Robert Anton’s Wilson’s RICH Economy: Excerpts from the Schrodinger’s Cat Trilogy

In the second book of Robert Anton Wilson’s Schrodinger’s Cat Trilogy, the author incorporates a proposal for creating a post-scarcity, post-work society into a fictional narrative.Wilson is a well known figure in individualist anarchist and anti-work communities and his work often featured ideas associated with both, in addition to heaping helpings of Discordian chaos.

R. A. Wilson at times identified himself as a “libertarian socialist” and Tuckerite strains of market anarchism often make their way into his works.This is especially true in his more well known work the Illuminatus Trilogy, with it’s mix of conspiracy theorizing, alternative history, convoluted story arcs, occultism, self-deprecation, bizarre sex scenes and rampant counter-culturalism. This however is less the case in Illuminatus‘ sequel trilogy, Schrodinger’s Cat. In it Wilson shares his proposal for a post-work economy which he terms the “RICH economy”, with RICH standing for Rising Income through Cybernetic Homeostasis.

He draws inspiration from similar ideas expressed by Buckminster Fuller, Ezra Pound and C.H. Douglas.Wilson’s proposal involves maximizing automation by offering a $50,000 (or $100,000 in some of his writings) reward to anyone able to replace their own job with a machine, and establishing a negative income tax or guaranteed minimum income to avoid this creating massive poverty. Next a national dividend would be created in which all people become shareholders of the nation and receive a portion of the Gross National Product, called the National Dividend. The negative income tax or guaranteed income would gradually be grown to the level of the National Dividend and be replaced by it. Wilson suggests this should be followed by a growth in adult education, to ready people for life in a fully automated post-scarcity world. A more detailed description is available here.

The framework presented here does not involve a way of developing such a system through voluntary means, which for many reasons would be preferable to any state-developed system of guaranteed income. Indeed, in the second volume of Schrodinger’s Cat, titled The Trick Top Hat, Wilson’s proposal is implemented by an American president named Eve Hubbard (making it among Wilson’s least anarchist works). Different parts of the trilogy take place in different parallel universes and in this particular universe Hubbard’s implementation of the RICH economy creates post-scarcity utopia. This contrasts with the border-line primitivist dystopia in the previous universe. The series presents three alternate versions of the early 1980’s (the Schrodinger’s Cat Trilogy was publish in 1979).

Many of the series’ expositions are presented as notes from the Galactic Archives, which comment on the actions of the “Terran primates” (humans) of “Unistat” (the United States) from the hindsight of centuries into the future. The Archive’s notes on Eve Hubbard’s presidency are as follows:

Of course it had been theoretically possible to abolish most mechanical labor since about 1948, when a very cunning primate mathematician, Norbert Weiner, noted that self-correcting (cybernetic) machines would soon be able to monitor whole factories.

Even earlier a metaprogramming-circuit Greek primate, Aristotle, had observed that it would be possible to abolish slavery “when the loom and other machines become self-managing.”

Terran primates had continued slavery over the generations, despite the increasing distress this caused their hominid third and fourth (semantic and moral) circuits, simply because machines could not yet manage themselves. As many a primate Utopian had rediscovered in chagrin, under primitive planetary conditions, “somebody has to do the shit-work.” The most appealing solution to electing that somebody was to invade a weaker neighboring tribe and bring back a group of biots who could be domesticated.

This had been done so often that there was no hominid pack on Terra that did not show the effects of domestication and slave mentality, a fact first noted by a dour German primate named Nietzsche.

In Unistat, due to the strong encouragement of individualistic third-and fourth-circuit (semantic-moral) functions, slavery had grown so repugnant that it was formally “abolished” within a century after the formation of the pack constitution; it lingered on through inertia in the form of “wage slavery,” which required that all primates not born into the sixty families that “owned” almost everything would have to “work” for those families or their corporations in order to get the tickets (called “money”) which were necessary for survival.

This slave mentality was so entrenched in the domesticated primates that cybernation advanced very slowly in the first thirty years after Weiner discovered it would be possible to abolish primate toil. All the important primate bands-the alpha male corporations, the primate trade unions, the primate council or “government,” the primate totem cults or “churches”-believed that the traditional domesticated caste system was the only possible system under which primates could live. Even the Red primates shared this delusion, differing only in their ideas about distribution of resources.

President Hubbard boldly challenged this domesticated primate thought-form by announcing that everybody who could be replaced by a machine would be replaced by a machine.

It seemed like the end of the world to the primates, at first.

It turned out to be only the end of poverty.

