Office of Economic Stability
Also known as the OES, one of the last efforts of the United States of America during the decline of the Petroleum Era and the Resource Wars, also a contributing factor the growth of arcologies and arco-cities
During the heyday of the United States, the country, and much of the Western world enjoyed robust economic success, a post-scarcity industrial base, and advancing technology in terms of space travel, communications, and medicine. The quality of life was increasing at a steady rate, and it seemed like the footing was solid. This was absolutely not the case.
Readily available fossil fuel supplies were driving increased exploration and a number of wars had been fought by proxy, over the parts of the world that had not been tapped. Cities grew around natural gas refineries, oil and LPG tankers were increasingly common sights, and while alternative energy sources were being invested in, it was too little too late. The global population bloomed to ten billion by the latter part of the 21st century, and at that point, there was not enough solar, wind, and hydrothermal power to go around, and long-lasting sentiments against nuclear power saw few plants built.
There was only so long the wars would remain by proxy. Eventually, the four major players would have to sally forth and fight it out. The United States, the European Union, the Russian Federation, and the People's Republic of China all ended up in massive, drawn-out wars. The only reason these firestorm wars didn't spiral out of control into nuclear conflicts was that the battlefields were not homeland. The wars raged across Africa, the Middle East, the Near East, Indonesia and Polynesia, and the polar regions. Lobbing nukes would have ended the world and the game for everyone.
The Office of Economic Stability
The OES was founded by the last American president, Vernon Roberts (RadLib), as the ongoing war effort to keep the good fight going on three fronts was taxing the economy. The largest concern was fossil fuels. There were electric and hybrid tanks, and a good number of ships were nuclear, but the air force and most of the ground military was still heavily dependent on diesel and aviation fuel. This was further strained by the energy demands of almost 400,000,000 Americans, their households, and their vehicles.
The OES and the Return of Rationing
President Roberts passed an executive order declaring petroleum as a strategic resource and that it was vital to the defense of the United States and as such was to become a nationalized resource. The government assumed ownership and legal control of all domestic production sources, refining facilities, and any and all associated equipment not previously mentioned. This included everything from US registered oil tankers, to offshore drilling rigs, to refineries and the ships and trucks that serviced them.
There was widespread resistance and resentment of the OES and the quickly following rationing of fuel. Beyond the obvious equipment such as facilities and large stores like holding tanks and ships, large amounts of other equipment were seized. Tanker trucks were confiscated, not just the tanker, but the tractor as well, regardless of ownership. Fleet trucks were taken, but if a private truck driver was hooked to a tanker at the time agents of the OES showed up, he lost his truck. A few were arrested and there were several shootouts between truckers and government agents. Even attempts to unhook and abandon tanker trailers were met with state violence.
Fueling stations were not spared. The convenience stores and gas stations were not seized (though full-service truck stops were) almost all were visited by State siphon trucks. These trucks would show up, drain station tanks, and leave. When the fuel rationing service was instated, the number of stations allowed to sell fuel was slashed, with no more than one gas station per 5000 people in an area. This was further impacted by drivers being limited to purchases of five gallons, and being issued cards or apps that limited the number of times they could visit a fueling station.
This led to large numbers of protests and riots. Travel was ended across large parts of the country, tourism evaporated, and people who didn't live in major urban centers found themselves being targeted by urban marauders. This created widescale violence and even organized militias blocking interstate access to their towns and smaller cities.
The First Generation of Arcologies
The first arcologies were started at this time. There was massive resistance to this, and more than a few riots and attempts at sabotage. With many resources running at all-time lows, food at all-time highs, and things like inflation wreaking havoc on households, watching megastructures being built for the rich and the influential was abhorrent. The Haves circled their wagons, built the towers, stocked them, then made them into fortresses to protect their interests and their wealth. This was done under the aegis of preserving legacies, technological concentration for better efficiency, and a host of other excuses so that the projects could continue.
There was a backlash across the western world. Electric and hybrid vehicles, a short-term answer, soon became liabilities. With the remaining resources being drawn into the Arcos, as the batteries died there were no replacements, or the replacements were offensively expensive. Transport systems were breaking down, and it was leading to serious problems. Food riots became more common and violent. Farms and food factories were being raided, and there were multiple massacres between hungry people and security forces holding these locations.
The OES struggled to maintain any semblance of social order, and police forces were being increasingly armed with gear to keep the population suppressed.
