Politics and Economics
So, what do we know about politics in the world of “2001: A Space Odyssey?” Only a few things, directly:
1) The Soviet Union is still a going concern
2) The Cold War is still a going concern
3) Space is seriously militarized
4) The American space program is massive, and while government-directed, there is substantial corporate involvement
From that, I have extrapolated a few things in my own take on the alternate history, such as that Communism has spread further around the world. Apart from driving the space program as seen in “2001:ASO,” what other effects would this have?
For starters, Asia would be split into two distinct groups, both of which would be armed camps. Much like North and South Korea, writ large. All of southeast Asia has fallen to communism, including Indonesia and Malaysia, possibly the Philippines. Taiwan, South Korea and Japan remain free, but are under dire and constant threat. A result of this is that more of their economy than IRL is devoted to defense, less to things like consumer electronics and TVs and cars and radios and such. Of course, with China being more hard-core Maoist than IRL, one they *they* are not doing is producing vast piles of cheap goods for sale on the American market. Not only because they wouldn’t be as well set up for that, but because Americans in that timelines wouldn’t buy it. So, with far fewer options for cheap Asian manufacture of low-cost, reasonably high-quality consumer computers… well, there’s a good chunk of the explanation as to why consumer electronics are so apparently backwards.
The United States would, necessarily, remain more of a manufacturing economy in the alternate timeline. This would of course have pluses and minuses. The unemployment rate would potentially be driven lower as a result, but most things would cost more. The staples – food, housing and energy – would be cheap, but luxuries would be anywhere from somewhat more expensive to a *lot* more expensive. Go back to the briefcase computer prop made for “2001:ASO.” Even if one were to assume that it had all the functionality and power of a real-world 1999-vintage laptop, there is simply no what that that clunky device would cost less than several multiples what the laptop cost, especially given that it was likely made entirely in the US.
Western Europe is a bit fuzzier in my mind. As I’ve suggested, communism has made inroads here as well, but a complete takeover hasn’t happened, as witnessed by orbital weapons platforms from West Germany and France (and we can probably suggest the British). Had they become Soviet vassal states, it is unlikely that the Soviets would let them launch weapons platforms of their own. However, the existence of western European space weapons indicates that Europe is taking a more active role in its defense than IRL. Europe is spending much more of its GDP on defense, and presumably less on the social welfare state. So I would guess that western European nations that haven’t fallen to socialism or outright communism are split into two camps, economically:
1) Capitalist states, but with relatively big governments
2) Economically fascist states, where the governments control the economies
Sub-Saharan Africa is even more of a basketcase in the “2001:ASO” timeline than IRL. With several sub-Saharan nations falling to outright communism, their economies have, like Zimbabwe’s, completely collapsed taking their agricultural systems with them. Far better armed by the Soviets than IRL, warfare and bloodshed along political, economic and tribal lines is much more common, and far worse. With the increased Communist threat, did South Africa ever abandon Apartheid?
The Middle East has in some ways undergone a renaissance, and in some ways fallen into obscurity. With the bulk of the developed worlds energy needs supplied by cheap, abundant, clean and safe latest-generation nuclear reactors, including breeder and thorium reactors (perhaps with fusion being on five years away in that timeline, rather than ten as in ours), the need for fossil fuels in greatly reduced. With the memories of the trouble OPEC gave the US in the wake of the Yom Kippur War and numerous following terrorist acts, the American people just don’t give a damn about the likes of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and the like when the dropoff in sales coupled with the collapse in oil prices causes their economies to utterly collapse. As in sub-saharan Africa, these regions, based so much on a single product that no longer rakes in the cash, have devolved into pestilential, barbarous no-mans-land. Several attempted wars on their neighbors, such as against the likes of Egypt, Israel, the southern parts of the USSR and even India, were all complete disasters and have resulted in this region being economically and culturally blockaded for *years* by the time of 1999. A result of this is that ideologies like Wahabbianism have simply faded from worldview. With much of Arabia being a wasteland, cities like Riyadh and Mecca being poorly maintained low-population towns of limited interest to the outside world, cultural influence around the world is minimal.
