A middle-aged man entered a non-descript office in an unremarkable building in
the city's professional district. He was well dressed and tried looking
confident. However he was clearly nervous. He fidgeted with his coat buttons
and kept glancing around the room in the hope of getting some clue to his
But the room gave him no clue. Its furnishing was Spartan to an extreme,
consisting only of standard-issue government gray metal conference table with
two chairs. There was no superfluous adornment - no pictures on the walls, no
books and no magazines (old or not). The dingy walls might have been pastel
green at sometime, or pastel blue, or beige. Now they were merely clean and
austere. Beyond that nobody seemed to care.
The man stood there for some indeterminate time facing a wall with a door in
it. He faced the wall but was not looking at it. Rather he was staring into
the void that he perceived represented his future. The future, like his
vision, was an empty canvas, waiting to be painted.
At some point, a second man entered the room from the door the first man was
facing. The second man pulled up short and consulted one of the papers he was
carrying. Satisfied, he looked up and asked the first man:
"Mr. Davenport? Mr. Eugene Richard Davenport? National Registry Citizen
Startled out of his daze, the first man focused on the new man and responded:
"Er, yes. That's me."
The second man took two steps forward, held out his hand, and introduced
himself: "Hi. My name is Dr. Ridgeway, NRCW Number
PWPM-1472. I am your case worker."
Moving to the table, Dr. Ridgeway motioned for Mr. Davenport to sit down on one
side and then took the other seat for himself.
After taking a minute to arrange the papers he carried in front of himself, Dr.
Ridgeway looked up and, speaking to no one in particular, declared:
"Begin recording. This is a meeting held on
February 1st in the year 2062 in
the public office building of the Philadelphia Metropolis. Present are Dr.
Stephen Jason Ridgeway, NRCW Number PWPM-1472, representing the North American
Metropolitan Association and Mr. Eugene Richard Davenport, NRCN Number
42781-DeCCV-5892, representing himself."
Turning to directly address Davenport, Dr. Ridgeway asked,
"Do you know what this meeting is about?"
Davenport looked a little nervous but answered, in what he hoped was a calm,
strong voice, "You are going to tell me how long I have to
For the first time, Dr. Ridgeway looked a little
"Certainly not! What gave you that idea?"
"Well, I was given very thorough physical
at the office last week. This week I was released from my job
and told to meet you, a Dr. Ridgewaw, here this morning. I
assumed that something bad was found in my physical and you were
going to tell me the bad news."
Looking both serious and amused at the same time Dr. Ridgeway shook
his head. "No, no. Nothing could be further
from the truth. We in the Metropolitan Civic government have done
a terrible job educating everyone on the new Civil Code that has
evolved over the last 15 years."
"In the first place," Dr. Ridgeway continued,
"I am not a medical doctor. My
doctorate is in Applied Actuarial Science. It's irrelevant anyway since
it has nothing to do with our meeting this morning."
Sensing that a death sentence had been lifted, Davenport sat up a little
straighter and asked "Why are we meeting, then?"
Dr. Ridgeway answered in slow, measured tones (ensuring that Davenport and
whatever concealed recording device he addressed earlier could understand
everything he was saying):
"Today, February 1st is your 35th birthday. Right?"
"For the past 15 years you have been employed by
the Metropolitan Agricultural Transportation Bureau in various capacities
related to the distribution of food among the citizenry."
"This employment followed your standard, compulsory
education that ended when you were eighteen and your two year stint in
the mandatory travel program.
Still not understanding where this was going, Davenport agreed again:
Trying to exude cheerfulness, Dr. Ridgeway leaned forward:
"Congratulations, you have reached the
new mandatory retirement age and I am here to tell you
what your long and productive work history has gotten you
in the way of a retirement package."
Davenport looked worried again. "Retirement?
But I don't want to retire yet. I am only 35."
"Most people don't. That's why its called
"But I have no savings, no retirement fund.
How am I to live?"
"Ahh. That is why we are here. I am going
to go over the very generous retirement package that the Metropolitan
Civic government is bestowing on you due to your many years of exemplary
Davenport no longer looked worried, but merely confused.
"'Exemplary Service'? But I never
did anything except push whatever buttons on my desk
console my supervisor told me to."
"Precisely." Dr. Ridgeway agreed.
"You never questioned why you were told to
push a button. You never posted a complaint or a suggestion.
In fact you never did anything that might gum up the smooth
workings of the organization. For that you will be richly
Thinking he ought to be more worried and confused than he felt,
"Ok," Dr. Ridgeway continued in a
more monotone voice. "The retirement package
represents both contractual agreement between you and your
Metropolitan Civic government as well as a listing of all of
the relevant laws and guidelines that might affect your retirement.
We include the latter because we find that most retirees don't
know their legal rights and obligations."
