You know George Orwell’s totalitarian gov’t nightmare; you know Ayn Rand’s (& Ron Paul’s) desire for an unfettered free market. In ‘Jennifer Government,’ Max Barry has done Orwell one better, & done us a great service, by giving us Rand’s dream come true – the Libertarian nightmare.
Taxes are illegal; police investigate crime when they can bill the victim directly; 911 will send an ambulance only after you give them your credit card number. Your surname is the name of your corporate employer, students included, surnamed after the corporate sponsors of their schools (e.g. Jennifer Government’s daughter is Kate Mattel).
Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter – a convo between Marketing’s John Nike, John’s boss, VP of Marketing John Nike, & lowly Merchandising Officer Hack Nike, who is insecure & hesitant, but thankful for a promotion:
“Hack, we need someone who can make snap decisions. A fast mover. Someone who can get things done. With a minimum of fucking around. If that’s not your style, well … let’s forget we spoke. No harm done. You stick to Merchandising.” Vice-President John reached for the contract.
“I can sign it now,” Hack said, tightening his grip.
“It’s totally up to you,” the other John said. He took the chair beside Hack, crossed his legs, and rested his hands at the juncture, smiling. Both Johns had good smiles, Hack noticed. He guessed everyone in marketing did. They had pretty similar faces, too. “Just at the bottom there.”
“Also there,” the other John said. “And on the next page … and one there. And there.”
“Glad to have you on board, Hack.” Vice-President John took the contract, opened a drawer, and dropped it inside. “Now. What do you know about Nike Mercurys?”
Hack blinked. “They’re our latest product. I haven’t actually seen a pair, but … I heard they’re great.”
The Johns smiled. “We started selling Mercurys six months ago. You know how many pairs we’ve shifted since then?”
Hack shook his head. They cost thousands of dollars a pair, but that wouldn’t stop people from buying them. They were the hottest sneakers in the world. “A million?”
“Two hundred million?”
“No. Two hundred pairs.”
“John here,” the other John said, “pioneered the concept of marketing by refusing to sell any products. It drives the market insane. And now it’s time to cash in. On Friday we’re gonna dump four hundred thousand pairs on the market at two and a half grand each. Which, since they cost us—what was it?”
“Since they cost us eighty-five cents to manufacture, gives us a gross margin of around one billion dollars.” He looked at Vice-President John. “It’s a brilliant campaign.”
“It’s really just common sense,” John said. “But here’s the thing, Hack: if people realize every mall in the country’s got Mercurys, we’ll lose all that prestige we’ve worked so hard to build. Am I right?”
“Yeah.” Hack hoped he sounded confident. He didn’t really understand marketing.
“So you know what we’re going to do?”
He shook his head.
“We’re going to shoot them,” Vice-President John said. “We’re going to kill anyone who buys a pair.”
Silence. “What?” Hack said.
The other John said, “Well, not everyone, obviously. We figure we only have to plug … what did we decide? Five?”
“Ten,” Vice-President John said. “To be safe.”
“Right. We take out ten customers, make it look like ghetto kids, and we’ve got street cred coming out our asses. I bet we shift our inventory within twenty-four hours.”
“I remember when you could always rely on those little street kids to pop a few people for the latest Nikes,” Vice-President John said. “Now people get mugged for Reeboks, for Adidas—for generics, for Christ’s sake.”
“The ghettos have no fashion sense anymore,” the other John said. “I swear, they’ll wear anything.”
“It’s a disgrace. Anyway, Hack, I think you get the point. This is a groundbreaking campaign.”
“Talk about edgy,” the other John said. “This defines edgy.”
“Um … ” Hack said. He swallowed. “Isn’t this kind of … illegal?”
“He wants to know if it’s illegal,” the other John said, amused. “You’re a funny guy, Hack. Yes, it’s illegal, killing people without their consent, that’s very illegal.” Vice-President John said, “But the question is: what does it cost? Even if we get found out, we burn a few million on legal fees, we get fined a few million more … bottom-line, we’re still way out in front.”