This book also contains three new stories that have never been published before: "Black Ordermage," set in Modesitt's bestselling Recluce series; "Beyond the Obvious Wind," set in his Corean Chronicles universe; and "Always Outside the Lines," which is related to the Ghost of Columbia books. Viewpoints Critical is an excellent introduction to the work of one of the major SF and fantasy writers publishing today.
Other Series by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
The Saga of Recluce
The Imager Portfolio
The Corean Chronicles
The Spellsong Cycle
The Ghost Books
The Ecolitan Matter
The Forever Hero
The Green Progression
Hammer of Darkness
The Parafaith War
The Octagonal Raven
The Ethos Effect
The Eternity Artifact
The Elysium Commission
Empress of Eternity
The One-Eyed Man
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|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||9.18(w) x 6.16(h) x 0.92(d)|
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By L. E. Modesitt Jr.
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2008 L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
All rights reserved.
The Great American Economy
"What a miserable day it is," groused James Boulin Chartwell, III.
A junior member of the Council of Economic Advisors, he often groused. When he didn't grouse, he grumbled.
George didn't exactly agree with his boss. True, the smog had cut visibility outside to less than a hundred yards. The April day was grayer than usual, but what else could you really expect in the Greater Washington Reservation?
"George! Do you know that our figures are off by One-hundredth of One Percent?"
George sighed. He'd known since yesterday when the monthly inflation statistics had been printed out that there would be trouble. For the third month in a row there had been a small, but significant, inflationary trend in the Gross National Product figures. The unplanned increase could not be explained by increases in wages, construction costs, defense spending, conservation and reclamation, or anything else.
"George! Do you hear me? The President is Not At All Happy about this. If it gets out that there has already been an annual rate of inflation of over one-tenth of one percent this year, that could swing Public Opinion heavily in the election. You know we can't keep it a secret much longer."
James Boulin Chartwell, III, refilled his glass with one hundred percent pure mineral water.
"I take it, sir, that you would earnestly desire me to discover the cause of this blight upon our Great American Economy." George was about ready to quit, if only he could persuade himself that leaving the Reservation would not be the end of his career.
"I don't give an obsolete go piece what you do. But you ought to want to know how this could happen, when Government Expenditures are registered to the Last Penny, and when our computers keep track of the Private Sector to the Very Last Dime." James Boulin Chartwell, III, was a firm devotee of the bureaucratic school that spoke in capital letters.
George signed again. It would be a very long day.
"George! Don't you understand? It Can't Happen. It just Can't Happen." James Boulin Chartwell, III, finished his second glass of one hundred percent pure mineral water.
George shrugged. He knew why it wasn't supposed to happen. The growth of the nongovernmental sector was computed on a full-coverage, day-by-day, real-time basis, taking into account all variables such as price and wage increases, construction rates, investment rates, and savings. The basic government budget was programmed into the computers as well. Adjustments in the basic growth rates were made on a weekly basis by changing the magnitude of variable items in the government budget. The system was about ten years old in its present form. It had worked reasonably well, although many government agencies complained bitterly about budgets that varied from week to week. Defense and Urban Affairs, of course, were above variable controls. Status was working in a department with a fixed budget.
"Well," demanded James Boulin Chartwell, III, "do you think you can Solve the Problem?"
George shrugged again. He wanted his morning Coke.
"I'll see what I can find out."
As he left the office, he smiled at Mildred. She glared back, as usual. She disliked George's flippant attitude toward the very respected junior advisor.
George wandered down to the cafeteria. It was after coffee break and deserted. He picked up a cup, filled it with ice, and pounded on the soda dispenser until it delivered his Coke. He debated sitting down, then went back to the office he shared with two secretaries and three other junior economists. Tricia was the only one present. He looked at her.
"Mary took leave today. She'll be back tomorrow." Tricia had a very pleasant voice. She also weighed close to two hundred pounds and was a head taller than George. George liked to consider himself as a full six feet.
