The Gray Prince, Jack Vance

Where do I even start with this?

@jorjolthegrayprince #killallgaeans #safespace #privilege

@jorjolthegrayprince #killalloutkers #safespace #privilege

While I’m certain there are people who disagree with me (especially those who’ve given this book 1 star ratings in various places complaining about the ‘problematic’ themes), The Gray Prince is an amazing piece of science fiction that deserves a place in the High School curriculum somewhere between the Great Gatsby and The Things They Carried.

Anyone who has read my blog for an extended period of time knows that I don’t really talk much about Social Justice Warriors, but there’s really no way to talk about the Gray Prince without bringing them up because this book is literally about Social Justice Warriors. Of course the political ideas and themes explored here are a lot harder to unpack than just saying it’s about SJWs.

The story comes at us from the perspective of the center, first from a moderately conservative character, secondly from the moderately liberal/progressive character. Much of the ‘adventure’ portion of the story is the moderately liberal/progressive character, who is as part of an alphabet soup progressive organization, learning that isolated political classes, demagogues and ideologues tend to have no idea of the practical realities of the situations over which they try to dictate, and such dictations have potentially dire consequences. He also realizes that he’s been kind of a condescending dick of the ‘white mans burden’ variety after spending some time with one of the aliens. Vance cleverly subverts our expectations by making the titular Gray Prince not a hero out to save the world but an agitating grievance monger masquerading as a populist upon whom political agitators and people concerned with feels can project their various hopes and desires.  One of the recurring complaints I’ve seen is that the Gray Prince, a political radical, isn’t the main character.  The other complaint is the book casts an entire race in a single light because of Jorjol’s buffoonery, completely ignoring the character of Kurgech and several Uldra tribes who all have differing political, cultural and social views and are opposed to the Gray Prince.

But what I want to talk about is the Minimum Wage. That’s right, the Minimum Wage. Though it’s only a minor detail mentioned once the Gray Prince, Vance makes an excellent illustrative point for why the Minimum Wage is a useless and harmful notion.

In the Gaean Empire, people have switched to the SLU. The SLU or Standard Labor-value Unit is defined as “the value of an hour of unskilled labor under standard conditions. The unit supersedes all other monetary bases in that it derives from the single invariable commodity of the human universe: toil.”

By raising the minimum wage, what are we doing but breaking our hour into smaller pieces, each less valuable than before? Currently, we could say that $1 would be worth just a little less than .14 SLU. Locally, $1 in Seattle would be worth .06 1/3 SLU, though the common currency shared regionally and nationally might balance it out for goods imported into the area. If we raised fixed minimum wages nationally, any actual benefits netted by a local or region wage raise would be negated; it would be $15 = 1 SLU instead of $7.25 = 1 SLU. So nationally, $15 would be worth what $7.25 had been before the hike.

I’m not saying that an SLU currency is in any way preferable or a good idea, but it works to show that our time is the inflexible variable and any arbitrary increase or decrease in the segmentized monetization of our time spent at labor does nothing to actually increase the wealth of the wage-earner, only the granular liquidity of their time.

Anyway, the moderate conservative girl realizes that she loves and respects the tough land baron for his resourcefulness and thoughtful decisiveness and realizes he’s far more empathetic than she gave him credit for, the moderate progressive boy realizes that ideology doesn’t always jibe with reality and practicality is as worthy as principle, the heroes destroy the progressive alphabet soup organizations and politicians’ agenda with logic backed by evidence, and the SJW villain goes “off to inflict himself upon another world” because no one left on Koryphon has time for his bullshit.

The biggest issue I’d had with The Dragon Masters was not a problem here. While it was odd to have so many foot-notes in a work of fiction, the descriptions and insights they offered never left me wondering what this or that alien word meant, and it allowed Vance to easily expand the vocabulary of his work, conveying ideas and concepts in one alien word when a paragraph would be necessary without it. All of the aliens and monsters were fairly well described, so I was never really left scratching my head.

There are a few things which could be worked into your game, whether it’s fantasy or sci-fi. The terrifying morphotes are great if you need a race of questionably intelligent shape-shifting demon monsters. There are primitive air-ships called “sky-sharks”, which are basically a flying plank with a windshield and a gun. The “crazy-box” would make a great “magic” item as a re-usable charm person.

Lastly, I’d note that the Uldras cannot have failed to shape Morrowind’s Dunmer; I’d never believe you if you told me that no one on Bethesda’s creative team had read and loved this book. Blue nomadic people, some of whom are content with their political status in an imperial colony, others of whom violently hold onto traditions and are just as at odds with their fellows as they are the outsiders? Uldras or Dunmer? Slavers who moralize about ancestral land rights? Uldras or Dunmer? The blue nomads who want the outsiders to leave are the ones with slaves and the blue nomads who are okay with the outsiders are not? Uldras or Dunmer? I could go on, but I won’t. At least not today.

So, some lessons from the Gray Prince:
-Distant governing bodies are typically unaware of the consequences of their legislation because they are hopelessly out of touch with those whom they nominally govern.
-Time is an inflexible economic resource.
-Harping on birthright territorial grievance is pointless and dangerous because everything was taken from someone or something at some point; if you follow reparation and restitution as a principle, you’d have to go back to the beginning of time.
-Not having your head up your ass can easily be mistaken for Privilege.
-When shit hits the fan, you’re better off with people like Varg than hipsters who tell you listening to Burzum is problematic.