The archives elaborate further:

President Hubbard’s first step in establishing the RICH Economy was to offer a prize of $50,000 per year to any worker who could design a machine that would replace him or her.

When the primate labor unions raised twenty-three varieties of hell about this plan, Hubbard countered by offering $30,000 a year to all other workers replaced by such a machine. The rank-and-file union people fell into conflict immediately, some accepting this as a fine idea (this group consisting mostly of those earning less than twenty thou per annum), and the leaders still hypnotized by the conditioned and domesticated primate reflex that Employment was Good and Unemployment was Bad.

While the unions squabbled among themselves and ceased to present a united front against the RICH scenario, conservatives mounted a campaign against it on the ground that it was inflationary. Here Hubbard’s political genius showed itself. She made no effort to reason with the intellectual conservatives, who were all theologians in disguise. All corporation heads and other alpha males of the right, however, were invited to a series of White House multimedia presentations on how RICH would work for them.

The chief points in these presentations were that: (1) a machine works twenty-four hours a day, not eight-thereby tripling output immediately; (2) machines do not take sick leave; (3) machines are never late for work; (4) machines do not form unions and constantly ask for higher wages and more fringe benefits; (5) machines do not take vacations; (6) machines do not harbor grudges and foul up production in sneaky, undetectable ways; (7) cybernation was advancing every decade,
anyway, despite the opposition of unions, government, and these alpha males; it was better to have huge populations celebrating the reward of $30,000 to $50,000 per year for group cleverness than huge populations suffering the humility of welfare; (8) with production rising due to both cybernation and the space-cities, consumers were needed and a society on welfare was a society of very meager consumers.

The alpha males were still fighting among themselves about whether this was “sound” or not when it squeaked through Congress.

Within a year the first case of the new multi-inventive leisure class appeared. This was a Cherokee Indian named Starhawk, who had been an engine-lathe worker in Tucson. After designing himself out of that job, Starhawk had gone on to learn four other mechanical factory jobs, designed himself out of each, and now had a guaranteed income of $250,000 a year for these feats. He was now devoting himself to painting in the traditional Cherokee style-which was what he had always wanted to do, back in adolescence, before he learned that he had to work for a living.

By 1983 there were over a thousand similar cases. Many had gone on to seek advanced scientific degrees, and some had already migrated to the L5 space-cities. The swarming was beginning.

The majority of the unemployed, living comfortably on $30,000 a year, admittedly spent most of their time drinking booze, smoking weed, engaging in primate sexual acrobatics, and watching wall TV.

When moralists complained that this was a subhuman existence, Hubbard answered, “And what kind of existence did they have doing idiot jobs that machines do better?”

Some of the unemployed were beginning to seek jobs again; after all, $48,000 or $53,000 is better than $30,000. Usually, they found that higher education was required for the jobs that were still available. Many were back in college; adult education, already a fast-growth industry in the 1970s, was now the fastest growing field of all.

Hubbard was ready to launch Stage Two of the RICH Economy.

In the next stage:

After the RICH Economy had revolutionized the lives and expectations of Unistaters on and off Terra, Eve Hubbard realized that the time was now ripe to abolish poverty entirely. She did this by declaring every citizen a shareholder in the L5 space-cities and distributing National Dividends every year.

Again, Hubbard’s political genius was evident. Others who had proposed such a plan in the past (e.g., the engineers C. H. Douglas and R. Buckminster Fuller, the inventor Tom Edison, the semanticist Alfred Korzybski, the physicist Frederic Soddy) had assumed such dividends would have to be “money.” This proposal, in that form, always aroused heated opposition from the alpha males of the banking business, who understood well that an expanding money supply would lower the interest rate, seriously threatening their profits.

Hubbard called her National Dividend tickets “trade aids,” a term devised by a public relations firm she had commissioned to make the idea palatable to domesticated primates.

Trade aids were like money only in that they could be exchanged for commodities or services. They were unlike money in that they could not be loaned at interest; the bankers kept their monopoly on the interest market and were mollified.

One thought on “Robert Anton’s Wilson’s RICH Economy: Excerpts from the Schrodinger’s Cat Trilogy

  1. It’s funny how transparently sci-fi this all is.

    In reality, what Starhawk does in this scenario is exactly like the tech bro SV disruption capitalism that’s strip-mining our economy: he put thousands if not millions of people out of work and became rich in the process.

    The fact Wilson wouldn’t grapple with the basic scaling issues of his own framework indicates he was riffing more than being serious. Fuller was serious, Schumacher was serious, too. This, not so much.

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