Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister of Greece, has written a science fiction novel titled Another Now. The novel projects a fascinating view of a different world order than ours and by its approach reveals much about the thinking of the Greek Left in particular and EU radicals in general. I will deal with the literary particulars of the novel in this column and explore its wider political implications in my next.
Another Now’s main character is Costa, a Cretan who is a master of computer technology. He is appalled that people increasingly seem to serve machines rather being served by them, and he loathes corporate media that addicts people to products of little intrinsic merit. Costa works feverishly to find electronic means to thwart the system. Inadvertently, his efforts open a worm-hole in time that brings him into contact with an alternative universe. He cannot enter that realm but can speak with Kosti, his DNA counterpart.
Kosti reveals that in the Other Now, the financial crisis of 2008 had led to a new world economic order. Key to the change is that workers have all gotten an individual share in the firms they worked for, while other shareholders have been cashed out. People continue to have salaries based on ability, but their major income comes from corporate profits. Half of the profits are equally distributed to every shareholder (the workers) and half to public service agencies.
Absent a stock market, unproductive economic ploys like options, executive perks, and special dispensations have been eliminated. Corporations, however, remain privately owned by worker/shareholders and compete freely in the marketplace, more like the free enterprise system envisioned by Adam Smith than the planned economy of Karl Marx.
Investment banks no longer prosper on interest charged, bankruptcies, and financial gimmicks such as derivatives. Their income is limited to a share of the profits of the company they help fund. The International Monetary Fund has been similarly altered. Instead of lending at high rates, keeping nations like Greece in perpetual poverty, the new International Monetary Project only gains when its clients become economically viable.
The thrust of these changes and others discussed is that corporations and governmental projects become more efficient, responding to real not manufactured needs. Long-term benefits rather than wasteful short-term gains are of prime concern.
Some readers will start skimming Varoufakis’ detailed account of various changes once their basic logic is established. Just as many will be fascinated by the particulars of change. Both readerships need to bear in mind that Varoufakis is underscoring a need to change economic assumptions, not proposing a how-to-do-it list.
The revolutionary changes in Another Now did not involve armed insurrection or a militaristic vanguard party. Change was led by creative techies who used the existing system’s failings, loopholes, and corruption to alter it. Institutions based on development were judged to be far more productive than fierce competition divorced from actual needs. The basic assumption is a gain for one is a gain for all. As the nation state becomes increasingly irrelevant, it withers away.
Costa eventually decides to share his discovery with three other radicals. Each engages in conversation with their Other Now counterparts. The most interesting is Eva, a fervent critic of Our Now’s capitalism who uses the full force of her logic to question what she perceives as the Other Now’s failings.
The novel’s structure is like that of books where all the action is in an exchange of letters. In this work, well-defined characters are given considerable space to espouse their ideals, fears, and experiences. This discourse is similar to those in novels like Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain or philosophical passages in Leo Tolstoy.
Costa is wary that the powers that be will discover and corrupt his breakthrough. He decides it prudent to close the worm-hole even though he has discovered a means for people from Our Now to pass physically into the Other Now. Before the worm-hole is closed, two of the four major characters decide to abandon Our Now for what they consider a superior Other Now. The two who remain are determined to transform Our Now. They are unexpectedly joined by one of the characters from the Other Now. Varoufakis’ explorations of the differing motives of all five are intriguing.
Another Now is not likely to become a literary classic, but it is very relevant to thinking about our time when authoritarian regimes and misdistribution of planetary wealth are on the rise. Varoufakis’ failure to address the existential realities thwarting political change will be dealt with in my next column, but he must be commended for reminding us that Our Now is not determined by an unpredictable invisible hand, but by the decisions we make consciously and unconsciously as individuals and as a society.