He eased behind his desk, setting the cup down on his blotter. Tricia began to type again.
"Tricia, can you get me the income figures on the Mafia for the last quarter?" She nodded, but did not stop typing.
"Now! Damn it!"
"Yes, Mr. Graylin."
He looked around the office. He imagined that the other three economists were scattered all over the Washington Reservation briefing various staffs on the sundry economic idiocies still existing.
"Tricia, add to that a summary of all the major flows of union funds. Make sure that includes the pension funds and the mutuals."
He felt guilty for yelling. He'd pay for it later. He sipped the Coke and tried to think. Who could be pumping all those dollars into the economy?
"Mr. Graylin, your readouts are coming through."
"Thank you, Tricia." He went over and collected the first pile of printouts. Tricia smiled too sweetly and resumed typing.
After five hours, including a hasty Coke and a sandwich, he was still in the dark about the Blight on the Great American Economy.
He picked up the phone and punched in a combination.
"Morey, this is George Graylin. I've got a problem that maybe you could help me with. Can you stop by after dinner — say about eight thirty?"
"Fine with me, George. Delores has chamber music appreciation tonight."
George wound up the rest of the afternoon's trivia, had a Coke, and dinner, in the cafeteria, then marched to the Reservation gate. The exit machine refused his bank card and insisted on his ID. Outside it was raining. He had left his raincoat in the office. He only had to straight-arm one secretary to get a cab, but got a faceful of Mace when the girl already in the back panicked. On the second try, he made it. After locking the doors, he dialed in his block code. The cab almost wouldn't accept his slightly mangled bank card, but finally digested the information after burping the bent card back twice.
Exiting the cab at full gallop, he dashed into the foyer, slammed the entry card into the gate, and slipped into the apartment recreation hall. A few were playing pool, but the area was generally deserted. Eight was early in the evening.
Morey Weissenberg was small and intense. He was a very good attorney.
"Let me get this straight, George. Someone or some organization is putting money into the economy. What's wrong with that?"
"No, no. It's not that. Somehow someone is putting money into the economy that never entered the country legally or was never earned here."
"How do you figure that?"
"Because for the last three months, overall income is higher than the total of goods and services indicates it should be. It's driving us nuts. The Honorable James Boulin Chartwell, III, especially. Taxes are being paid on that unknown money. It pays for more goods and services. It's not from the government."
George gulped down the rest of his Coke.
"So you're wondering if one of my clients might know where this extra cash is coming from?"
"Morey, I checked the records of your boys before I called you. As far as I can tell, they have nothing to do with it. It just boils down to the fact that there is more money in the country than this country could have produced."
"I get the picture. And you figure that if you can't solve it, you're liable to get runaway inflation?"
Morey was sipping Scotch, intensely.
"Not really. It's not even a whole lot of money. Could be as little as three to five million. Maybe less, depending on where it's dumped into the economy and the multiplier effect. The real problem for me is that it's got the Council upset because their pretty little charts don't work out."
George wandered into the kitchen, grabbed another Coke, and poured it into his glass.
"Care for more Scotch?" he mumbled while crunching an ice cube.
"No, thank you. George? Have you thought about an outside country dumping funds just to foul up the economy?"
"No, but I think that the effort would cost more than the results. You'd have to have a pretty sophisticated distribution system. I'll check on it tomorrow, though."
"I really ought to go, George. Delores will be furious if she happens to get home first. I'll let you know if I hear anything."
"Well, thanks anyway, Morey."
After Morey left, George reset the defense screens and went to bed.
"Good morning, Mr. Graylin," called Mary cheerfully.
George crawled behind his desk and clutched the Coke she always had waiting. He hadn't slept well.
"Mary, can you get the currency transfer records for the major Commbloc countries?"
He sat in his normal morning stupor until they arrived. The records said no country had the international balance to get away with it undetected.
