A History of the Future, part 5.

Secondary Powers

The Triangle: Japan, Korea and Taiwan

Korea entered the century sundered in two; but in the face of famine and intradynastic conflict, the dictatorship of North Korea collapsed, and Korea merged once more into a single, albeit confused, polity. Although the immediate outcome of accepting their poorer neighbours was disastrous for South Korea, in the long term it brought considerable economic benefits, as the money of the South was wedded to the cheap labour of the North to produce a manufacturing giant. Threatened by the might of neighbouring China, the unified Korea sought alliances with fellow developed economies Japan and Taiwan, leading eventually to a customs union and a single market, although their governments remained distinct. This co-operation to some extent ameliorated the economic problems caused by decreasing international trade, although this, combined with the trinity’s lack of natural resources, was nonetheless an almost crippling factor, which prevented the three states from keeping pace with the Chinese.

The Triangle remained democratic throughout the century, but was not always liberal. Politics was dominated by the great conglomerates, who held all political parties in line. Eventually, a corporate career was seen as an easier route to political power than the parties themselves. The conglomerates, however, were not the tyrannical giants of America – workers had considerable representation, and an ethos prevailed of responsibility toward the company workers. While decrying the dictatorship in China, the Triangle increasingly imitated its programme of cultural purification, and Chinese fashion became more important than American.

Unfortunately, with a dependence on exports and imports, the Triangle crashed particularly hard during the Long Winter, falling from ‘superpower’ status. The conglomerates provided welfare for the poor as a way of gaining popularity and political power, and so became more central than the State itself. At the same time, the populace sought to deal with the disaster through a reversion to older sureties, and a resurrection of a more nationalistic, family-oriented culture.

Demographically, the Triangle, and in particular Japan, also led the way in urbanisation: by the end of the era, more than 90% of the population of Japan lived in a single conurbation. This further limited the power of the state, as mayors became more powerful than prime ministers, and an increasing proportion of the population came to live in cities or city-districts created, owned and run by a single conglomerate. These high-density arcologies allowed individuals to live their entire lives under the wing of their parent company.

With little oil, the Triangle sought early on to lead the world in other energy sources. Between renewable resources and fission, they had already completely removed fossil fuels from their electricity production by the time of the Collapse, and came to use battery and hydrogen technology for much of their domestic transport. As a result, their domestic economies remained largely stable throughout the Long Winter, after the initial crash, with only declining demands for their goods pulling them down. However, by the end of the depression, their greater energy resources were being exploited in high-tech, high-mechanisation factories, when much of the world was reverting to manual labour – consequently, they were able to make small recoveries by exporting cheaply to China, and although they crashed further at first, their status improved over time as other countries gradually fell past them.

The first economically-viable fusion reactor was created in Japan – although it was supported by Chinese and European investment, both financial and intellectual.

The Federal Kingdom of Canada

Canada grew dramatically in the Second Age of Oil, supported by the world’s second-largest oil reserves. With wealth, and hence power, resting with a handful of oil barons, Canada soon became America writ large, though its manufacturing sector never grew to the same degree as that in America, the economy remaining more focused on services. With less competition for power, the Canadian barons developed more benign policies than their southern neighbours, and the country became seen as a little Europe, with the barons supporting substantial welfare payments and being concerned with intangible life-benefits. However, their benevolence was not weakness: they resisted all attempts to introduce worker control of their companies, and eventually took over the state. When the succession of the British monarchy fell to a Prince who was seen as being ‘anti-Canada’, ‘socialist’, and ‘decadent’, the barons organised a referendum on the monarchy that led to the appointment of a distant cousin as the new and sovereign King of Canada. The new King was politically active, and when deadlock occurred in Parliament, he appointed a neutral board of experts to manage a caretaker government. The caretakers, unofficially selected by the oligarchs, never handed over power, and Canada ceased to be a democracy, at least at the upper levels. As this occurred in a time of popular discontent with corrupt politicians, it was widely approved of. Dissent in the east was dealt with by granting independence to Quebec, and to the Atlantic provinces.

Manual and farm labour in Canada was largely undertaken by migrants from America.

Brazil

For much of the Second Age of Oil, Brazil was barely independent, as it came to be ruled by the corporate proxies of richer nations, all desperate to exploit the nation’s vast resources. During this time, official policy aligned Brazil with European-style Corporatism, but the de facto independence of the foreign companies undermined this considerably. In effect, Brazil became a ‘wild west’ for untrammelled competition; the government was corrupt, unstable, and incapable of effecting any real change. This only accelerated after the Collapse: as the owner of a large portion of the earth’s dwindling resources, Brazil actually grew in the early years of the depression. But the cost was terrible hardships for the poor, and a loss of security for a large middle-class that had been established by foreign investment. With the government unable to reign in the plutocrats, the middle classes abandoned the system, and supported first a military coup and then an elected but strongly authoritarian government. This new, ‘verticalist’ government was corporatist, but unlike Europe it was corporatist only at the upper levels: the government set policy under advice from unions and small business leaders. Large business leaders no longer existed: the first campaign of verticalism was to seize the assets of the multinationals and redistribute them to the middle classes, while the second was to send the army into the favelas to crack down on crime. Political and cultural purges soon followed. Foreign governments protested loudly, and America threatened to send troops – but the thought of the largest guerrilla war in history and the threat of Chinese intervention forced them to back down. It was better to support the government and trade with it than lose out entirely on Brazil’s resources.

A key part of verticalism was military spending, and the internal war against urban and Amazonian guerrillas was not enough to support such expenditure; in addition, the dramatic deficit budgeting risked hyperinflation. The only solution was an expansionary war: the Brazilian army moved in support of local revolutionaries to establish vassal states in first Uruguay and then Paraguay, before conquering a belligerent Peru. This lead to a far greater war, for Peru and Paraguay were allies (indeed, near-vassals) of the other regional power, Venezuela. Venezuela had immense oil reserves in the Orinoco region, and only constant political conflicts had kept it from becoming a major world power – it had, however, come to dominate the Andes, the Caribbean and much of Central America, as a result of its wealth. It declared war on Brazil. The Orinoco War was the largest in a century, other than the various civil wars in India, and although foreign troops were not involved, the superpowers tacitly backed one side or the other: China and Europe supporting Venezuela; America, Canada and the Triangle sponsoring Brazil. In the end, Brazil could not be stopped, and what remained of the Orinoco reserves fell to it, to be used to pay for the costs of the war. Venezuela was crippled, and reduced to its Atlantic coastline. Brazil became the dominant power in on the continent, opposed only by Chinese-backed Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, and the American colony of Colombia. Venezuela, for its part, finally established stable democratic government, and became a minor but reasonably developed country following the European model.

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