Davenport felt a little defensive at the implied criticism of he
and his fellow citizens. "How could we know
them, if the government never made their existence known?"
"We realize that the publication restrictions
do present a small problem in that area, but we find that the whole
mechanism works smoother if we maintain the secrecy of these laws."
"By the way, I should point out up front that
this meeting, including all official and unofficial discussions
engaged between us, falls under the General Secrecy Act. Under
that Act, you may not discuss anything seen or said here with anyone,
anytime. A violation will result in the immediate cancellation of
your pension rights."
Speaking more to the unseen microphone than to Davenport, Dr. Ridgeway asked:
"Do you understand these restrictions?"
Rather than answer directly "yes" or "no", Davenport asked
"Can I get a copy of these regulations
so I can understand what all of the restrictions are?"
"No" Dr. Ridgeway said.
"All of the secrecy restrictions
are secret and you are not authorized to that level. The only
thing you really need to understand is that you would be in
serious trouble if you repeated anything from or about this
Dr Ridgeway waited for about 30 seconds, staring intently at Davenport, and
then prodded: "You do understand that, don't
"Yea, I guess so" Davenport replied reluctantly.
"Please speak louder and more clearly."
Dr. Ridgeway admonished Davenport.
"Yes, I understand that I shouldn't
tell anyone anything even remotely concerned with this meeting."
Davenport, almost shouted this time.
"Good" Dr. Ridgeway said, reverting
back to his pleasant, friendly face.
"Now," he continued,
"I will describe your retirement benefits in three parts:
housing, taxes and fees, and your pension."
"Of course you cannot go on living where you
are - those are residence halls for employees of your old agency.
Since you no longer work for them, you must move out. However the
Civic Government will provide generously for your needs. You will
be assigned one of the units in the Riverside Retirement Hotel. It
is located only a half mile from the Delaware River. On a clear
day you can climb to the roof and see the river. Truly inspiring."
Davenport looked up and asked "Is it a one
or two bedroom apartment?"
Dr. Ridgeway looked embarrassed to tell Davenport that, because
of the current scarcity of units, there were only efficiency units
"Can I get on a priority list for a larger
unit when they do become available?" Davenport asked.
Dr. Ridgeway looked even more uncomfortable.
"Well, no. I am afraid that this will be your unit as long as you
live. You will not be able to move out. If you get lucky and can
afford it, you might be able to buy a second unit, but
that is unlikely."
"So I have to live the rest of my life crammed
into a tiny 400 square foot unit." Davenport expostulated.
"Well, actually it is only 265 square
feet in size."
"You're kidding me?"
"But, there. . ." Davenport
started to say but, Dr. Ridgeway held up his hand.
"I am afraid that's what it is. The
policy is very precise and firm on the allocated size."
After a short pause Dr. Ridgeway continued:
"We better move on since we have a lot more to discuss and I have
another retiree coming in 20 minutes."
Dr. Ridgeway proceeded to put a second folder in front of Davenport.
"Now the good news is that you will not have
to pay taxes or municipal fees."
By this time Davenport was leery of anything that looked too good.
"What kind of fees will I have to pay?"
"Only those that represent non-standard,
extraordinary activities such as non-essential transportation,
elective medical visits, and off-year clothes purchases. For
example, if you want to have plastic surgery to improve you
facial profile, you would have to pay for that. A bus ride
to the nearest grocery store to buy a carton of milk won't
cost you. However, if you travel across town to buy the same
item, the bus ride will cost you."
"All of this is explained in detail by
these brochures I am giving you. Since they are non negotiable
and we are now in a hurry, I will leave it to you to read them."
Not waiting for any comment from Davenport, Dr. Ridgeway continued:
"That leaves only the question of your pension.
As you may or may not be aware, the nature and role of money in our
modern society has been changing. Actually, it has been disappearing.
Money per se is no longer used as focalization of the barter of goods
"Since you have been gainfully and dutifully
employed for the past 15 years, you know that you were no longer
being paid for your services. However, you could walk into almost
any store in town, get what you needed and charge it to he association
for which you worked.
"Sort of like using someone else's credit cards."
Davenport endeavored to break in and add a comment:
"But I had nothing of my own. I did not save anything for retirement."
Dr. Ridgeway smilled. "No you didn't, but your
association did it for you. It regularly paid into a retirement fund
in your name. This pension, which is the primary reason for us
meeting today, has been set up to allow you to retire in
comfort with peace of mind for the future."
"Will I be able to continue to charge against
the Association account as I have been doing?" Davenport
"Ah, you are getting ahead of me"
Dr. Ridgeway said. "As of today, with your
acceptance of the retirement package, all association between
you and the Metropolitan Council is severed."
Davenport felt uncomfortable with the whole chain of events
winding out before him. "If I refuse
to accept this package, will I go back to the old
"Well, no. Your association with the
Metropolitan Council will still be severed. You just won't
have the package."
