Friday, June 5, 2009

Point/Counterpoint II: Establishing an Intergalactic Union and Monetary Fund

(Guest Post from Metropolis. This post is the follow-up and counter-argument to establishing an Intergalactic Union)

Rann-Thanagar Holy War #8. Cover by Jim Starlin

Shadowbanker provides insights into the potential benefits of an intergalactic union with the Galacto as a common currency. However, I feel that most of the benefits mentioned would already come about from simply opening up the galaxy to increased interplanetary trade, without the additional burden of monetary integration and encroachment on planets’ political and economic sovereignty.

Let’s begin the analysis at the same place Shadowbanker did: an IU role in reducing interplanetary conflict. Using the EU as a case-study, it is true that war between France and Germany seems nearly unthinkable in the 21st century, but my guess is sentiment was much the same back in the 1980’s. European integration began almost immediately after the Second World War, but amounted to little more than a customs union until the 1990’s. One of the key motivations behind reducing tariffs and encouraging increased financial and other flows was to prevent future conflict, and by many estimates this goal has been achieved. Would a supranational governing body and common currency be able to do any more than that? So, if Thanagar started trading some of its Nth metal (anti-gravity substance) for some of Rann’s Zeta Beam technology (essentially a teleportation device which has an extremely long-range capacity and can even transport humans light-years away), then they would already have an interest in playing nice. It seems to me that the benefits of anti-gravity belts and teleportation devices would prevail over jingoism, regardless of whether or not the two planets shared the same currency.

If anything, it can be argued that national tensions have been on the rise since the EU began integration requiring the transference of some national sovereignty by each member nation. One can look at Britain and Italy’s currency crises in 1992, caused primarily by a monetary mechanism requiring exchange rate regulation. Differing economic realities across Europe meant that while Germany was raising interest rates to counter inflation caused by the reunification of East and West, Britain and Italy were forced to expend reserves to prop up their currencies when investment rushed out of their economies and into Germany.

Add the extreme xenophobia and unwillingness to relinquish sovereignty of many planets in the DC universe and you have an even bigger problem. Convincing Rann, Thanagar, New Krypton, Argo, and other planets to trade might be possible (after all, who wouldn’t want to teleport?). Convincing New Krypton that it would have to waste some crystals on account of Earth’s policies would be unthinkable. General Zod nearly had a stroke when the Green Lanterns suggested that he give up his jurisdiction over a prisoner to the Guardians of the Universe. Imagine if they had asked him for some money instead. It would have sparked Final Crisis II.

Aside from worrying about shocks to an existing system, we need to examine the feasibility of integration in the first place. In the EU alone there is a wide range of economic development in terms of GDP, business cycle patterns, and a multitude of other indicators. They are finding it very hard to integrate these pieces into a working whole without marginalizing some groups and disproportionately benefiting others. Uneven bargaining power means countries like France and Germany have far more influence over EU policies than smaller or newer members. Integration also means high adjustment costs for newly accepted member states (inflation in Hungary, Czech Republic and others). Current attempts to correct these issues and balance growth throughout the union means rich countries are paying for poor ones (see EU Structural Fund). Countries like Great Britain are again starting to raise their voices that the ostensible benefits of such a union are being outweighed by their costs.

This means that IU policies will likely be developed by the big guns – New Krypton, Rann, Thanagar, Earth, Daxam, etc. But what about the smaller, less developed planets? Will nobody consider the opinions of the poor residents of Bizarro World? Say the member planets hold a summit to craft policy and the major players decide to lower interest rates. The Bizzaros, of course, will want nothing more than to raise interest rates every time! And so it goes that the Bizarros never quite get what they want.


MannyJ said...

Fortunately, not getting what me want am make Bizarro happy!

So it's all good.

But is there really a market for interstellar trade goods? The Auctioneer seems to have carved out a small niche, but otherwise, well, let's look at the problems involved.
(a) Foodstuffs, art, and many other items should be useless outside their originating species. In the c-b universes, however, this turns out not to be the case, so we can ignore this issue. Nevertheless...
(b) it costs a LOT to ship interstellar. Remember, zeta-beam transport is temporary, the target goes back after some period of time (which suggests that it was never actually moved at all, but merely projected from a higher dimension, but that's another story). Whereas...
(c) Most advanced species probably have Star Trek-type replicators -- so it's cheaper to convert otherwise useless asteroids and moons than to ship the product. All you really need is the blueprint. As to which...
(d) There's no authority to protect your copyright (the Guardians could make themselves useful and do that, but nooooo). So your first sale of any particular design is probably your last. Then too...
(e) Technology from different species may not play well together. "Look, I bought a zeta-beam transmitter on sale! Lemme plug it into our local transmat web, and--" "No, stop! Don't do --AGGHHHHH!" [Black-hole sound effect]

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