I wrote this originally on a whim after reading something about industrial policy. I was trying to see what the impact on real people might be…
By Jason Gibbs
The government today announced their intention to nationalise Hardys, Julco and Faberdashers. These last three independent great national champions will be merged into the United Retail Company, serving every aspect of our daily lives. URC produces items from soap to dishwashers, and will now have the strength to compete with the foreign firms who have begun to dominate our domestic market.
Gladys sat in her comfortable chair, and stared at her supermarket receipt. She did try to buy British, but it was just so hard. She’d saved nearly twenty percent over the previous month’s shopping by switching to these odd-sounding brands. Perhaps with this new British giant things would get cheaper again? She’d try them next month.
The phone went.
“Oh hello darling. Yes I’m fine.”
“No, I’ll be fine my pension covers it now.”
“Yes yes, you sound like you’re busy? Well, nice to speak to you, see you soon?”
Her daughter was always so busy, though Gladys wasn’t entirely sure what it was that she did.
URC announced today its results for its first quarter since nationalisation, and the results were good. Sales were up nearly 6% and profits 3%. The government announced that the profits would be used to accelerate the roll out of the automated home help program. This government initiative seeks to put a care robot into the home of every single pensioner in the country, current estimates are that there are more than five million people who would be eligible.
Bill sat at his desk trying to work out what he was doing. He’d been planning to respond to a letter, but couldn’t remember which. He looked at the pile of papers and saw the one from the Department for Age Support. Damn them.
That was it, he remembered now, they wanted to put a robot in his house. Probably to spy on him, or maybe inject him with all these potions the quacks kept trying to get him to take. Well, he was going to tell them where to put the ridiculous automaton, and he wasn’t going to be polite about it!
Minister Johns today delivered the millionth care robot to the home of Mrs Jay. She was heard to exclaim in happiness, and immediately asked the device to make a cup of tea and do the ironing. The Minister stayed for tea and said he’d had a very pleasant chat with Mrs Jay. In an interview after the meeting Mrs Jay said that she might now be tempted to vote for the Minister at the next election.
“No dear, he’s an old friend. A very old friend, we went to school together.”
“Oh don’t be silly, it’s nothing serious at all, we’re just catching up. Now I must go, the tea is ready. Bye dear, do pop in soon.”
Gladys turned to her guest, “Sorry Bill, my daughter, Emily. She does fuss.”
Bill shuffled his feet a bit, “Well these young ones. At least she cares.”
“Yes, oh yes. Wasn’t it lucky that we bumped into each other at the supermarket! After all these years I could tell it was you, just by your walk. You haven’t changed a bit.” She smiled at him, and he caught a little of the twinkle he remembered in her eyes.
“Gotten old I have. Not like you, still a real beauty.”
Gladys was saved the embarrassment of answering by the arrival of the tea, delivered by her new care robot.
“I call her Ruby. Because of her red lights.”
“Oh don’t be an old stick in the mud, she’s jolly useful. Makes very good tea, now that I’ve shown her how to properly warm the pot. I do wonder about these engineers, they sent her out without knowing how to make a proper cuppa.”
“Don’t trust them, robots that is, not the engineers. Though, I will admit that this is a nice cup of tea.”
“Bill, don’t be silly, I spoke to Tom, he’s Emily’s husband and does something with programming these robots. He says that they’re saying these lovely helpers will give us at least an extra ten years life.”
He frowned. Until last week an extra ten years of life would have meant a continuation of his purgatory, but finding Gladys again had lifted his heart. He, almost, felt young again.
“They do, do they? Well, maybe they’re not all bad.”
He was silent for a moment.
“Mine is arriving next week. The ministry’s polite response to my eloquent refusal can be summarised as: tough.”
“Well I for one am glad. I won’t be worrying about you, all on your own in that dingy place. I’m sure those stairs will be the death of you. But with a helper, well, you’ll be much safer.”
URC announced today a small drop in sales and commensurate drop in profits. The CEO, former Minister Palpby, explained that the final integration costs had kicked in. He also accused the competition of flooding the market with cheap goods to try and damage URC and therefore the country. He called on the government to set mandatory prices for critical consumer goods such as soap, toothpaste and skin cream.
“These biscuits Bill, are they local? They taste delicious.”
“Ah, no, they’re imports.”
“Bill! I thought you were ‘Buy British’ all the way.”
“They are half the price, and taste better. I’m as patriotic as the next man, but I have to subsist on pennies you know.”
Just then Albert hummed politely.
“Would you like a refill of tea, sir?”
“Yes, and stop calling me sir. Call me Bill or something!”
Gladys smothered a smile. She was glad to see Bill had a care-robot now.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Competition today announced that there would be minimum pricing on all goods defined as core. He explained that these were all those day to day essentials required for a normal life, but did not include any luxuries.