The morning memo run had an Important Memo from the Desk of James Boulin Chartwell, III, to the effect that James Boulin Chartwell, III, suggested that George Jordan Graylin, Jr., stop riding a donkey and get on with discovering who was Betraying the Great American Economy before All Was Lost.
Feeling that all was lost anyway, George took the Reservation shuttle over to the new congressional addition and briefed Congressman Dither's new staff economist on the role of recovery and reclamation in the variable budget system. He came back to the office to find another Important Memo on his desk. It said, translated: Have you saved the Great American Economy?
He threw it in the pulper.
"Mr. Graylin, you have a luncheon engagement with the Bank Tellers of Greater Washington at the Burr Room." Tricia smiled a very superior smile as he scurried out the door.
Percival P. Pentamount, Executive Vice President of the Greater American Bank, was the featured speaker. The topic was "The Role of the Great American Banking System in the Great American Economy." Since the government regulated the economy, and the banks' role was zilch, George went to sleep. He woke up to the relieved applause of the Bank Tellers of Greater Washington.
The meeting broke up as the tellers scurried back to their tells. Percival P. Pentamount was approaching. George eyed an emergency exit, then shrugged.
"Did you like the talk?"
Percival P. Pentamount was round, white-haired, pleasant-looking, blue-eyed, and well aware of all four attributes.
George suppressed a yawn. "It was quite a pep talk."
"Must keep the troops happy. I enjoy making them all feel wanted." Percival rubbed his hands together eagerly. He continued. "All in a day's work, you know. Banking is the Heart of the Economy." Percival then beamed at George.
George managed a smile.
"Well, I must be hastening back to the Bank. A pleasure meeting you, sir."
Percival P. Pentamount waddled quickly off.
George sighed, gulped down the rest of his Coke, and lurched to his feet. He only knocked over one glass in his retreat.
Getting back to the office was easy. He grabbed the first cab that slowed, shattering the eardrums of a teentough who tried to cycle him down. He recharged the ultrabeamer as soon as he got through the Reservation gate.
Collapsed at his desk, he found another memo. The Important Memo decreed: "Get to the Heart of the Problem. The President and I are Counting on You, George."
He tossed it into the pulper. Then he burped.
"Bad day, George?"
Norman Dentine had a flashing smile and a slightly patronizing manner. His only asset, to George's way of thinking, was that he was seldom in the office.
"No. Terrible day."
"Sorry to hear that. I'd give you a hand, but I'm due to brief Senator Titegold in an hour."
"No problem, Norm. No problem."
George sighed. There ought to be some way to get to the heart of the problem. He straightened up, abruptly.
"Mary, I need some statistical research done."
"But, Mr. Graylin, I'm way behind."
"Don't worry about that. The President is Counting on Us, as the Very Honorable James Boulin Chartwell, III, would say."
Three days later, George emerged from his stack of printouts with very little printable to say. It was Monday, and it was still gray.
He picked up the telephone.
"Morey, you've got to help me. I think I'm onto something, but it's driving me nuts."
Morey arrived promptly at eight. George reset the defense screen by the apartment door.
"Delores says I can give you an hour and no more, George, so get on with it."
George poured Morey a Scotch, lifted an ice bucket and a carton of Cokes, and lumbered into the study. He slumped into the chair behind the desk.
"All right, Morey. Here's where I am. First, this bootleg money has to get into the economy from some legitimate source. It can't come through a sector that deals in physical goods because I'd be able to catch that through the IRS Data Link by comparing costs, input-output, and profit figures. Any goods producer would have to hide it through abnormally high profits. Same in the service sectors. No one in any of those sectors is showing higher profits. Then I hit on the financial service boys — the brokerage houses, the mutual funds, the insurance companies, and the banks. I thought that if anyone showed a higher net, I'd be set. But the fluctuations from institution to institution killed that idea."
George paused and gulped the rest of the Coke. He opened another.
"George, what about the possibility of higher costs disguising higher profits?"
Morey was still on his first Scotch.
