Viral Implosion - chapter five
So far all events have occurred on a case-by-case basis, nurtured by the serendipity of power in the right places. Mike Freedman had been watching with increasing enthusiasm as they unfolded. As Chairman of the Board for IBN, he had a comfortable viewpoint. But can things continue unguided? Mike suspected not; too many options could play out.
The only way to ensure that things continue in the right direction is to consolidate the controlling factions. Mike made a list of all the powerful people who could keep things going in the right direction – generals, CEOs, PAC leaders, media moguls, right-wing senators. It was a long list, so he then thinned it out by those people who could lead the others in a particular cadre. That came to twenty-three individuals. These would constitute the central force to guide the world behind the curtains. Although he named the group The Magi, it was not to be a meeting-and-votes type of organization; instead, they would all be aware of their mutual ambitions and influences while sharing information, suggestions, and actions. All planning would be the results of casual conversations between two to five people at a time, with others pulled in when needed. Mike saw it as more choreography than control.
With the current situation, there were a lot of people looking for relief from welfare, federal programs and charity. The rolls had to be thinned through attrition.
Health insurance cannot be mandatory; its cost had to be increased, so lower classes would not afford it. Hospitals, ambulance services and doctors were given the right to refuse care to anyone who is uninsured. Prescription drug prices were also increased, keeping them available only to the wealthy. Manufacturers of over-the-counter medications were subsidized to limit production and allowed to raise cost according to the supply and demand curve. This was a little trick they learned from OPEC. The small emergency services satellites rapidly went out of business with no financing other than the insurance companies and no major equipment on site. Low-income women could not get prenatal care and had to give birth in their homes, as in olden days. And as in olden days, the frequency of still births, infants dying before their first birthday and mothers dying in childbirth increased proportionately. Children born outside of the hospital had to be registered within a week of birth to get a birth certificate and a social security number. This way they could still be tracked. Anyone found without a social security number, child, youth or adult, was automatically deported to Mexico.
FEMA was shut down. When natural disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes or tsunamis occurred, there was no federal bailout. The victims had to cope by themselves with the circumstances. Courts refused to hear any lawsuits against insurance companies, claiming full dockets for “real crimes”. Other assistance services such as Red Cross no longer received any federal funds; they had to rely on contributions alone to keep helping out, and corporations were no longer adding to those coffers. As small businesses started starving, donations were one of the first things removed from their budgets.
The food stamp and HEAT programs were closed down. All mortgages were reassessed by the banks. If a family’s financial circumstances had reversed, the house was foreclosed. These acts encouraged more and more families to merge into one household. It was no longer unusual to find two sets of bunk beds in every bedroom. People with no family to turn to formed cooperatives to share expenses. If a person in a cooperative lost his or her job, s/he was summarily kicked out. In family situations, the old, infirm, pregnant and jobless were kept at home and paid their way by doing chores around the house while the others worked.
Supplemental Security Income cases were reassessed then cancelled under one determination or another. Then SSI was disbanded. Social Security Disability cases were also reassessed, but usually there was no change in one’s status. However, SSD new cases were virtually impossible to attain; the cost of proof was in the applicant’s hands despite the escalating medical costs, and lawyers refused to take on the cases as they became more and more difficult to win. Since anyone on SSD automatically went onto Social Security regular rolls at the age of 65, the number of SSD enrollees was systematically dropping each year.
Social Security itself was still sacrosanct; abolishing that would be hard to hide. But the annual cost of living raise was easily cancelled in economic hard times, and the insurance premium was increased every year. So rather than a fixed income this became a shrinking income.
People already on pensions learned that the pension fund would no longer cover any medical benefits.
Abandoned houses and apartment buildings became collection centers for the homeless and the sick.
Public transportation was another issue that had to be addressed. As unemployment soared, and gas prices grew even faster, automobile travel would curtail itself. But the corporations still had to get their workers in to the jobs. It was decided to sell public transportation to local corporations.
Bus routes were redesigned to take commuters to and from work, since their living situations were consolidating. You needed a company ID card to board, but you still had to pay to get to and from work. On weekends these buses were available to anyone wanting to get to shopping areas, again for a fee.
Subways were maintained in the larger cities, but the cost of a ride was ten dollars. If there were more than one corporation in the area, one took over buses and another took over subways.
Trains covered vast areas and so it was more difficult to assign them to a single company. Instead the country was broken up into zones. Companies were set up with the sole purpose of managing trains in a single zone. Passenger and product trains were combined, so a commute could take much longer than in the past.
Taxi medallions were rescinded. Instead, private taxis were arranged by each company to transport its executives to meetings, airports, and branches.
Air travel had already become dangerous and expensive. But it was still necessary for global companies to continue business. Jumbo airliners were grounded, in favor of smaller airliners owned and managed by each company. The National Guard was utilized to handle security, as it was in bus, subway and train terminals. The FAA became another federal albatross which was closed down along with the DOT and TSA.
Water travel adjusted in much the same way. Ships which could transport goods, whether down river, across large lakes and bays, or oceanic, were commissioned by corporations. Pleasure cruises were dangerous and expensive; the travel industry faltered as federal regulations closed the grip on them.
The general market was rife with unemployed and low-income families, so fast-food chains were the major eateries. Posh restaurants were still the favorite meeting places for executives. Family restaurants, however, could not find customers, and they slowly started to close their doors. Family entertainment tended to public beaches and small theme parks where the cost was minimal.
Professional sports tickets were beyond the average citizen’s wallet, so stadiums often were only half full. Professional teams had to depend more on advertising revenue from television and Internet broadcasters. This was insufficient for most pro teams, so salaries started to shrink, and contracts were killed to keep teams alive.
China demanded that the United States keep paying back its loans, but Congress would have none of that. Instead, all American corporations pulled out of China, despite the lower costs for labor. The same stance was held with India. The United Kingdom followed suit. As a result, Asian countries were left to build their own industries. Instead of a trade deficit on either side there was no trade at all. The European Community solidified under mutual need to function like a single country. Each country or coalition strove for autonomy. The hardest hit was Africa, where most countries never got a good foothold to begin with. The strongest was South Africa, which had moved into the twentieth century already. The rest of Africa had to revert to ancient ways of life, which led to ancient warlords and tribal contests.
Corporations started looking at their expanses of sites to find a better approach. With labor in other countries no longer available, they needed to reassess their holdings. Certainly there were plenty of people available who were looking for work. But the corporations were averse to maintaining high living costs. Plants along the populous east and west coasts were closed cautiously and slowly. During the change in living styles there was a lot to watch and evaluate before making corporate changes. Sites in the Midwest were chosen; housing and basic shopping were supplied to the workers imported for construction. When construction was complete, these workers were ousted and the housing and shops offered to the people who would be employees of the plant.
All of this had to be carefully spun through the media to prevent riots and revolution. People were told that jobs were coming home, but these jobs would be shuttled to the neediest areas of the country. “Spin doctors” had become the highest paid journalists in the media community.