“Now Gladys, I don’t want you to think I’m being too forward. But…”
“Would you like to move in with me? I can’t marry you. I promised Beryl I wouldn’t marry again. But…”
“Oh Bill. I don’t need to be married to be happy. Yes, of course. This last month has seen the cobwebs swept out of my brain. But why now?”
“Well, you see the thing is. Oh, I’ll just tell you it all. I don’t have very much money, in fact my pension just isn’t covering my expenses any more. I was saving money by buying the cut-price foreign products, but now that all the prices have gone up, well, if I don’t find a way to cut costs I’ll go hungry.”
She just stared at him, and then said, “So it’s just to save money?”
He could see tears threatening to form.
“Oh no no, not at all. I was hoping to wait and take you out to a nice dinner and do it properly, but this recent change has just. Oh I’m such an idiot. I’ve always wanted to be with you.”
Gladys looked at him sombrely and then started to laugh.
“You silly old goose, I was just joking! Of course I’d like to live with you, but, I’d rather you moved in with me. My place is quite a bit bigger for a start.”
He smiled and reached for her. A humming sound interrupted them.
“Your lunch is ready sBill.”
“sBill?” enquired Gladys.
“I changed his word for sir. Read up on it in the manual. I’m not totally useless yet!”
Patoque-Deuters Industries, one of the largest foreign companies still operating in the domestic market, announced a massive increase in profits. PDI’s spin on this blatant profiteering was that the government minimum pricing had forced them to raise all their prices and this had fed directly through to profits. A government spokesman pointed out that this couldn’t possibly be true as URC had only achieved limited growth in their profits.
“Now Emily, don’t you worry. Bill will be bringing his own care robot. We’ve been told by the ministry that we can keep both of them for three months, and then there will be an assessment. God knows what they’ll assess.”
“No, Em dear. Listen, I know you worry about your old mother, but I’m not completely gaga. This is my decision and I’m sticking with it. OK, oh, you have to run? No, that’s fine, we’ll speak next week? OK, goodbye.”
URC announced the delivery of the four millionth care robot to a pensioner. The government followed this by extending the care robot programme to cover all pensioners, implying that a further five million robots would be produced.
“So we can keep both robots. It’s official.”
“That’s good Bill.”
“I thought you’d be more excited. What’s wrong Gladys?”
“Well. Bill, how much toilet paper do you actually need to use?”
Bill looked shocked. This wasn’t something he’d ever discussed, not even with Beryl.
“Er, well four sheets. Drummed into me in the army. Never more.”
Gladys looked confused.
“Well I don’t understand, I’m buying twice as much as I used to, and yet we’re running out faster. I assumed it was just you. Everything seems to run out so fast these days.”
“At least we’re back to buying British!”
“Yes, though the pleasure of buying British doesn’t really outweigh the drop in quality.”
PDI today made the bizarre claim that they were responsible for ninety percent of the production of URC’s care robots. Their CEO was hauled in front of the Minister to explain himself, he later made a public apology and blamed it on some confusion at head office. A URC representative explained that PDI did provide some components for the machines, but that these were all low value items, and would all soon be taken in-house.
“What are you doing Albert?”
The robot turned, and said, “Sorry Miss Gladys, I was checking the toothpaste. It is part of my regular routine.”
It turned back, screwed on the cap and put the tube down. Gladys thought the tube looked quite a bit flatter than she remembered it being that morning.
“Yes Miss Gladys.”
As she walked away she muttered to herself, “I can almost believe those robots are mostly foreign. Stealing my toothpaste. Wonder what the little devil wanted it for.”
Peter Shipps was today sentenced to ten years in prison for malicious economic sabotage. Mr Shipps, a so-called independent journalist, had claimed that the care robots had been programmed to steal from their owners. He asserted that the robots would use a little bit of every one of the core essentials every day, thereby forcing their owners to buy replacements much faster. The only products being targeted were those made by URC, in an effort to improve sales. Mr Justice Jenkins summarised by calling Shipps a ‘fantasist’ and enemy of the people. He also stated that he was surprised that the prosecution hadn’t also added a charge of working for a foreign power, as that was the only motivation he could see behind Shipps’ actions. Neither URC nor the government deigned to comment on the allegations from the report.
“Bill, I’m sorry, I’ve had to buy foreign. The British stuff just isn’t as good, and it keeps running out so quickly. I thought it might be your foolish robot, but after that time I caught it with the toothpaste I’ve never seen it do that again, and I’ve snuck up on it several times.”
“That’s alright love. We must do what’s right for us. We’ve given enough to this country over the years.”
He was glad they could go back to having the nice tea biscuits, he’d missed them.
