Invisible Hand – Chapter Thirty-Seven: A Real Payer Talks

      Click here for MP3 of this chapter


In which a veteran payer tells it like it is.

The little old lady in whites, her back straight, her wispy white hair caught up in a bun on the back of her neck, walked with serene confidence to the table at the front of the classroom. The students eyed her curiously. She was the first instructor they had seen who was a payer. Of course this was their first class in how to pay, so it shouldn’t have been surprising.

She smiled and asked without preamble, “What are your limits as a payer?” pronouncing her words with precision.

“No luxuries,” several of the class quickly responded.

“You can’t keep anyone else out of the club,” Niall said.

The teacher’s head turned quickly toward Niall. “You’ve been thinking. I like that.” Then turning to the rest of the class she continued, “What else?”

“The laws of physics,” another said.

“Limits as a payer, not limits as a human being. Pay attention to the questions.”

There was silence for a time as she looked at them impassively. “That’s right. There are almost no limits on Payers as Payers. Can you pay anyone you like?”

“Only if they’re not a payer themselves,” from the same student who had mentioned the laws of physics.

“You have guts. I like that. You’re also right, I like that even better. Yes, you can pay anyone who is not a payer already.

“Have any of you been paid since you came here?”

“They told me that we wouldn’t be paid for whatever we do here even if it benefits someone,” Niall said.

“That’s true. Is that a limitation on Payers? Are we not allowed to pay you? If I tried to pay you now could I succeed?”

No one seemed to know. The instructor gestured to someone outside the classroom who wheeled in a TV on a cart. The set must have been at least three feet wide. The young man positioned the set on the table facing the class and turned it on.

The instructor walked around to the front of the set. “Kermit, do you know the folks in this class?”

A green hand puppet in the shape of a frog appeared on the TV and seemed to look around the room. “Yes, ma’am.”

“What’s her name?”

“That is Natalie Holmes Carraway,” the Kermit seemed to say sounding like Kermit the Frog as well.

“Natalie, is it all right for us to show your account total to the members of this class?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Kermit, show Natalie’s account total.

“Natalie, is that the correct amount.”

“Yes, ma’am, it is,” responded a somewhat embarrassed Natalie.

“Credit Natalie’s account with one dollar for serving as my example to this class to demonstrate the powers of a payer.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Natalie. Would you ask to have Kermit show your account balance?”

“Yes ma’am. Kermit, what is my account total?”

The amount that showed on the screen was one dollar greater than before.

“Natalie, did I just pay you?”

“Yes, ma’am, it certainly appears that you did.”

“It appears to be possible for a payer to pay you students.”

“So why are you not being paid while you’re here at the school?”

“Because no payer chooses to pay us while we are here?” Niall ventured.

“That’s correct. We could pay you but we choose to not pay you. What’s our motivation for not paying you?”

“You want us to know what it’s like to be Payers and Payers don’t get paid, no matter what they do.”

“ Right, Niall. But doesn’t that show that the Payers also have the power to not pay, even when someone deserves to be paid?”

There were murmurs of agreement from around the room.

“How did you know my name?” Niall asked.

“Kermit can talk to my hearing aid, of course. Why isn’t there a law to force the Payers to pay people when they deserve to be paid?”

“Because such a law could not be enforced. We just covered that point in a history class.” Niall said.

“When did such a consideration ever stop a legislature from passing a law? Could the Prohibition Amendment be enforced back in the 1920’s? No. Could the war on drugs prevent organized crime from flooding the nation with illegal drugs? No. Could all those State laws against various forms of sexual behavior between consenting adults be enforced? No. So what’s the real reason there’s no law to force the Payers to pay people when they deserve to be paid?”

“I would say it was pointless and unnecessary but there have been all sorts of pointless and unnecessary laws passed over the centuries,” Leyden said.

“Yes, Leyden. That is true. Anyone else want to have a go at it?”

“Because the Payers pay the legislature and Congress and such a law would have bad consequences.”

“All right, Natalie,” the instructor said clapping her hands. “Since the transition, legislators have been held responsible for the laws they’ve passed. It’s had a marvelous effect on the amount of laws passed and on their content. What would some of the bad consequences of such a law be?”

“The legislatures would think they could control the Payers and would pass laws to try to control them,” Oscar said.

“The Payers would be thinking about the law instead of how much they should pay,” said D.W.

“It’s impossible to pay for everything that deserves to be paid, since there are so many people doing so many things. So it would be a law that couldn’t be obeyed. Therefore, any time someone wanted to hurt a payer, they could accuse them of not paying for some benefit,” Clayton said.

