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Economics and the Standard of Living


The Domination has three economies, separate but interlinked: the command economy of the Combines— huge quasi-monopolistic corporations usually partially owned by the State; the bureaucratic/civil service economy of the free employees of the State and the Combines; and a large "private sector" of small business, which employs both serf and free labor.

Most town serfs are compound-dwellers. Their lifestyle was described by an American visitor as "life imprisonment in a cut-rate boarding school." Clothing is a standardized uniform; rations (adequate and well-balanced but dull) are issued in compound messhalls; accommodations are clean but spartan dormitories. The general tenor of life is of an unutterable drabness, with virtually every non-leisure moment done by a mass lockstep "time-and-motion" system. Religion, folk-culture (e.g., song, dance, etc.) and a furtive black market in alcohol and recreational drugs are the main outlets. Compound serfs had no contact with the market economy, never touch money (and rarely even the compound-scrip issued for bonus and incentive programs), and often remain their entire life in the compound and its crèches. Each compound, therefore, tends to develop its own subculture. There is a carefully maintained gradation of conditions, so that transfer may be used as a punishment/incentive; for example, some compounds are single-sex, others involve more disagreeable work, and so forth, until the mine-compounds of the Ituri and Kashgar are reached.

Plantation life is basically similar but much more informal, with more opportunities for personal choice but also more contact with the master-caste. Privately owned serfs in the towns are in a midway position. It is important to bear in mind that serfs are cheap. They cost less both to purchase and maintain than an auto, since standardized, mass-produced ration and clothing packs are sold everywhere.

The Citizen caste lives in a cross between a very comprehensive welfare state and a consumer society. The top one-tenth of the economy is reserved for Citizen labor, which has always been scarce and very expensive. Citizen employees are usually organized in guilds, which collectively own about a third of the economy. Taxes are relatively low, since the State derives much of its income from profits on investment and ground-rent (being the only landowner, in the strict sense). Education through university, medical care and much else is provided free of charge; no Draka Citizen is actually poor. Only those with severe personality disorders manage to fall below the general upper-middle-class minimum, and they are usually institutionalized. (And sterilized, under the Eugenics Laws.) Note also that the structure of Draka society gives the Citizen caste rewards that no amount of money could buy, and that personal service and its products are very cheap—servants are the largest occupational category in the Domination, and even children usually bring at least one with them to school.

The plantation aristocrats and other members of the Draka elite live in almost unbelievable sybaritic luxury— when not under arms in the field.

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