URC announced today that sales in the last quarter had dropped a further 15%, making a drop of nearly 30% this year. The company claimed that it was because their products had a longer life than their competitors, and this was slowing people’s replacement purchases. In addition there have been supply delays which have slowed down the care robot delivery program.
“Bill, I caught that devil doing it again!”
“Albert, stealing the toothpaste.”
“It can’t have been Albert, he’s been with me all day. Perhaps it was Ruby?”
“Ruby? Why would she want my toothpaste? It’s that foreign stuff as well, and I thought she was mostly British!”
One of Peter Shipps colleagues, who’s name cannot be reported during his trial, has made bold claims that in recent months the care robots have been reprogrammed. He has said that the robots are now stealing small amounts of the products of foreign companies, particularly PDI, and leaving URCs products alone. His rather contorted explanation is that people had stopped buying URC products because they were running out so quickly, and have now turned to PDI’s which seem to last longer. Therefore the government has mandated that the robots reverse the process. It is likely that this alleged merchant of truth will spend the rest of his life in one of the remote penal stations.
“No Gladys. I don’t care if you think they’re going at the same rate as the British products, the fact is that they’re nicer. If they cost the same then we should stick with them.”
URC announced today that it needed a cash injection of many billions in order to continue to operate. Sales have continued to drop precipitously. Minister Jacobs blamed foreign companies for their cut-throat competition, and focussed his ire on PDI. He said the government was reviewing options to seize PDI’s illegal profits. PDI’s latest quarterly report showed continued growth in sales, and a robust profit, clearly as a result of predatory sales practices. The report claimed the company now employed three hundred thousand people in the country. The majority are in sales and distribution activities as PDI’s manufacturing capacity is based overseas.
“Oh Emily, I’m sure it will be fine. Governments always say such things. They really can’t do it.”
“I know dear, I love you too. See you next week? Bye then”
Bill looked up.
“Is she ok?”
“She’s worried about her job. PDI have always been good to her, and she’s done very well. If the government does go through with their threats…”
“Bah. It’ll never pass. The courts will stop it.”
“I don’t know Bill. It doesn’t seem like it was a few years ago.”
The government announced yesterday import duties of 70% on all goods.
PDI’s response, issued today, was that it would be shutting down operations in Britain. It was planning an orderly shutdown, and all employees would be terminated by the end of the year. A government spokesman said that the government were taking steps, though was unable to specify what they were.
“Gladys, why have we got these horrid cardboard biscuits?”
“That’s all there were, love. Not a single foreign made thing in the shop. The nice girl at the cashier said that they’d had no deliveries since the government announcement.”
“But I like those biscuits. Damned government.”
He paused and then taking a deep breath he said, “There is something else. Gladys, we’re going to Spain.”
“What love? A holiday? I’m not sure we can afford it!”
“No dear. To live. It’s a one-way ticket.”
“But. When, what?”
“We can’t stay here. The shops are half empty, the queues are growing. The country has gone to the dogs, and it’s getting worse.”
“I know, but Spain.”
She thought about it a bit then said, “It’s nice and warm there though. Oh, what about Emily?”
“She’s coming too. With the pay-off she’s getting from PDI she can afford to come as well, with Tom and the kids.”
“I didn’t think you two got on.”
“I think she knows now that I only have your best interests at heart.”
“Oh Bill. That could be lovely. But what about the robots? We’d have to leave them, they are government property. I couldn’t live without Ruby, and how long would you last without Albert. Love, it’s just not practical. It’s not.”
“Trust me dear. Will you?”
“I can’t go to Spain, I can’t. There must be another way.”
Reports have come in of rioters destroying shops in town centres across the country. Government spokesmen have said that these are malcontents trying to stir up trouble. We tried to interview some of them, but were stopped by the police under the Sedition Act.
“Well Bill. We’re actually in Spain!”
“Now we can properly relax love. Sun, sand, and peace.”
She smiled and looked over at him. The bruising on his face had gone down. He’d been lucky those rioters hadn’t hurt him more, though he kept saying it was the riot police who’d actually hit him. He’d been getting milk. Albert had brought him home and tended to him. As soon as she’d seen him she’d known that her country was gone, replaced by somewhere she no longer recognised. Somewhere that was no longer safe. They had to leave.
“Another cerveza please Albert. That means beer in Spanish dear.”
“I know Bill, that’s the fourth time you’ve told me.”
He looked out over the pool.
“You never did tell me how you managed to bring Albert and Ruby with us.”
“I just downloaded their memories onto flash cards. Then I uploaded them into two blank robots I purchased here from the local subsidiary of PDI.”
“Oh you are clever Bill.”
He puffed up.
“I do my best dear.” He didn’t want to admit that Tom had told him how to do it.
The care robot returned.
“Your cerveza sBill.”
He raised the bottle and said, “Here’s to new lives.”
Gladys smiled and lifted her glass, “New lives.”