By the end of the year in 2133, it had become obvious to some of the more experienced observers of human history that the “Raman Boom” was leading mankind toward disaster. Dire warnings of impending economic doom started being heard above the euphoric shouts of the millions who had recently vaulted into the middle and upper classes. Suggestions to balance budgets and limit credit at all levels of the economy were ignored. Instead, creative effort was expended to come up with one way after another of putting more spending power in the hands of a populace that had forgotten how to say wait, much less no, to itself.
The global stock market began to sputter in January of 2134 and there were predictions of a coming crash. But to most humans spread around the Earth and throughout the scattered colonies in the solar system, the concept of such a crash was beyond comprehension. After all, the world economy had been expanding for over nine years, the last two years at a rate unparalleled in the previous two centuries. World leaders insisted that they had finally found the mechanisms that could truly inhibit the downturns of the capitalistic cycles. And the people believed them-until early May of 2134.
During the first three months of the year the global stock markets went inexorably down, slowly at first, then in significant drops. Many people, reflecting the superstitious attitude toward cometary visitors that had been prevalent for two thousand years, somehow associated the stock market’s difficulties with the return of Halley’s Comet. Its apparition starting in March turned out to be far brighter than anyone expected. For weeks scientists all over the world were competing with each other to explain why it was so much more brilliant than originally predicted. After it swooped past perihelion in late March and began to appear in the evening sky in mid-April, its enormous tail dominated the heavens.
In contrast, terrestrial affairs were dominated by the emerging world economic crisis. On May 1, 2134, three of the largest international banks announced that they were insolvent because of bad loans. Within two days a panic had spread around the world. The more than one billion home terminals with access to the global financial markets were used to dump individual portfolios of stocks and bonds. The communications load on the Global Network System (GNS) was immense. The data transfer machines were stretched far beyond their capabilities and design specifications. Data gridlock delayed transactions for minutes, then hours, contributing additional momentum to the panic.
By the end of a week two things were apparent-that over half of the world’s stock value had been obliterated and that many individuals, large and small investors alike, who had used their credit options to the maximum, were now virtually penniless. The supporting data bases that kept track of personal bank accounts and automatically transferred money to cover margin calls were flashing disaster messages in almost 20 percent of the houses in the world.
In truth, however, the situation was much much worse. Only a small percentage of the transactions were actually clearing through all the supporting computers because the data rates in all directions were far beyond anything that had ever been anticipated. In computer language, the entire global financial system went into the “cycle slip” mode. Billions and billions of information transfers at lower priorities were postponed by the network of computers while the higher priority tasks were being serviced first.
The net result of these data delays was that in most cases individual electronic bank accounts were not properly debited, for hours or even days, to account for the mounting stock market losses, Once the individual investors realized what was occurring, they rushed to spend whatever was still showing in their balances before the computers completed all the transactions. By the time governments and financial institutions understood fully what was going on and acted to stop all this frenetic activity, it was too late. The confused system had crashed completely. To reconstruct what had happened required carefully dumping and interleaving the backup checkpoint files stored at a hundred or so remote centers around the world.
For over three weeks the electronic financial management system that governed all money transactions was inaccessible to everybody. Nobody knew how much money he had-or how much anyone else had. Since cash had long ago become obsolete, only eccentrics and collectors had enough bank notes to buy even a week’s groceries. People began to barter for necessities. Pledges based on friendship and personal acquaintance enabled many people to survive temporarily. But the pain had only begun. Every time the international management organization that oversaw the global financial system would announce that they were going to try to come back on-line and would plead with people to stay off their terminals except for emergencies, their pleas would be ignored, processing requests would flood the system, and the computers would crash again.
It was only two more weeks before the scientists of the world agreed on an explanation for the additional brightness in the apparition of Halley’s Comet. But it was over four months before people could count again on reliable data base information from the GNS. The cost to human society of the enduring chaos was incalculable. By the time normal electronic economic activity had been restored, the world was in a violent financial down-spin that would not bottom out until twelve years later. It would be well over fifty years before the Gross World Product would return to the heights reached before the Crash of 2134.
AFTER THE CRASH
There is unanimous agreement that The Great Chaos profoundly altered human civilization in every way. No segment of society was immune. The catalyst for the relatively rapid collapse of the existing institutional infrastructure was the market crash and subsequent breakdown of the global financial system; however, these events would not have been sufficient, by themselves, to project the world into a period of unprecedented depression. What followed the initial crash would have been only a comedy of errors if so many lives had not been lost as a result of the poor planning. Inept world political leaders first denied or ignored the existing economic problems, then overreacted with a suite of individual measures that were baffling and/or inconsistent, and finally threw up their arms in despair as the global crisis deepened and spread. Attempts to coordinate international solutions were doomed to failure by the increasing need of each of the sovereign nations to respond to its own constituency.
In hindsight, it was obvious that the intemationalization of the world that had taken place during the twenty-first century had been flawed in at least one significant way. Although many activities-communications, trade, transportation (including space), currency regulation, peacekeeping, information exchange, and environmental protection, to name the most important-had indeed become international (even interplanetary, considering the space colonies), most of the agreements that established these international institutions contained codicils that allowed the individual nations to withdraw, upon relatively short notice, if the policies promulgated under the accords no longer served the interests of the country in question. In short, each of the nations participating in the creation of an international body had the right to abrogate its national involvement, unilaterally, when it was no longer satisfied with the actions of the group.
If you change some of the dates and the technical details, it could apply directly to today; banks collapsing thanks to bad loans, no one believing a mega crash can happen, etc etc.
We must remember that the author is the man who not only wrote 2001 A Space Odyssey but he also invented the telecommunications satellite. Insightful does not begin to describe the imaginative powers of this man, which is why I have always been curious about the strange disconnect between his obvious intelligence and his skepticism about UFOs being Alien Spacecraft. It is clear to anyone who has done their research that Aliens do come here and have been coming here. Arthur Clarke is not someone to make a pronouncement without doing his research, and so how can we explain his irrational skepticism?
That was a major digression. The reason why I posted this is that this man is good at predicting the future, and I do not like what he is predicting; World Government, INEPT World Government, population control, the disappearance of the family; in fact, every New World Order wet dream is portrayed by Clarke as inevitable, and mostly desirable. The passages where he does this stick out from the story (in Rendezvous with Rama) like spikes on a cactus. They are jarring, so much so, its like they have been peppered into the story as an afterthought.
In any case, whatever writers and futurist predict, the future is not set, and there is no reason to assume that the future will be cashless, Fascist and bad. The future could be Cashed, free and sustainable, and Clarke and his NWO=GOOD Science Cult Papacy buddies proved mercifully wrong. One thing we all agree on, as demonstrated in the above passage; government cannot control the market, and no matter what happens, there WILL be crashes in the absence of hard money and real economic freedom.