Minimum Wage Idiocy

Poor ignorant youths (actually, most of them around my age, maybe a little younger) have been wandering from door to door trying to get people to sign petitions to raise the state minimum wage.  As it is, I can barely afford anything these days.  My somewhat more than minimum wage is constantly being devalued by endless injections of liquidity via quantitative easing, and the proposed $3-$8 hikes in the wage that are being floated by ideologues who don’t understand how economics and commerce work may prove to be a nail in my financial coffin.  I wouldn’t be surprised if within the next two years I’d be making minimum wage.  There’s just no point in trying to explain to these fools that liquidity and wealth are not the same thing.  You can’t just give everyone in the world more of something and expect the value of that something to not drop.  Because Johnson debased our currency in 60s by removing precious metals from our coinage, you’re not actually going to be getting any more of anything of any worth, just the broken and empty promises of a government that doesn’t obey its own laws and doesn’t care about how much of other people’s money they waste. Sorry brass just struck last week and branded with a wretched brand. But hey, someday soon we’ll all be millionaires and billionaires, just like those poor schmucks in Zimbabwe who had to push grocery carts full of money to the store just to buy a loaf of bread.  Enough liquidity for an entire country to drown in.


GP, XP and the Minimum Wage

In Dungeons & Dragons, the Gold or Silver Piece as a unit of currency has a fixed and finite value, not only as a unit of wealth, but a unit of weight and unit of XP. 1 GP = 1 Unit of Weight = 1 XP. The typical conversion rate for GP to SP is 1:10, meaning that 1SP = 1 Unit of Weight = .1 XP.  Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about the US dollar.

Up until about 50 years ago, the US dollar was $1 = .7234 Troy Oz. Silver. And until the mid 30s it was as much as .7735, given the presence of silver dollars. Today, however, the US dollar’s value is a purely abstract derivation of a function of time and labor’s perceived value. To be specific, today, the US dollar is valued at roughly 8.276 minutes worth of labor performed at the bare minimum of competence to complete an assigned task. The US dollar is NOT a unit of concrete value but rather a division of time.

One of the old standards one hears about for the value of old Roman currency was that a Denarius was roughly one day’s wages. So, we’ll take the Roman model for the following example.

Imagine that a silver coin has been struck: The Silver Hour. The Silver Hour is round, weighs a single ounce, and it is universally understood that one hour’s worth of labor will be worth at LEAST one Silver Hour.

Of course, there are issues of liquidity. Certain goods and services might be worth less than one hour’s worth of labor, and therefore worth less than one Silver Hour.

Someone has the brilliant idea that goods and services instead should be priced in Silver Slices and the Silver Hour may be split by striking it across three times, so that the Silver Hour might be made of 6 silver slices.

Businesses no longer pay their laborers in Silver Hours, but in silver slices. Prices for all goods and services are now in Slices, but everyone knows that those six slices make up an Hour.

Along the way, someone says “Six slices to the Hour is not enough! It is only fair that labor be valued at 8 slices to the Hour!” So they took the Hour and split it across 4 times with two X’s. Now an Hour was worth 8 slices. The merchants and the wage payers all knew what had happened, but since all things were priced in slices and not Hours, they had to raise the number of slices in the price of all things.

Somewhere along the way, the Silver Hour becomes forgotten, and the slices are no longer slices and are no longer silver, but all things are priced in slices, rather than hours. “8 slices were not enough,” people said, “Let us have 10 slices!”, so they were given 10 slices for their hour. Because they were no longer slices and no longer silver, people did not understand how their many slices could be worth less than a Silver Hour. But the more the Hour was broken up, the more slices everyone had, but there were never more Hours than there had been before. The slices were becoming so small that they were slivers, but people were told “What matters is how many slivers you have, never mind the Hours!” until the Hours were sliced so small that each sliver was worthless and no one could amass enough slivers and slices (now made of base-metals, not silver) to pay for simplest thing.

Yet those who said “Let us stop slicing the Hour, and let the hour be worth an Hour!” were shouted down, as they would be depriving those who had the many slivers of but a few Hours of saying “We have many slivers!”, though those slivers were smaller and smaller and bought less and less.

This is what we’re doing with our dollar every time we raise the minimum wage. If the minimum wage is raised from $7.25 to $10, we’re not giving everyone another $2.75 an hour in the sense that we’re paying them for 20 extra minutes or so that don’t really exist every hour. All we’re doing is changing the value of a dollar from $1 = 8.276 minutes of labor performed at the bare minimum of competence to complete an assigned task to $1 = 6 minutes of labor performed at the bare minimum of competence to complete an assigned task. The real losers are any individuals on a fixed income, including all salaried adults and the elderly living on their retirement savings, whose dollars, when they earned them, once represented a significantly higher fraction of an hour than they currently do.


If someone handed you this and later gave you the other half, you don’t magically have two pennies.

Fun fact! There were more “billionaires” in Zimbabwe during the 00’s than in most western countries combined, and if we raised our minimum wage to $1bn per hour, we could have that many billionaires too!