"That doesn't show up, either. I ran a cost analysis of everyone big enough to have that kind of effect. According to the Census and IRS data, no one big enough to affect the economy has costs appreciably higher than competitors."
George dropped into the chair again and kicked off his shoes.
"Hell, Morey, I'm going nuts. I even checked the Treasury Department and the Fed about total money supply. The Treasury said no, they were not fiddling with the money supply and ran me a set of tests to prove it. The Federal Reserve boys nearly blew their programming computer when they saw the figures I brought them. They didn't like it one bit. If I don't get an answer immediately, they'll have those figures all over Greater Washington in a day or so."
"You mean, the money supply is definitely larger? Are reserves a problem?"
Morey was interested, abstractly.
"That brings us to the point, Morey. I do have one idea, but I don't know if it's technically possible. And I can't ask anyone if it is. The question itself would panic too many people. So ..."
"Well, what is it, George? I can do your dirty work for you again, I suppose."
George told him.
"I don't know, George. I'll let you know."
George reset the apartment defense screen when Morey left.
"George, you have rendered the Government a Great Service. You have stopped a Despicable Plan to Undermine the Great American Economy. I am Proud of You. The President is Proud of You."
James Boulin Chartwell, III, no longer the Junior Economic Advisor, sipped his glass of one hundred percent pure mineral water.
"I think We just might be able to Find a Place for You, George."
George smiled. It was going to be a long summer.
The formalities accomplished, Mary waited for George. She cornered him with a Coke.
"Why banks, George?"
"As Percival P. Pentamount would say, Banking is the Heart of the Economy. What better place to pump in a little umph?"
George sipped the Coke thoughtfully.
"Once I saw how it could be done, and Morey confirmed it, the hardest problem was to find out who was doing it. The idea wouldn't have been possible years ago with all the paperwork involved then. Now it's simple. All a crooked banker has to do is a little computer manipulation. When funds are transferred, the bank computers link. The sender bank computer subtracts funds from itself and the accounts involved. The receiver bank adds funds to both. Old Percy had a percentage of the funds retained when the bank sent them to another. But only on certain accounts. This created a bit of extra money."
"George, that doesn't make sense."
"But it does. Look at it this way. Say that Percival has a hundred dollars in his own account. He transfers fifty dollars from that account to another account in his own name in another bank. The computer in Percy's bank obediently sends the fifty dollars to the second bank. The next step was Percival's stroke of genius. He programmed his own bank's computer to 'forget' to deduct that fifty dollars from the original account. Since the computer conveniently 'forgets' that Percy even sent the funds, Percy is left with his original hundred dollars still intact, plus fifty more in his second account in that other bank."
George took a quick swallow of the Coke.
"Now you have to realize that this actually happened only to a few out of all the bank's transfers. Percy was smart enough to realize that the gimmicked transactions could just be a small percentage of the total number of transactions that the bank handled."
"But how did they balance the books?" Mary was a great believer in balance.
"That was the beauty of it. Since Percy programmed the computer to 'forget' the gimmicked deals, the magnetic transfer slips covering those deals were never printed out. That meant that the printed records of the bank agreed with the computer records. According to both the printed and computer records, the money never left Percy's bank."
"Now, wait a second, George. You mean that Percival just sneaked down into the computer room one night and told the machine to do all this?" Mary shared a certain awe of computers with the rest of the world.
Excerpted from Viewpoints Critical by L. E. Modesitt Jr.. Copyright © 2008 L. E. Modesitt, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsIntroduction
The Great American Economy
Rule of Law
Iron Man, Plastic Ships
Black Ordermage [Saga of Recluce]
News Clips Recovered from the NYC Ruins
Beyond the Obvious Wind [Corean Chronicles]
Always Outside the Lines: Four Battles [Ghosts of Columbia]
The Dock to Heaven
Sisters of Sarronyn, Sisters of Westwind [Saga of Recluce]
The Swan Pilot