Home In the Sixteenth Year of Obama - The Isle of Industry
Home In the Sixteenth Year of Obama - The Isle of Industry

In the Sixteenth Year of Obama - The Isle of Industry

(The two previous parts of this satire can be found here in the Isle of Endless Education and the Isle of Freedom.)

Marc and Julie were surprised to see that there appeared to be little industry on the Isle of Industry. No smokestacks puffing up gray clouds to the horizon, no grinding sounds of machinery at work and no sense of activity at all. Piles of rusted machinery lay near the shore where a few windmills turned dissolutely away from the wind.

The solar-powered train carrying them slowly halted, leaving them in an empty station with only a few ticket takers waiting around for nothing in particular. After an hour or two, they began to wander around the premises, but there was nothing to see besides abandoned warehouses, piles of junk and a few people, who might have workers, lounging around. When they tried to talk to a few of them, they were met with the curt reply, "I'm on break."

The entire Isle of Industry appeared to be on break. A permanent break that had never ended. Finally, in the third hour, three long black cars pulled up, two men got out of the middle car and pulled open the door for a third man, who exited the vehicle and quickly looked them over. He was short where they were tall, thick where they were brawny, and his eyes were resentful as if the world had done something especially annoying to him today. He wore a white shirt with an open collar and a clean rag conspicuously tucked into one shirt pocket, as if he might at any moment go to work and use it to wipe down a machine, unlikely as this seemed.

"Director-General Peter Smolton," the two men announced, and, as if he had been waiting for that introduction, he stepped forward and offered his hand.

"Pete Smolton," he said. "I run the industry. All of it."

Waving them inside the car, he began to talk, as they passed the ruins of hundreds of factories, piles of machinery overgrown with weeds into hills of green and gold.

"I started out in a union. Did some organizing for the AFL-CIO, but quickly saw the working unions had no future. The public sector was where it was at. Government work was the future because the future was all government. Only three lines of work in this country still had a future, health care, because people were always going to be sick, teaching, because we were always going to have kids, and form-processing, which covers most government work. 90 percent of government work is either filling out forms or processing forms that someone else filled out."

"So all those machines outside," Marc said.

"Done with," the Director-General replied. "That's from the old times when they used to make things and pollute the planet with carbon emissions doing it. We dumped all this junk here as a reminder of the bad old days that are never coming back. Also we use them for a recycling program. The Chinese buy it, recycle it and sell it back to us."

"Shouldn't we be doing that?" Marc suggested.

The Director-General puffed up with outrage. "Do you have any idea how much work that would take?"

"But isn't this the Isle of Industry?" Julie asked.

"Exactly," the Director-General said. "The industry of tomorrow. We're not interested in getting bogged down in the dirty old jobs of the past. Here we're creating the smart jobs and green jobs of tomorrow."

"Like what?" Julie asked.

"Coordinators of Recycling Export Management, Sustainability Recycling Commodifier Experts and Environmental Waste Resource Transport Consultants," the Director-General said.

"And what do they all do?" Marc asked.

"Their jobs are very important. They decide how and on what timetable we allow the Chinese to pick up the machinery for recycling," the Director-General said. "Then there are the Sustainable Technology Procurement Engineers, the Environmental Hygiene Deployment Planners and the Complete Technology Infrastructure Assessors. They decide what technology we'll buy from the Chinese."

"Is that all?"

"Well there's also the Waste Resource Management Haulers Local 101."

"So they haul things away," Marc said.

The Director-General shook his head. "Their contract explicitly prevents them from hauling anything. But it also prevents anyone else from hauling anything without using a member of their union,"

"So how does anything get transported anywhere?" Julie asked.

"The Chinese do it and we pay a fine to the union. The fine is doubled in the event that the union is also on strike at the time."

The cars stopped outside another of the low gray warehouses. The Director-General got out and they followed him inside the warehouse. "Here is where we are learning to compete with the Chinese. The Leader realized from the start that we could not compete with them in manufacturing. The Party leadership understood that this was unfeasible. The Chinese could make more things for less than we ever could. And the Party did not believe in the primacy of making things. We were out to create a new kind of industry."

"What kind is that?" Marc asked, halting in the middle of the vast empty warehouse.