"But what would I live on? How would I eat?"
Dr. Ridgeway looked companionate and concerned.
"It would be difficult. That is why I urge you to accept the
Once again looking confused, Davenport asked:
"Ok, if there is no longer any money as such and the Council is to give me
something on which I will live, what will I get?"
Dr. Ridgeway looked relieved to finally address the reason for their meeting.
He took the last of the folders he had brought (last and the thinnest Davenport
noticed) and slid it across the table.
"'Money', which had no intrinsic worth, has been
replaced by 'Calories' whose intrinsic value is evident every time you
"Calories? How does the Council give me a calorie?"
Again Dr. Ridgeway smiled. He smiled a lot when he found himself on
familiar, well traveled paths. "Well you don't
exactly get paid in calories, per se. You get food whose caloric
content counts toward your caloric account."
"Who chooses what foods will be used to
fulfill my 'quota'?" Davenport asked skeptically.
With a certain amount of evident pride, Dr. Ridgeway explained:
"That is the beauty of the system. You get
to choose. You go out onto the open market and pick what you want.
All foods are assigned an official nutritional label amount which
details how many calories are nominally in each food you obtain.
For all registered businesses this nominal amount is fixed.
"Of course if you go to one of the perambulating
farmer's markets, what you pay is whatever you can negotiate with the
seller. A totally open and transparent system."
"But what about other expenses, like bus
transportation? How do I pay for that if I don't have any money?"
"With your calorie credits. Whereas you
had a professional job and received a fixed level of compensation
(calories into your pension plan), the bus driver earns credit
from his riders. You will have a range of levels you can pay him.
When you leave the bus you indicate how much you will give.
"Of course it makes the bus driver's job
iffy, but that is the lot of the day laborer." Dr. Ridgeway's
smile this time was almost conspiratorial.
But Davenport wasn't really paying attention to the problem of
the day laborer. Instead, he was trying to think of issues that
would affect him.
"Look this raises a lot of questions: How
often does my account get credited? What happens if the Council's
economic health collapses? What are the adjustments for inflation
and such? I image the whole system gets very complicated."
"Actually, it doesn't" Dr. Ridgeway responded.
"It is truly very simple. If you accept this proposal,
then a ridiculously large lump sum will be deposited in your Calorie Account
with the Metropolitan Credit Program (or MCP as we call it). After that
only you have access to it. You manage it, use it, even invest it for
the rest of your life."
Davenport sat there in silence.
As the time stretched out, Dr. Ridgeway began to fidget. He had other places
to go and clients to see if he were to make his quota this day.
"If you have any questions, I am sure that they
are answered in those brochures. All I need is you signature on
this agreement signaling your acceptance of this settlement."
Davenport looked at the paper that Dr. Ridgeway pushed toward
him but did not reach for it.
"But how much is this 'ridiculously large'
pension I am being offered," he asked.
For the first time, Dr. Ridgeway looked flustered.
"Uh, sorry. I must have forgotten to
mention the amount. We have taken so long and I am so
rushed that it completely slipped my mind."
Dr. Ridgeway took a deep breath and visibly tried to achieve the state of
assured serenity he had started with. He almost succeeded in spite of the
"Well, Mr. Davenport based upon your exemplar
work record and numerous superior reviews, the council calculated
that you deserve the lump sum distribution of 10,957,500 calories.
However, given that outstanding record, the Council mediator has
upped the distribution to an even 11 million calories.
"Congratulations. That is one of the most
generous distributions I have ever seen and I have been doing
this for almost fourteen years.
"Now, you can see that amount here at the
top of the form. If you will sign the bottom, we can each take
a copy and conclude this meeting."
But, Davenport would not be rushed. He sat there thinking for a few minutes,
jotting some figures and notes onto a piece of paper he pulled from his
When he finally looked up, he looked both perplexed and angry:
"But that is only 12 years worth of calories
on a 2500 calorie a day diet. What happens after I turn 47?"
Again, Dr. Ridgeway was on solid ground.
"Actually its over 15 years on the recommended 1500 calorie a
day diet. Beyond that you need to either learn to invest your
savings or get a job. It is not the Council's function to give
you cradle to grave care. You have to take responsibility
for your own life. This is the package that all professional's
get. You will have to learn to live with it!
"After all, you are in the same situation
as all professionals and are in better shape than most."
Davenport signed, of course.
Almost immediately, Dr. Ridgeway departed. Thankfully, he
left without regurgitating any more words of encouragement.
Eventually, Davenport left also. He chose to walk home;
it was only fourteen blocks and he wasn't sure if he would
On the way home he thought about the 5 days he had to
move into his new apartment.
He also noticed that there were not any elderly people on
the street and that a hot dog was evaluated to be worth