Relocation, the Low-Glow, and the Self-Propelled Road
The last president of the United States, Sophia Sajjad was a large number of firsts. They were the first transgender enby transracial person to hold the office and served fourteen years. Due to the ongoing ferocity of the Resource Wars and domestic instability (aka massive riots and semi-organized open rebellions) elections had been suspended, and almost two-thirds of the government had been disbanded or dismissed. Historians consider this to be a tragic, yet fascinating time period. The military capability of the old world nations was at its near peak, with hybrid drive systems and access to HyperNet communications systems, military Artificial Intelligence, and things like smart missiles, and first-generation magnetic and beam weaponry. Likewise, society had reached a point of no return, through socio-economic stress factors, racial and class tensions, and a government that no longer represented anything other than itself. The most common comparison is that President Sajjad was Emperor Nero, playing the first match in the International Game Alliance Boomer League MMOFPS championships while American cities were burning.
Some deride Sajjad and place the blame of the collapse of the United States on their shoulders.
This is patently unfair. While Sajjad really did nothing to improve the state of affairs, and many things they did actively and aggressively made things worse, which many hold as a major piece of evidence condemning intersectional politics and gamma syndrome. It is easily argued that by the time Sajjad took their seat in the Oval Office, the ship was already doomed and nothing could have been done to save it. Nothing short of massive nationwide emergency powers changes could have altered the socio-economic course of a failing first-world nation. This would have been functionally impossible as the type and scale of changes required would have violated almost every level of the laws of that nation.
The Sajjad-DOT Act
The Sajjad Department of Transportation Act was a sweeping piece of legislation that aimed to deal with difficulties in maintaining a fuel supply across the country and the increasingly rebellious population of the United States. The act set an onerous burden of ownership on gasoline-powered vehicles, raising the cost of registration rates by hundreds or even thousands of dollars. This was accompanied by a fuel service tax added at the pumps, and while the rate varied, it was generally about fifty dollars government tax when a pump was used, regardless of how much fuel was dispensed.
Mass transit vehicles, hydrogen cell, electric, and diesel transfer trucks were exempt from this level of taxation, as the money being raised was superficially earmarked for subsidizing non-petroleum powered vehicles and greater emphasis on public and mass transit vehicles. In truth, most of this money just vanished into the black hole-like debt the nation was generating in its increasing struggle to maintain a vigilant police state, and international military colonialism. A later addition to the Act incentivized people to move into the cities, offering what was considered ultra-low rent in Gassner ghettos. These new cities grew out of the urban cores, with massive stage one Gassner blocks bracketing major roadways that remained choked with traffic, and they closed over the road and block two buildings built across the top. The roadways turned into urban subways, and stage three blocks were stacked atop the lower level. Major roadways and intersections were turned into undercity and tens of thousands of people were relocated.
This industrial mass-scale form of construction exploded in the last twenty years of the American nation. The vertical slums would survive in some places to form the basis of undercities, favelas, and the general urban sprawl that characterizes most gritty sci-fi dystopias. What isn't obvious is that when they were being built, new taxes were being levied against people who didn't live in the urban areas. There was a major federal movement to depopulate the towns and small cities across the country, drain the rural areas and move everyone into the cities. This would reduce the demand for fuel, and allow greater control over the population, and it was believed that once the super-majority of the population was contained, they would cease many of their dissident, traditionalist, and rebellious ways. Riots and protests were seen as fine, and almost a civic duty, since these fostered support for law enforcement and were a great way to control public sentiment. The undecided and the separatists, terrorists, and seditionists would surrender their old party beliefs and become good law-abiding Back the Green Americans.
The Office of Economic Stability considered itself a great success.
The actions of the Office of Economic Stability and acts like Sajjad-DOT played out old adages, like those who trade liberty for security lose both. In taking the measures that were taken, economic instability were dramatically increased. Fuel theft was as large a problem as rioting. This wasn't people doing the old pump and dash, it was organized efforts that saw fuel tanker trucks stolen and buried. Fuel refineries were hit with the precision typically afforded to casino heist movies. Corporations associated with fuel and energy production found themselves beset by so many threats they had to start employing their own private security armies or levying themselves on the National Guard. In places like Texas and Alaska, where oil production was a major part of the economy, there were serious and some partially successful rebellions.
Some of this unrest was so strong and so systematic that even centuries later, in the Cosmic Era, these parts of North America remain legally wasteland as they have rejected the Atlantic Federation's influence and the Pacific Rim Coalition's attempts to bring them into the fold. This is also where groups like Amerikka Command retain their greatest strength, and some liken the lands south and west of the Rocky Mountain Republic to the Afghanistan of North America.
