“Sturgeon?” harrumphed Stumpy Regenkurt, chief advisor to the Minister of Economic Decline. People had recently started calling Regenkurt Shorty instead of Stumpy, because the government’s policy of managed economic decline gave him so much opportunity for shorting stocks. Rumours had been spread of the billions he made since the insider trading laws were repealed, all part of the government’s effort to wean companies off public markets and stop the man in the street being taken for a ride by fund managers and the people running public companies. Stumpy was convinced that Sturgeon was behind the new nickname.
“Bob Sturgeon?” he harrumphed again. “Minister of Agriculture.”
Nat Eb looked up. “It might be wooden but it’s still a leg. Get it off my coffee table, Stumpy, thank you,” he sighed. “Yes, Bob Sturgeon is our man.”
“I don’t think Sturgeon’s going to be much help. Look at his ratings since you shut down the fertiliser plants,” said Stumpy.
Eb pursed his lips. “Maybe, but he’s the only one. Look, it’s a hell of a challenge. He’ll rise to it.”
“Sturgeon? He’s not a trout,” replied Stumpy. He fished for his matches among the pockets of his tweed jacket and began to wander around the Minister’s wooden panelled room. “Nice work this, mind,” he commented, tapping the walls with the stem of the pipe. “Who’d have thought it?” He was referring to the renovations – behind those ancient oak boards was installed state-of-the-art internal insulation which, together with the ultra-thin hand-blown quad-glazing, brought the Grade 1 ministry building just into compliance with the Protected Building Passive House Standard (2025).
“So why do you think that Sturgeon’s the man to tackle unemployment?” asked Stumpy, turning again to the minister.
“Look,” said Eb. “We’re driving the economy down. It’s bloody hard because of the building refurb boom. And all the new renewable power plants going up. And now we’re dismantling the artificial food industry and emasculating the blasted retail barons, people are finally spending real money on their grub and we can’t hold home agri back either. But we’re doing our best to force the economy down and get people to take it easier. Sooner or later we’ll need that safety net.”
“How do you mean?” said Stumpy.
“Come on, Stumpy, think about it. Why don’t they want us to wind down the economy?”
Stumpy smiled. “Because they haven’t got the credit to go short.”
“Any other reasons?” asked Eb.
“Because without growth you get unemployment.”
“Yes…” began Eb. “But that’s not the whole story, is it? We’ve always had unemployment.”
“Ok, it’s mass unemployment they’re scared of. Mass unemployment spells empty tummies. And empty tummies spells disorder. And that’s bad headlines and tumbling markets.”
“Exactly,” smiled Eb. “It’s not about growth at all. It’s not even about unemployment. It’s all about food. Which is why Sturgeon is our man.” Eb leant back in his chair, took a sip of whisky. “You see, if Sturgeon can provide the common man with the means of food production, then he won’t have to go hungry if he loses his job. And if he knows that unemployment doesn’t mean hunger, then we’ve extracted the venom from the teeth of unemployment. Indeed, unemployment becomes super-employment, because he’ll have to work very hard to produce enough food for himself.”
Stumpy cackled. “Fantastic! But where will they get the land from? There’s not enough to go round is there? It’s all in the wrong hands.”
Nat Eb avoided Stumpy’s gaze. He looked down into his whisky glass. For a moment the fragment of a dilemma hovered in his mind – was it half full or half empty? “That might be a snag, but perhaps there’s a way around it. There’s more and more demand for farm labour anyway, because of … demechanisation.”
“Aye,” agreed Regenurt. “They’ll take the workers. But you don’t want serfs, do you? You want a proud, skilful, land-owning peasantry.”
Eb ignored the mockery in Stumpy’s tone. “That’s right. That’s exactly it. Proud, skilful, land-owning peasants. Able to move back and forth between urban labour and gardening as the job market allows.”
“Looks like you need Klaxon-Schmitt, then, not Sturgeon.” Stumpy was thinking of Heinz Albert Gustav Maria Klaxon-Schmitt, the ruthless head of Klaxon-Schmitt Klaxon-Schmitt and Klaxon-Schmitt. Eldest of the three brothers, Klaxon-Schmitt had terrorised financiers and industrialists in decades of class-action warfare. “He’ll draw up a water-tight scheme for you. It’s all about who owns the land and what they do with it.”
Stumpy leant down to empty his pipe in the minister’s fire-place. “I must admit, you might be on to something, Eb. Gardening, horticulture and farming as the safety net for unemployment. Gives purpose, keeps them busy, gets them some fresh air and makes them healthy, cuts food imports. As we used to say before you abolished consultancy, it ticks all the boxes. All it takes is a bit of rework on the land registry. Old Heinz will relish this one. And plenty of real estate investors whose stocks will fall once we start putting their land to good use.” Stumpy rubbed his hands with glee.