I recently listened to the unabridged audio of Robert Heinlein's "For Us, The Living", which I got from my public library. Some things struck me as profound, while other either through the lense of nearly another century of history, or possibly logically failings of my own, struck me as overly simplified.
Lets start with the profound. This was, at least on its face, a Sci-Fi novel. But looking at the things Heinlein assumes we will and will not be able to achieve in 150 years (from 1939) struck me as odd. Flying cars common place, but no space travel. World wide face to face comms, but no internet to speak of. This perspective is obviously informed from nigh a century of extra history, in which we've solved some of the "impossible" issues, while we're still struggling with some of the "simple" issues. I guess these disconnects do more to illustrate the thinking of the 1930's and the views of what was and was not possible than to show what we have and have not done. My explorations in Sci-Fi from the first half of the 20th century show this as a constant.
The other thing I fond both worth writing about was the approach to social and economics issues that Heinlein proposes. My first reaction to is that it seems to be some strange, and yet functional form of Libertarian Socialism. The blending of the two ideas seems inherently impossible, and yet this society he creates appears to work, and well. I think even my categorization of it is unfair to most involved. I think that most Libertarians would object to being associated with this, because of the ongoing reliance on handouts from the government, and the rather high taxes. I think most Socialists would object because of the ongoing existence of private property and the seeking of individual wealth. But I those are likely folks attached only to an ideal, not the objective behind it. Would not the Libertarian be happy with how restrained the government is in how it regulates individual freedoms? The only crimes being direct harm to another. Wouldn't the Socialist be happy with the standard of living created for all? Healthcare, food, education, all provided to anyone. But this is also where I start to get fuzzy. I follow the logic that any currency not backed by something (gold, diamonds, turkeys, whatever) in inherently fiat. I also follow that it makes more sense to let an actual government do the printing of money than to let the banks do it. Maybe if someone had read this novel 25 years ago, the current state of the US could have been avoided. But I doubt it. The thing I have a hard time swallowing, outside the confines of the story, is that a government could be intelligent enough, and benevolent enough to actually pull of the controlled infusion of currency he describes. But it makes a good story. [Update 1]
Over all, I liked this book, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys socio-political fiction, and classic Sci-Fi
I've had more time to stew on this, and the other thing that continues to stick out to me is how overly simplified the economic models he uses as examples are. Especially how he assumes that business owners will only make a "reasonable profit". This assumes that business owners are aware of, and care about, the impact they're having on the overall economy (outside their customer base). This seems unlikely. Most business appear to operate in a mental bubble. Only first order inputs and outputs considered. It seems as if Heinlein assumes that the only "optimal" human beings will exist in his future. I guess that isn't all that different from any other Sci-Fi, where the creator assumes that humanity will evolve socially. We're closer to 2086 than we are to 1939, but I've yet to see any evidence of a mass move towards this enlightened state.