The outcome of the massive urbanization of the cities did lead to large numbers of people being forcibly or coercively moved into the cities, as well as large amounts of rural violence, and in some places, staggering numbers of deaths and fatalities. In hindsight, the Sajjad-DOT act is often compared to the Chinese Great Leap Forward (as there were major famines as govt agencies thought that burning family farms would not have consequences) the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge (some cities that refused federal leadership were hit with biological and chemical weapons, and then occupied) and what is historically known as the Social Dysphoria Pandemic, or Viral Psychosis.
The OES started as an effort to prevent instability and volatility in the economic system of the United States, and ultimately became a force for rationing, fuel shortages, forced relocation, famine, and multiple massacres. It existed in a self-contained bubble, like many government agencies, where it thought itself to be a force of good, and maintained a high level of public approval. This was patently false due to increasing controls on public speech, ranging from deplatforming and imprisonment to depromotion of content. Those who spoke against the government acts considered vital to the common good, and people of importance were shadowbanned, or removed from media platforms.
The OES was officially disbanded in 2066 when a dirty viral bomb was detonated in the parking garage of the central headquarters in Washington DC. It is assumed that the bomber was one of the employees of the month, as few others were allowed driving and parking privileges in the building, and most top-level staff had helicopter access. The fast-acting hemorrhagic fever had an incubation period of fourteen to twenty hours, and with the use of rotorcraft, many exposed administrative staff were infected and flew away to other high-level facilities. There are a few records remaining that detail the following days of many VIPs, state officials, and such being wracked by high fatality bouts of bloody bodily discharge.
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The Department of Nutrition
Originally created as a government organization to promote better general health and welfare of the population through diet, the DoN was adjacent to the Office of Economic Security, and by the end of the United States, is was more commonly known as the Famine Department.
What was it intended to do?
The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and the DoN was intended to provide a better quality of food to the general populace to confront the growing problem of dietary-based illness and disease. Hunger was relatively uncommon, but the plethora of caloric dense, nutritionally vacant, overly processed, and neatly marketed foods made it that obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders were outpacing cancer and other causes of death, and considered more important, cutting into the profit margins of insurance corporations. The dept was chartered to find better ways to get better quality of food from farm to table and improve the general health of the population. In this task, it would fail horrifically and prove that in late-stage governments with crony capitalism, moebian internal structures, and Byzantine politics, doing things badly and being highly corrupt aren't byproducts, they are basic features.
1. Medicalizing Food
In treating food like medicine, the DoN intended for health insurance providers to pay for prescriptions for specific foods, to offset the higher costs of clean produce, and lean proteins, to improve the general diet, and make it where these more expensive foods would be moved to cost parity with fast food and processed food.
It was a dreadful mistake, because the medicalization of food moved food into the jurisdiction of minimal state-level educated bean counters sitting in cubicles going through paperwork over what claims to decline and offering their own suggestions. Lean protein, that's expensive, have you considered lentils and dried beans, those are rich in protein and do not require financial reimbursement. This corporate cop-out behavior was met with social opponents playing up people getting their duck, lobster, and wild caught fish being subsidized by the insurance lobby. Pharmaceutical companies were involved as well, pushing hard for introduced proprietary nutritional supplements to be approved for this insurance coverage. Why eat drab beans or hoity-toity roast duck when you can keep eating Chubburger and take this fat-blocking nutritional spike vitamin, no change in diet and you'll lose weight too (may cause violent greasy diarrhea, anal bleeding, scurvy, rickets, hair loss, erectile dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, depression, suicidal thoughts, etc).
Medical insurance premiums started to rise like the storm surge of a hurricane.
2. Double-Bucks and Food Support
There were various food assistance programs, and these prioritized calories over quality. In an effort to promote healthier eating, the financial benefits of the programs were to be re-weighted so that people using them to buy food from farmer's markets, produce associations, and the like would have more, to offset the often higher price of better quality food.
The Law of Unintended Consequences kicked the ever-loving shit out of the double buck program. Many places that were listed as viable were not actually viable. The people who were supporting local farmers' markets didn't have the government paperwork and accounts set up to accept government food payments, and these were also local to where the farmers were. People who couldn't afford food pretty much routinely didn't own vehicles, or if they did they were used for essential travel only, considering the vaulting price of fuel. This was at the same time that the OES was working to shut down small farms and move everyone into the cities to deal with fuel shortages and social unrest. This led to the biggest proponents of the double buck program being grocery stores and online grocers who jumped through the hoops getting their accreditations and started taking people's govt double bucks for produce. It also led to the price of produce going up across the board, making the situatuon worse for everyone.
