing returns in taxes when they are too high and then spends more money on enforcement than they get back from the higher taxes. Future smuggling will be tied to taxes/prohibitions and usually in proportion to the price of the item legally if it available at all.