“Very good, class. Those are all good reasons. The point of this exercise is that the Payers are free to pay as they choose or not pay as they choose. There are no formal limitations on us. We are free in many ways. We are also very important to the proper functioning of the economy and the society in general. How can the society allow us to be unrestricted? Are Payers more trustworthy than other people? Are we the most intelligent of people? Do we never make mistakes? Why don’t we run amok? What keeps us in line?”

Natalie spoke up, “Well, we are good people. I’ve already formed friendships with the people in this class. I think I’m a pretty good judge of character and these are really good people.”

The instructor smiled kindly and said, “Maybe you all are good but that doesn’t mean that the other three million Payers are all good people. What keeps the bad apples from ruining things for all of us?”

“I was told that Payers are controlled by the consumers and the Payers control the producers and the consumers are at the mercy of the producers. So it’s the consumers that keep Payers in line.”

“Niall, you’re right in general. That relationship between producers, consumers, and Payers does exist. But how many Payers making really silly payments would it take to make everything fall apart?”

“Not many, I guess.”

“Let’s hope we never find out how many. Think now, class. What prevents bad payments by a few Payers from ruining everything? Remember that Payers can pay almost anyone and don’t have to pay. What’s left that might control Payers?”

A tentative hand went up in the back row. “Could it be the fact that the amount that an individual payer can pay is limited?”

“Yes! That’s how we Payers are limited. No one payer can credit an account with a large amount of money. The larger the amount, the more Payers it takes in agreement. For the largest payments and other important decisions up to 2500 Payers might be involved in the decision. Thus no small group of Payers can mess things up by wildly erratic payments.”

Niall raised his had and was recognized. “It looks to me as if a lot of things could go wrong with this. What if those 2500 got together and decided to take over? Wouldn’t they be able to control the legislature, for example?”

“Each set of 2500 is randomly selected from among all the Payers and they make only the one decision. Since there are over three million Payers at present, you can see that no small group of Payers could expect to have even one of their number be on each of the decision groups. Also, though important, those decisions are but a tiny proportion of the decisions being made.”

“OK. But how can you be sure the counting of the votes is being done fairly? I believe someone famous once said that it doesn’t matter who the people vote for, it only matters who counts the votes.”

“The lists of who is included in the deciding group are public and the vote of each payer is public. I’ve talked to Payers who’ve served and their votes are registered as they said they had voted. In the early days after the transition there were many who were suspicious of just such cheating by those who programmed the computers. They talked to each of the voters and confirmed that each of their votes actually was as the computer indicated. They never found a discrepancy. These days, I understand some folks still run independent checks to be sure it’s counting things correctly. They’re even paid for doing so by the Payers, I should add. It is very important to us that people trust us, as a group, of course. I’m sure there are individual Payers who are dishonest… we are only human.” She smiled somewhat grimly.

“Ah,” Niall said, “but the Payers make so many decisions. Some of them must be wrong. Even you must have paid unfairly from time to time.”

“Oh yes, I have made my share of bad decisions. Those payments that were too low we were able to go back later and correct. It’s not what we would like but, as they say, better late than never. Those times that I overpaid, well, all one can do is shrug and try to avoid such an error in the future.”

“What happens to the person who got overpaid?” Niall asked.

“Nothing unless, of course, there was fraud of some sort. Then they might be prosecuted as thieves,” she replied.

“And what happens to the money?”

“Sometimes the court will put a freeze on their accounts for a time but unless they refuse to come to court or something like that, the money is theirs. They can spend it as they like.”

“You mean they get to keep the money?”

“Once the money’s in their accounts it’s their property, period. They’re the only people who can have that money deleted from their accounts. Of course such fraud would be added to their reputation. Everyone who might do business with them would find out about their actions. They’d have real trouble finding people who would cooperate with them. Also, there’s a tendency on the part of those who provide standard goods and services to refuse to give their goods to such people. Persons convicted of fraud sometimes find themselves in the position of having to pay for luxury food whether they want it or not. Even then, some who sell luxuries won’t sell to them. Life can be terribly hard for such people. Many leave the country permanently to escape such treatment. So in the long run, the problem tends to take care of itself without our having to even use jails.

Class, let’s get back to our theme of the constraints on Payers. We’ve established that Payers can pay anyone they like and refuse to pay anyone they like. We’ve shown why the law doesn’t even attempt to place limits on the Payers. We’ve also shown that a small group of Payers can’t run amok with their payments.”

