Recently read a short story by Frederik Pohl called The Midas Plague and I need to get this out of my head.

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Posted by SgtSphynx (2625 posts) -

Here's a quick synopsis of the story:

Humanity has solved the cheap energy problem and made hyper efficient robots that produce everything in quantities greater than what the human population can consume. The society is structured in a class system where the poor have to consume vast quantities of the goods to fulfill their ration quotas and the rich can live simple lives. The main character is a poor engineer and develops a solution to the problem.

Now, I have to say this first and foremost, I really enjoyed the short story. That said, I take issue with the entire premise of the story, and that arises from the engineer's solution and the basic setup of the world.

Here's the solution arrived at in the story: The engineer modifies the robots that serve him to assist in the consumption and wear of the goods that he has to use.

Here's my issue with the premise:

  1. If humanity can overcome the cheap energy problem and make hyper-producing robots, then they can fucking tune those robots to not produce too much.
  2. Why is it that our protagonist is the first one to come up with the solution?
  3. If he can change it so the robots assist with the consumption of the goods, why can't he change the way the robots produce in the first fucking place?
  4. Why is waste non-existent in this world?

In the end the robots still produce too much, they just help the humans in using and consuming it all. The root problem still exists. Maybe it is because I am looking at this story with an engineering degree, 65 years after it was published, but the basic premise of the world does not hold water in my eyes.

Anyway, had to get that out of my head. I still enjoyed the story though.

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#1 Posted by Goboard (293 posts) -

It's a story about maintaining class hierarchy and consumer consumption, not engineering. Try reading it that way and it should be pretty clear why the obvious problems weren't solved and something like cheap renewable energy was.

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#2 Edited by rgdraconic (84 posts) -

I'm with Goboard, but if you want a.. dumber(?) version of your question that has a more explained, drawn out answer(?) of the hierarchy, you'll love Pohl's Gateway stories. Or Heechee Saga, whichever you prefer.

It gives a more sobering and deus ex kind of explanation as to how advances were discovered by normal people, and why the rest of the 0.00001% couldn't give a shit about it all.

Good stuff though.