At the same time, northern Africa, now largely freed from the ideological trap that had ensnared it , has been allowed to progress. The animosity between the likes of Egypt and Israel so common in our timeline has faded, allowing these nations to work together. Efforts are now underway to refill the Chad Sea. The canal linking the Med to the Qattara Depression has been completed, and the region has been turned into a new Riviera, not only making vast sums of tourist money, but also changing the local climate by increasing evaporation in the deep desert and increasing rainfall downwind. A dam across the Straits of Gibraltar is under serious consideration, with the nations surrounding the Mediterranean merrily fighting it out in unceasing debates. Some are Communist, but all recognize the value that the project will bring.
South America… hmmm. I imagine that it would be pretty much South America. More communist insurgencies, perhaps, with lots of American funding of counter-insurgencies. So… kinda like the 1980s, just more so.
The US: as anyone who has read my blog for long enough has probably figured out, I lean towards libertarianism. Minimal government, just big enough to do what it – and nobody else – can and should do: exactly what the US was founded on, and what the US has fallen far from. But that’s *not* the world of “2001.” Clavius Base shows that the US Federal Government is massively involved and massively invested in space exploration and exploitation.
The alternate timeline I came up with is one way I can see how the US could have gotten to the world of “2001″ using known political figures. Some have accused me of partisanship. Shrug. The fact is, the US is a two-party system, Democrat and Republican. Of the two, the Democrats have been, since Johnson, rather actively *opposed* to manned space flight. Go ahead and *try* to name a Democrat politician who was ever a serious possibility for the Presidency who supported expanding the manned space program. While I’ve no doubt there have been many Dems who would have liked to have seen that, none spring to mind, while many spring to mind who would have gladly gutted NASA in order to dump money into the inner cities. So in order for “2001″ to come about as a result of active Democrat Presidential support, either entirely fictional Dems would need to be created (not invalid, under the circumstances), or historical Dems would have to be “flipped.”
On the other hand, the Republicans have generally not been a whole lot better. Most Reps, though, rather than being actively opposed to manned space exploration, simply don’t care. The one major area of clear difference, though, has been republican support of *military* space. Reagan is of course the prime example of this; in real life he kickstarted the Star Wars program that, while not orbiting so much as a drunken bum in a spacesuit armed with a shotgun and an mandate to shoot commies, did manage to spend the USSR into oblivion. So by replacing Carter and Mondale with Reagan, the Star Wars effort gets an early start. Through some authorial handwaving, this actually works, and gets the space program roaring off the pad.
The United States is dotted with towns and cities with names like Fort Dodge and Fort Madison and Fort Wayne and Fort Collins and Fort This and Fort That. Having the military lead the way in exploration and colonization is neither unprecedented, nor unwarranted.
It may have made statistical sense to have more Dems in the Presidency through the 1990′s. But there was one obvious choice that made perfect sense, under the circumstances: Newt Gingrich. He is one of the few politicians of *any* party who has actively supported manned space exploration, going so far as to suggest, early in the 2012 campaign, that the US needed to build a lunar colony. Sadly, the overall popular cultural consensus was that this was pure crackpottery on Gingrich’s part. The biggest difference, in my opinion, between the “2001:ASO” timeline and the real-world timeline is that what so many see as nutty in this timeline, is seen as a good idea in the other timeline. “They,” in turn, might see “our” obsession with Facebook and Twitter as equivalently nutty. By installing a known seriously pro-space politician into the White House in 1992, the stage was set for construction to begin on the Clavius Base mega-project.
There are, of course, other political parties in the US. But unless you invent an entirely new and rather unlikely party, I can’t see how you get there. Look at the alternative parties:
Green: Anti-nuclear, anti-space. Will actively work *against* “2001.”
Socialists: Anti-nuclear, anti-space. Will actively work *against* “2001.”
Libertarian: Pro-nuclear, but anti-big-government. Clavius Base and other such government mega-projects would be impossible.
If anyone knows of a political party that has existed and gotten so much as a dogcatcher elected on the platform of Colonize The Moon Now, I’d love to hear about it.
Next up: atomics