"Conceptual," the Director-General said. "The Chinese can get ahead by making things, but that is outdated. They were able to make things thousands of years ago too. Any idiot can make something. All you need is an industrial base and some workers. But we are not interested in making things."

"But don't we need, well, things," Julie asked.

"That's a myth," the Director-General said. "What we need is happiness. Can things truly make you happy? The Romans and Greeks made things, so did the ancient Egyptians. It did not save their civilizations. What we make is far more valuable?'

"And what is that?" Marc asked.

"Nothing," the Director-General said, "we make nothing at all."

Looking around the empty warehouse, Marc and Julie had to admit that they couldn't see a single thing in sight.

"So you make happiness," Julie said.

"Social harmony, which is the same thing," the Director-General said. "It was during the Depression that the Leader understood that he was going about it the wrong way. He was trying to create jobs by funding projects, when he should have just been creating jobs. Why bother creating jobs by building factories when we can just create jobs?"

Marc and Julie had to admit that this sounded sensible enough, though it seemed as if there might also be something wrong with the notion. But they could not say what.

"Creating jobs by building factories is wasteful and polluting. Instead we have cut out the waste and we create jobs directly," the Director-General said. "Everyone today is mandated by law to have a job and no one can claim not to have a job. Even those on the dole have jobs, they are Welfare Consultants, who market and test welfare reception procedures."

"But most people work for the government," Marc objected. "Those are real jobs."

"Real jobs," the Director-General laughed. "How do you know they're real jobs? Does anyone actually need them to be done?"

"They must, otherwise why would they exist," Marc mumbled.

"Why does anyone need the government?" the Director-General countered.

"But you can't mean that the government is useless," Julie said shocked.

"Completely useless," the Director-General said. "And that is its use. The only useful things now are the useless ones. We have built an industry that is necessary only to the workers. Once upon a time people labored to do things for others. Today in the United States of North America and Europe, every worker only works for himself. His line of work is completely useless, except to him. Everyone but him would be better off if he were fired."

"Does that include you?" Marc asked boldly.

"Absolutely," the Director-General said. "I'm the most useless one here. Except for my driver, who is even more useless because he drives me and since everywhere I go is useless, his uselessness is of a factor greater than mine. The same goes for the entourage that travels with me."

"That's terrible," Julie said.

"No it's wonderful," the Director-General said. "We have created an industry of uselessness. There are no more jobs, only ways in which people waste their time and get paid for it."

"But what's the use of any of it?" Marc demanded.

"It prevents productive work from being done," the Director-General said. "If we didn't have useless jobs for everyone, what do you think would happen?"

"People would starve?" Julie ventured.

"Nonsense," the Director-General said. "Some might, but there is a strong survival instinct in man. They would find ways to be productive. They would grow food, cut trees, herd cattle, build factories and the entire cycle of industrialization that we managed to wrestle to the ground and subdue would begin all over again."

"At the Isle of Endless Education, education existed to prevent people from learning anything on the side," Marc said. "And here the industry exists to prevent industry from existing."

"Exactly," the Director-General said. "We are the LEED environmentally sound union approved wall that prevents a second industrial revolution from taking place."

"But how does that compete with the Chinese?" Julie asked.

"Do you know the Tale of the Tortoise and the Hare?" the Director-General asked. "The Chinese are the hare, they're running faster and faster, making more and more things, creating more and more jobs and wealth. But one day they'll realize that things can't make them happy. While we're already happy. And one day the People's Republic of China and the Greater Asian Prosperity Sphere that encompasses a third of the world's population, will realize that we beat them in the happiness race."

"So ,does anything actually get made here?" Marc asked.

"One thing," the Director-General said, "and you're about to witness it for yourself." Gesturing to one of his entourage, he pressed a button and an elevator door opened in the wall. "This is highly secret so keep whatever you see here confidential."

The elevator groaned as it took them down within the earth. The air grew cold and they felt the weight of the entire infrastructure of the Isle of Industry over their heads until finally the elevator stopped and they followed the Director-General into a room that resembled a control center.

There were time zone indictators over each section and monitors showing scenes from different cities within the USNAE. Each set of panels and monitors was labeled with the name of a different region in the Union. In some places it was already night, but in others it was still daytime, but all seemed to be equally quiet. A row of red lights, some lit, some not, marched along the wall over every panel.

