Commonwealth: A Novel of Utopia, part 2, chapter 1
Author’s Note: This is an excerpt from my novel Commonwealth. The rest of today’s installment is free, but only on my Patreon site. If you want to read the next part today, it’s already up on Patreon as well. You can sign up for as little as $1/month, or $2 for exclusive author’s notes and behind-the-scenes material. There’s also a table of contents for all published chapters.
“But someone had to decide that this work needed to be done, right?” she persisted. “What if no one wanted to do it?”
“You’re thinking in terms of your old society, Rae,” Jane said, “where the rulers proclaim that everyone has the freedom to choose, yet the vast majority of people, to avoid hunger, poverty or homelessness, have no choice but to accept whatever job they can find, even if it’s unpleasant, immoral or dangerous. That isn’t how it works here.
“We have – not zero compulsion, because of course there are laws against picking your neighbor’s pocket, breaking their leg or polluting their air – but, let’s say, the minimum amount of compulsion necessary to live together. We expect everyone who’s able to contribute to the upkeep of society in some way; we’re familiar with the Prisoner’s Dilemma, we don’t allow free riders. But no one is forced to take any particular job. We have a broad selection of civic, industrial and scientific projects, each one calling for different levels of skill and different types of expertise. The rewilding project is one of those. People can apply to whichever project catches their interest, and if it doesn’t suit them, they can resign and try another. But there’s no slavery here, no coerced labor: not the kind that’s created artificially and imposed by the state, nor the kind that’s created naturally by exploiting poverty and desperation.
“So many problems in your old society stem from the fact that, if it was possible to make money through deception or cruelty, the ruthless competitive pressure of capitalism would ensure that a business came into existence to fill that niche. In the Pacific Republic, that doesn’t happen. If you tried to run a business that required immoral acts or dishonest treatment of customers, or that exacted a harsh toll on the bodies or minds of your employees, people would decline to participate, and your plans would wither on the vine. The only jobs that exist here are the ones people want to do.
“On the train, you said it seemed impossible that we had accomplished as much as we have. I told you that we’ve learned to work with each other, instead of against each other. That was part of the answer, and here’s another part: people do their best work when they’re working voluntarily, at jobs they’re passionate about – not when they’re laboring for survival, grinding through another day just to pay bills. They work smarter and more efficiently, take the initiative, get more done, go the extra mile instead of cutting corners. Joy is a better motivator than fear.”