Some of you may know the RPG Cyberpunk 2020, which takes place in the year 2020.The world is your typical cyberpunk, as illustrated in books (Gibson) or films (Blade Runner). A lot of cybernetics, mega-corporations, etc.

I would like to create a world in a similar world, and it should be seen as a future of ours. However, I have some doubts we would reach such a country by 2020 (5 years from now). I don't know why.

Therefore what I'd like to know is how fast can we reach a cyberpunk society?

As this is a very complex and possibly broad question, I'd like, for now, to concentrate on the economy and politics. The society of cyberpunk 2020 is marked by the following point

  • most, if not all, of the economy is in the hands of 10-20 mega-corporations,
  • the state has a very little power and prerogatives left,
  • education, justice and security are in the hands of the corporations,
  • the state is poorer than the largest mega-corporations (viewed as a company, it would be ranked 15th or so).

We see that slowly in the last 40 years, in particular in Western Europe, the state owned companies are moved to privately owned. Some companies get omnipresent: Google, Unilever, Monsanto, etc. And as the change to Alphabet illustrates, those tend to diversify themselves to multiply their possibilities.

Assuming those trends continue, what could be a reasonable estimate for the earliest date when a country like the USA would economically surpassed by more than 15 mega-corporations.To give an idea, the GDP of the USA is about 250 times the income of google, but its budget is about 40 times that income.

  • $\begingroup$ "GDP of the state" doesn't make much sense. Do you mean where the product of a single multi-national is greater than the GDP of any single First World nation? $\endgroup$ – Green Sep 2 '15 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ Yes. You are right of course, I should mentioned just GDP of a country and not a state. but anyway, you have to idea right. $\endgroup$ – clem steredenn Sep 2 '15 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ I think we're pretty close to having the mega-corps count collectively as First-World countries. I summed up the profits (profits!) of the top 20 companies in the world and it came to 343.712 billion dollars. That puts their combined profits between Denmark and South Africa (34 and 33 on the list). It'll take a while to catch up to the US though. Its GDP is 17 trillion dollars. $\endgroup$ – Green Sep 2 '15 at 21:05
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    $\begingroup$ The power of mega-corps will only increase as Citizen's United remains in effect in the US. $\endgroup$ – Green Sep 2 '15 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ I was technically making a mistake. The GDP also includes the benefits made by google in the USA. So it will only catch the GDP if most of the profits are made abroad. I edited the question, to try to have less weitght on the GDP. The budget might be a better marker. $\endgroup$ – clem steredenn Sep 3 '15 at 5:40

Much like Gibson's works, while the growth of Mega Corporations may make a surface "cyberpunk" society, there will be lots of things happening in the economic "undergrowth", much like in a real ecosystem where we see the elephants, but are not as aware of the millions of insects that also inhabit the elephant's range.

In Gibson's works, we are often introduced to characters who are essentially super empowered individuals who have the ability to move through society offering desirable goods and services to other individuals, criminals or even corporations (one of his early stories; Johnny Mnemonic, has the titular character being a walking high density information repository, his bodyguard Molly is cybernetically enhanced, and they ally with a cyborged dolphin who was discharged from the Navy with built in circuitry capable of remotely reading secure computer systems).

In the real world, we see similar "slipping below the surface" endeavours like Air BnB and Uber (taking on the Hotel industry and the Taxi monopoly respectively), while crypto currencies like Bitcoin provide alternatives to State fiat money. Meshnets and dark nets proliferate around the world for people and groups who would rather operate without being monitored for various reasons (good and bad), and black and grey economies rival those of the State and the market shares of large corporations. In other words the gatekeeper functions of the State are being challenged from below rather than from above.

This can be explained by looking at economies as complex adaptive systems (similar to climate or ecosystems), where inputs do not result in linear outputs, and outputs are often displaced spatially and temporally from the inputs (Read the classic economic essay "I Pencil" http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/rdPncl1.html to see how even seemingly simple things are deeply interwoven with everything else). The second issue is often referred to as the "Local Knowledge Problem" http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/hykKnw1.html. The Local Knowledge Problem asserts that knowledge and information is diffused across large systems, and local actors can spot opportunities and act upon them far faster than large hierarchies that need to observe the information, process it up the chain, create a plan, pass instructions down the chain and wait for reports to come back up.

So what this really means is that while the traditional State may lose many of the "Gatekeeper" functions, the cyberpunk society will still be multifaceted and multi layered, with opportunities ranging from the hot dog guy at the bottom to the head of the mega corporation in the boardroom (looking across the street and wondering if he has time to slip out and buy a hot dog....). Indeed, I would suggest that the withering of the State is the last thing the megacorporations might want; they can currently play with lobbyists and rig rules and regulations to achieve quasi monopoly status by raising the entry barriers against potential competitors, while when the State no longer functions as a gatekeeper, then potentially the megacorporation will be much more vulnerable to competitors (maybe the hot dog guy will be the CEO of a globe spanning food services business in ten years time under a Gibson/Blade Runner cyberpunk society).

  • $\begingroup$ Sure, there are many parts to get a cyberpunk society, and you are right, the underworld is one of them. But both on the internet-side and IRL, we see the development of alternative economies. Nevertheless, to try to reduce the scope of my question, I was trying to focus on only one point. $\endgroup$ – clem steredenn Sep 3 '15 at 5:30
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    $\begingroup$ What I am pointing out is that the traditional design of Cyberpunk, with corporations substituting for States is neither accurate or even possible. In may senses, the Cyberpunk age is already starting, with individual empowerment ranging from 3D printing to self publishing on Amazon, and almost anything in between. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Sep 4 '15 at 3:23

I don't have a date in mind, but relevant is http://www.salon.com/2015/03/22/5_signs_america_is_devolving_into_a_plutocracy_partner/ . SF is often a reflection of society, so making it a caution of current trends is a good idea. Perhaps focus on the campaign funding changes that allow huge donations from corporate backers that can blow away non-corporate interest groups, as a turning point. Perhaps look at the first billion dollar campaign as a specific historical point.

Point is, look at existing issues that could be the historical background for the novel's present. Make a timeline including terms of office and commercial trends, and see where that lands you.

Other nations might have different timelines. Maybe a small nation becomes a "company town" and goes from near third world to serious economic power in a few years, with true success being the flip side of corporate ownership and lack of democracy.

You also need to decide if the population are oppressed serfs or really benefitting compared to the previous situation.

The other issue coming to rise in real life, at least in Texas, is an Orwellian whitewashing of history and deliberate misinformation campaign as official grade school textbooks.

Maybe that will cause a decline of economic power in the increasingly high-tech world, and the nimble "company town" nation will rise all the quicker. So, look at high-tech jobs and lead times for students to fill them. That's probably several decades for now 4th graders to have no interest or ability to get a STEM masters or PhD. This specific story line might not track your ideas, but the point, along with terms of office and product lifecycles, is to think about professional career lifecycles.

Finally, economic boom or depression will affect all the cyber-related changes. People must be able to affort tge new gadgets and corporations must have customers. Prosperity will hasten the major changes.

This also points out something: the major power corporations must be getting lots of income. If the people are downtrodden and poor, how does that work? Perhaps sales are to different nations and the situation you describe is local. Or, people complain about power and freedom all the time enjoying a successful economy that the corporate rule produces. Or, some of each, in a caste system. Ref: look at Mondragon, if I got that name right.

Also, set it in a world of climate change, with trade routes opened up by melting ice in north America, and shifting agricultural locations. That could provide for rapid change: drought in one place, and a "company town" nation setting up in Yukon or something.


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