The point of all this is to show you that as Payers you must restrain yourselves. You are not controlled by others. There’s no law and no organization that you can blame for your actions. The Payers, collectively, must take responsibility for the payments that they make. There are no excuses.”

Niall’s hand went up again. “What about if someone is holding a gun on the payer and demanding to have money placed in his account? Would the payer be held responsible for doing what he was told?”

“To begin with, the payer would be physically unable to make a very large payment, so the possible rewards to the gunman would be low. Secondly, the gunman identifies himself by accepting the payment. Third, the computer would be able to hear the payer’s voice and detect the stress that would certainly be involved. If it were a scent station it could also detect the stress in the body’s secretions. The computer would contact the police and would probably fake the acceptance of the payment for later confirmation. I don’t know of any case in which such a thief was successful. Now in case you think that the thief could threaten the payer’s family or some such ransom scenario, the stress would still be there.

Satisfied, Niall?”

“On this point, yes ma’am.”

“As I was saying, there are no excuses for the Payers. If the producers are not doing what they should, if things are going wrong, if people don’t like what’s happening, the Payers are to blame and they are handy. We cannot escape the wrath or disappointment of the public.”

Niall’s hand was up again.” I thought you said the Payers were not controlled by others. Now you’re saying that the Payers can’t escape the consequences of the way they pay. That sounds like control to me.”

“If you’re a trader in a free market, does the market control you? Does it tell you what products to bring to market and how you must talk to those you trade with?”

“No. It wouldn’t be a free market in that situation.”

“But if you demand a price for your goods that’s twice what others will accept for similar goods will you be able to sell your goods?”


“Then you cannot escape the response of the other traders in the market. You suffer the consequences of your actions. The Payers are the same way. If they make foolish decisions, they’ll suffer the consequences of those decisions. They cannot escape those consequences. Just as the free market controls those who participate in it, so does the public, in the same sense, control how the Payers pay. They don’t tell the Payers what to do, but they do react to the consequences of the Payers’ payments. Just as the market responds to the actions of the traders, so the public responds to the actions of the Payers. The Payers are free. They are not controlled. But to get what they want from the public, the respect, the admiration, the trust, even the power, Payers must pay in certain ways. They don’t have to do anything unless they want the rewards. But then, none of you would be here giving up luxuries unless you wanted those rewards.

So what constrains the Payers? What makes us pay as well as we can? What makes us try very hard to pay fairly? Well, it isn’t rules. It isn’t threats of punishment. It’s our situation. To get what we want, others must get what they want. In short, it’s that we are part of a free market and the market, without coercion, without threats, without restricting our freedom, controls the results of our actions far more surely than any law or enforcement agency.

The reason we hold these classes is to help you understand your situation as well as possible so that you can get what you want from being a payer and so that we Payers can get what we want from you. We don’t have to try to force you to do anything so long as you do understand. That’s why we encourage you to discuss and debate things in your ‘spare’ time. That time is a major part of your education. You must know how your fellow Payers feel about things and how they’re likely to react to what you do. We’re all going to be in this thing together and we don’t want anybody drilling holes in the bottom of the boat to let the water out.

So that’s why you’ll want to pay close attention to what I’m going to try to explain to you. If you don’t understand something, you’ll ask about it. If you’re too scared to ask me, you’ll ask your new friends. You’ll discuss things and you’ll come to understand. None of this is all that complicated, it’s just a different point of view. You’ll be able to learn it.

First, you must understand that you are not paying for what people have done. You are paying for what they will do. Can anyone tell me in what sense that’s true? Then I’ll ask in what sense it’s false.

Yes, D.W.”

“Our power comes not from the payments we’ve made but from what people expect us to pay in the future. If they don’t expect us to pay for a certain thing, they won’t be motivated to do that thing.”

“What’s the basis for their expectations?”

“The payments we’ve made in the past.”

“So in what sense does our power not come from payments we’ve made in the past?”

“The public’s perception of those payments and the actual payments may be different. It is the perception that determines the expectations, not the reality.”

“Right, D.W. This is why we make the reasons for each payment public. If John Doe is paid $1000, we want people to know what we thought deserved a $1000 payment. Of course, most payments aren’t examined by the public, since they really aren’t very interested in any payments other than their own. But if they want to search the database to see how payments are being made for some particular kind of production, they can do so.”

Niall once again raised his hand. “Isn’t that an invasion of privacy?”

“Did the consequences of your action affect other people than yourself?” the instructor asked.