"This is where it all happens," the Director-General said.

"What happens?" Marc and Julie asked.

"The most vital activity of our industry, of course. The one thing that we still produce. Strikes." The Director-General pointed at the banks of monitors. "These aren't very good. Twenty year old Chinese imports, but you should still be able to make it out."


"Nothing," the Director-General said. "Nothing at all"

"I don't understand," Julie said.

"No one is working anywhere. They're all on strike."

"But why?" Marc asked.

"It's a complicated thing," the Director-General said, frowning. "You might as well ask for a detailed history of the Hundred Years War. Each union has its own territory and its own workers and it has to protect them."

"What I don't understand is why there are unions," Julie said. "There are no more private companies. Who are they protecting workers from?"

"Why, other unions," the Director-General said. "It's all very feudal, which is why I brought up the Hundred Years War. Think of the unions as baronies. They owe their allegiance to the government and protect their peasants, I mean workers. When the government needs to put down a revolt against its authority, it calls on the union bosses who mobilize the workers to beat some sense into protesters. But the union baronies are always trying to expand their territory."

"But how does a strike help anything?" Marc asked.

"A strike is the test of power of a union," the Director-General said. "The more things a union can shut down, the more power it wields. So when two unions fight, they both go on strike and shut down as much as they can. They also call on their allied unions to do the same thing." He glanced closely at the monitors. "Take for example the major strike that we have going on now."

It was hard for Marc and Julie to tell which of the scenes of inaction in the monitor he was referring to because nothing was going on in any of them.

"The Belgian Streetlamp Workers Union attempted to poach nurses from San Francisco city hospitals who are in the California Allied Nurses and Health Care Workers union. So both unions have called a strike."

"But what do streetlamps have to do with nursing?" Julie asked.

"Don't let the name fool you. The Belgian Streetlamp Workers Union is an old 150 year old union. It includes a lot of different professions. Everything from parking attendants in Paris to prostitutes in Amsterdam to dogcatchers in Detroit are represented by it. The California Allied Nurses and Health Care Workers includes teachers, social workers, corrections officers, scriptwriters and actors."

"So they're both on strike now," Marc said.

"And not just them," the Director-General said. "Allied unions of both, including the Nevada Dockworkers, which doesn't represent dockworkers in Nevada, because there aren't any, but does represent waiters, croupiers, pickpockets and loan sharks. Also the London Queue-Standers Tradesmen, which covers workers in fields that don't actually exist anymore. That dragged in all the waiters in Oslo, Boston and Montreal. And that brought in jockeys from two continents, every orchestra in Minnesota, two-thirds of the teachers in Berlin and Massachusetts; and just now they've been joined by the United Media Trades covering everyone from reporters to romance novel writers."

"And none of them are working?" Julie asked.

"Absolutely not," the Director-General said. "It would violate their pride and integrity as workingmen and women to work."

"When will they start working again?" Marc asked.

"Who knows," the Director-General said. "Eventually the unions will get together and extract the best possible deal from each other. Sometimes it takes months. Sometimes years. There are a few strikes that have been going on for a decade. The two of you had better get going before the Solar-Operators get in on the strike."

With so much to think about, Marc and Julie hardly noticed when they were back on the train, which rumbled uneasily, as if it too might go on strike at any moment. Behind them lay the productive center of a dozen great nations, which was even now endeavoring to produce that mysterious quality of happiness. Ahead of them lay the Isle which was responsible for the tolerance and goodness of their society-- the Isle of Eugenics. 


  1. You need to publish this as a book, Daniel! It is such a good read, and so awful in its truths, as well.

  2. Thank you Jewel, but it doesn't seem like there's much interest in this really. I may finish one more, maybe, and I think this experiment is done.

  3. Anonymous15/6/12

    Please don't give up on this. It's wonderful.


  4. I was hoping you did a 4th installment by now. How about isle of health where people are killed to avoid poluting the earth.

  5. I was going to be, but there did not seem to be much interest. Maybe next week I'll wrap it up

  6. This story's great irony is about to arrive, the unions are nearly extinct, so this is not satire, it is fiction.


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