3. Tele-dietary Counseling Services
The introduction of tele-dietary counselors was made a part of receiving federal food assistance, and almost every insurance company that was strongarmed into the grocery game supported TDCS. While originally intended as a means of providing information and guidance, the TDCS quickly became known as the Ministry of Hunger. The TDCS heavily promoted fasting, switching to a vegetarian diet, and substituting insect meal-derived proteins in their diet.
The most effective anti-propaganda against the TDCS is graffiti of a skeleton holding a smartphone with the caption of HAVE YOU TRIED FASTING. Instead of serving the people or the original intent, the TDCS was co-opted into a cost-cutting operation as well as a low key office of propaganda.
4. Food Intersectionality
Intersectionality was a vigorous cancer in the Late Petroleum Age and one of the objectives of the DoN was the promotion of minority factions within the food supply. One version of this was to promote more environmentally and health-friendly diets from non-American cultures, especially those that emphasized smaller portions, less protein, and were foundationally inexpensive. Other large nations supported similar populations on less money and with fewer health issues, so would it be so bad to introduce Americans to the ethnic cuisines of India, Southeast Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world?
The answer would be a resounding yes. There were several problems from the start, and the largest was that the minority groups protesting and the minority groups that would benefit from food entrepreneurship didn't overlap. Ethnic cuisine required ethnic ingredients, and while staples like rice and beans are inexpensive, some of the other elements such as saffron are among the most expensive in the world. This again dovetailed into the closing of small farms, restricting immigration, and forcing populations into the increasingly dense urban cores. The businesses that did benefit from these government incentive programs were supported by the greater agricultural interests and marketing corps, who were more than willing to let the govt foot the bill for ethnic start-ups, and then step in and assume control when they became financially successful, no risk, all reward. In the 1950s, ambiguous ethnic cuisine meant Italian, German, anything European that wasn't Anglo-American farm to table, and the came along the massive success of pizza, Olive Garden, and other mock Italian food. What if savvy investors had been there then, to grab that spaghetti americano money? What if they had backed Schnitzelhut or Oktobergarten and lost their financial asses? This was a much better plan.
It was the crony capitalist plan, and it let the taxpayer start hundreds of potential restaurant chains, and the handful that boomed, within a year of their success, were no longer owned by minorities, and belonged to stakeholders, while the original owners counted their cash in their seemingly safe new arco-homes.
5. Regenerative Farming and Healthy Foods
The plan was basic, provide financial support for farmers to switch to more environmentally friendly agricultural practices, and promote the growth of more nutritious foods to bring the cost of said goods down on the market. What really happened was that the large food megacorps were in the process of buying out small and medium farms, often snatching up the govt burned land of relocated people and then accepting government funding to turn small farms into massive-scale factory farms. The second part, changing what was grown, was a dismal failure, because there was another government subsidy to grow biofuel crops. so, instead of promoting garden vegetables and starches, the federal government financed and facilitated the theft of farms and paid for them to be turned over to the growth of corn and soy to be used for making ethanol and machinery lubricant.
People starved in large numbers while the most efficient and effective agricultural engine ever devised by man swung into action. Remote and drone-controlled farming equipment was fit with the smartest technology, blended solar and other power sources, and genetically engineered seed to rape crops from the soil, and then weigh it down with chemically dense petroleum-derived fertilizers. These megafarms had few, if any, employees, and were patrolled with military efficiency. The return on barrels of ethanol was more than enough to offset the cost of paramilitary security forces.
6. Food Dispensaries and Public Education
There was a push to make school lunches free for all students. This was pretty much okay, for a while. Then it just became a sad issue as the social program became a for-profit program, and the billed cost of food services to the state increased while the measure of the food delivered drastically decreased. As with the TDCS, the school lunch programs came to represent the ideals of the DoN. No animal-derived protein, insect meal, vitamin-supplemented starches, and high bulk, low-cost vegetable options. Turnips, cabbage, onions, beans, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and eggplant became highly popular served with cheap sauces poured over rice or bran pasta.
What started as a good idea turned into feeding hungry kids prison food and dietary propaganda
7. The Food Czar
The head of the DoN became known as the Food Czar and would make appearances, talk about good health and good diet, and point out the benefits of fasting, a high-bulk, low protein diet, and talk about how things like having a bowel movement every day could be a sign of poor digestion from a bad diet, and that if you have certain diseases or health factors, those are entirely preventable, and if you see something, you should say something. If your neighbor is hoarding food and eating in an unhealthy fashion, that's bad for their health, insurance rates, and neighborhood values.
The Food Czar would be almost constantly illustrated as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Famine.