“I guess so.”

“Would you have been paid if they had not?”

“Oh, no, I would not, so my action must have affected others or at least appeared to have done so.”

“Good. Now if it affects other people, it’s already public. Private things don’t affect others. If you burn your own property, that’s a private thing. But if the burning embers and smoke go onto someone else’s property, your action is now public. The same kind of thing holds true for the things you do that benefit others. Like it or not, those actions are public. If you do something to benefit someone else and the two of you choose to keep it a secret from the rest of us, that’s just fine. We have no problem with that. But if you do something and expect to get paid for it, know that your action must be public before you can be paid. Therefore, making your actions available to the public to validate your getting paid is not an invasion of your privacy.

To take an extreme example, consider the POM colonies in this very State. They rejected and ejected all the Payers who attempted to pay in their community at the transition and since then. That’s their choice. We don’t have them in the accounts computer. They’ve chosen to cut themselves off from the rest of us and since they’re on their own property and don’t bother us, we see no reason to try to make their actions public.

“To repeat, you are not paying for what people have done, you are paying for what they will do. We have seen in what sense this is true. Now tell me in what sense this is not true.

“No, D.W., give someone else a chance. All right, Leyden, go ahead.”

“We must base our payments on the consequences of people’s actions. Since the pay is for the consequences of past actions, we are paying for what they have done.”

“Yes. We only pay after the consequences, the benefits, are realized. We never pay for what we expect to happen. Therefore, we are paying for what people have done, in that sense. You will note that these two ways of viewing the statement are both true. In paying for the past we are influencing the future. If people don’t like what’s happening, the only thing we can do to change things is pay on the basis of what has happened in the past. We control the future by remembering the past. We control actions in the present by helping people interpret what happened in the past.

Next, I would point out to you that you are not alone. There are currently over three million Payers active in the U.S. Your payments will be but a small part of the huge number of payments that will be made while you’re active. This is both comforting and depressing. Comforting in that you cannot, by your individual actions, bring down the economy any more than your individual decisions as consumers before the transition could have destroyed the economy. But it’s depressing in that you cannot, by your own payments, have a great influence on the economy. The Payers, as a category of people, hold a great amount of power. But they cannot exercise that power individually.

This is why you must concern yourselves with other Payers as well as with yourselves. Some people will respect you because you wear whites. But other people will be angry with you because you wear whites. You will be held responsible for their actions and you will get credit for their actions and you will be blamed for their actions. Because we are labeled and dress alike we are easily stereotyped. If you allow other Payers to be slipshod, if you allow other Payers to be corrupt, if you allow other Payers to consume luxuries and remain Payers, you attack your own reputation. The reputation of every payer will be your reputation. People will not look up your reputation on the net, even though they could. They will know all they need to know from looking at your clothes. You must keep your fellow Payers on the straight and narrow. You must be their conscience. You must be a sterling example to them. And you must expect them to keep you on the straight and narrow. You must expect them to be your conscience. You must expect to be watched and judged and evaluated by your fellow Payers perhaps even more closely than they watch and judge and evaluate producers. If you can’t take being watched and nagged and having demands made upon you, then you have no business being Payers. You’ll have to be just as tolerant and strive just as hard as you ever did in your previous walk in life.

Enough sermon. I can tell you about it but I can’t make you feel it. You must imagine it as vividly as you can, both the watching over others and the being watched over. If either role makes you uncomfortable, don’t become a payer until you can welcome both roles.

“Does this mean that you must always be just like all the other Payers? Absolutely not. You must do as good a job paying as you are able. You must be right even though it seems that everyone around you is wrong. Never make a payment unless you are convinced it is the right one. We may be judged as a group but every person you pay is an individual. You hold that life in your hands. You represent the society’s evaluation of that person. You have no right to be casual about your rendering of judgment. You must pay as fairly as you’re able. To pay too much devalues your judgment in the eyes of the person you pay just as much as paying too little. You cannot make yourself popular by being ‘generous’ with your payments. You only make yourself appear a fool. You’ll get only contempt. You cannot gain respect by paying less than is deserved. You’ll gain only anger and bitterness. You can only have the respect and admiration of those you pay by appearing, in their eyes, to pay fairly. Nothing else will do. There’s no second best. This is why it’s so important to specify accurately the benefits and the costs that led you to assign the payment you did. This is also why we use groups of Payers when the amount to be paid is large. We want the wisdom of many to contribute to that decision.”

The members of the class were somber as they filed out of the classroom.

Leave a comment

Skip to toolbar