Rodney listened intently as Jessica explained how the capitalist economy that she grew up with worked. All the while she wondered why someone in her head would need so much explanation. As Rodney asked questions she decided that it was so that she could make sense of it herself.
“Wow, how much do you work?” Rodney was shocked when Jessica told him that in order to get necessities like food and housing you have to work for money.
“That depends. Anything you work over 40 hours a week is considered overtime, and they have to pay you extra. Right now I am working 52 hours per week.”
“So that must mean you can buy more than you need, right? Why work so much?”
Jessica smiled at Rodney, he seemed so naive. “Actually I am struggling to get what I need. I work as much as my job needs me, and they don’t like having to pay the extra.”
Rodney thought for a moment. He hesitated for a bit before saying, “Here everything that we need is supplied. Whether you work or not you have a roof over your head, food to eat, clean water, internet, whatever.”
Jessica just sighed.
“People do work, but it is to get better things. If you don’t work, you live in shacks. but the more you work, the more education you have, and the more contributions you make to society, the better your living arrangements and the higher priority for one-of-a-kind things.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well a lot of things are mass-produced, and whoever wants one can have it. But artists work hard, and the things they make are put online where people who want it can put their name on a list. The person who has the highest priority on that list gets the thing.”
“But wouldn’t that mean that the people on top just get all the cool stuff, and everyone else gets cheap crap?” Jessica paused for a moment. “Well that happens with money too.”
Rodney looked a little cockeyed at her before continuing. “Everyone gets to improve their ranking. It is recalculated every day. The work adds up per year so you get a re-set, the education and contributions are lifetime. To prevent the same people from getting everything, each person has a limit to how many things they can get this way each year, and overall.”
Jessica thought for a minute, “So if you haven’t been working much and something comes up that you really want?”
“Depending on the time of year, you could work as much as you can to rack up hours. But usually people work so they have it when they want it. Because people save up the few things they can get, they usually don’t even use up their quota by the end of the year.”
“That’s pretty neat actually.” Jessica said, “But I am trying to figure out how people just get what they need. It sounds like magic.”
“Most things are done by machines. There are a few jobs that machines can’t do. The hours those jobs take are divided up and everyone is told how much they need to work a year, it comes out to about 10 hours a week. As long as we keep on it there is plenty of food to go around. And there are plenty of homes for people, so why not use them?” Rodney thought for a moment, “I guess that is why you have to work so much, necessities are scarce?” Rodney asked in the most well-meaning way.
Jessica was a bit taken aback. She paused before speaking “No, not really. There is plenty to go around, but everything has a price. The people who work to produce the food need to get paid, the people who move from the food to where it gets consumed need to get paid, it’s all about supply and demand.” Jessica caught herself using the rhetoric to explain it, but questioned it for the first time.
After letting that sink in, she changed the subject, “So if there is so little work that needs to be done, what extra work do people do?”
“They create things,” Rodney said as if it was the most natural thing ever. “Some people do the art that others want, other people built the machines that do the work. Every time a new machine takes something over, there is less work that needs to get done, so in the end it helps everyone. This park was created as an art project.
Rodney tried again to find an answer, “I will have to show you how the machines do things around here. That way you can show people there what to do.”
Jessica was wondering what marvels this place must have in store if everything is done by machine. But she also knew that so little in her world was done by hand, that she had to wonder how different things actually were.
“In my world, artists and creators are laughed at for not having ‘real jobs’.” Jessica said quietly, nearly to herself.
Rodney responded just as quietly, “That must be a pretty boring world, nothing changes, nothing is beautiful.