The Big Idea: Adam Rakunas

We’re all connected — although perhaps not to the extreme the people in Adam Rakunas‘ new book Like a Boss are. In this Big Idea, Rakunas muses on the costs and benefits of connection… especially if someone wants to disconnect.


Three years ago, Paul Graham Raven posted a link to an essay by Venkatesh Rao, and it broke me. Rao’s thesis in The American cloud is that the everyday experiences of our lives are dependent on distant industrial-scale processes that might as well be high up in the sky. Flip a light switch, eat an apple, read a book: all of these are the end points of vast networks of raw materials passing through the hands of many, many people until they get to you.

What would happen if they all went on strike?

For the people of Santee Anchorage, the world of Like a Boss, it would be catastrophic. The little agricultural world is an Information Age outpost on the edge of Super Duper Future society. All of the supply lines are so compressed and interdependent that if one person quits, everything collapses overnight. If the woman who runs the local metal fabrication shop closes up, then the delivery company that depends on her parts will have to close when their carburetors fail, which means that the farmers won’t be able to bring their eggplants to town in time for the Baba Ganoush Festival, which means the family that just opened a pita bread bakery will have a pile of rotting product, which means the neighborhood garbage digester will overfill, which means a sudden increase in the rat population, which means a sudden uptick in ratborne meningitis, which brings the already-stretched medical system to its knees, et cetera.

And that’s just one shop. Imagine everyone walking out.

Padma Mehta, the book’s two-fisted labor organizing heroine, knows that there’s a time and place for a strike, and right now is neither. Santee Anchorage is still recovering from the economic disaster of having its space elevator blown up (by Padma, a fact that everyone is more than happy to remind her every chance they get), and, even though the new elevator has been up and running for the past eight months, people are still on edge. The medicine and technology that the citizenry gets in exchange for its industrial sugarcane is running low, and any disruptions to the local economy will empty those stocks.

Padma’s been too busy digging her way out of debt to want to do anything about it, though. She’s got what she’s always wanted: retirement from her gig as a Union recruiter, ownership of the Old Windswept Rum Distillery, and a life free of people bringing their troubles to her and expecting her to Do Something About it. She did that for long enough, and where did it get her? On the hook for blowing up the space elevator, that’s what. If the Union can’t do anything about fixing Santee’s current mess, then why should she bother?

Because it will get her out of debt, of course. That’s the deal the Union President offers if Padma can head off the looming strike. Everyone’s pissed off, everyone want someone to Do Something About It, and Padma’s just the person with the knowledge, the charm, and the ready right hook to get it done. Will she stop the strike in time?

No. Oh, God, no. Not even close. But you’ll have a hell of a time finding out how.


Like a Boss: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Powell’s|Mysterious Galaxy|Elliott Bay Book Company|Kobo

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter. Visit the website of Padma

Mehta’s former employer.

9 Comments on “The Big Idea: Adam Rakunas”

  1. .. Wait, does that mean that if everyone who builds things just upped and walked away they wouldn’t magically create a new prospering super-libertarian society while the rest of the world crumbles into chaos and ruin?

    I mean, Ayn Rand wouldn’t lie to us, would she?

  2. What would happen if they all went on strike?

    We don’t have to imagine that situation. All we have to do is remember what things were like along the Canadian border immediately following 9/11. The border closings affected parts deliveries for manufacturing which caused assembly lines to shut down which led to people being laid off which led to some smaller manufacturers going bankrupt. Thanks to that, many manufacturers moved from a “just-in-time” delivery model to one with one that included warehousing as a backup.

    And then there was the example of the garbage strike in New York City in 1968, which didn’t paralyze the city but did leave mountains of garbage rotting in the streets for eight days. Unfortunately for the strikers, theirs was a Pyrrhic victory; though they won a $425/month increase (~$3,000 in 2016 dollars), it led to a public backlash against the unions that continues to this day.

  3. @Jack — this link works —

    Yeah, it’s amazing how fragile our system really is. I remember when a squirrel chewed through an electrical cable at UC Berkeley and half the campus was without electricity for half a day; imagine if somebody deliberately intended to screw things up!

    The “former employer” site is a hoot. Looking forward to reading this.

  4. And it’s book #2 of a series! Since I wanna know about Padma blowing up the space elevator (1st edition …) I’ve put both on the amazon kindle “to-purchase” list.

  5. Well Adam, you have clearly made the big time if you are featured on “Whatever” this blog is :). couldn’t be happier for you and all your success!

  6. Yep, that’s the trouble with only a few giant corporations producing goods or providing services. If there’s a glitch or something fails outright, there can be a huge ripple effect.

    Here I am in a major city, yet because of store closings, brand changes, the internet and how stores stock things, these days, I have had to come back home after a trip to local stores, only to order online and have something delivered. “Oh, sir, you can order that from our website!” — “Yes, but I came here to get it today.” Hmm. Or they no longer carry it. Or instead of three stores in town, there’s now only one, 45 minutes away. And so on. These things affect my life as a consumer. But they also show how shaky the economy can be, how prone it can be to further upset. It *helps* if there are warehoused goods. It helps if there’s more than one provider, lots of companies. So they compete, but there can be enough of a market for everyone to get a slice of the pie, both the producers and the consumers.

    Related: Consider the large effects when a natural disaster strikes and a major city is shut down, thrown back into pre-industrial levels for a month or more. — Does that sound improbable? No! That very thing happened when Hurricane Ike hit Houston a few years ago. The thing is, people *did* survive, they did cooperate, and things eventually, *very* slowly, were restored. But if more of the region, or other major cities, had been similarly affected? People would have started to get truly desperate and uncivilized. — I lived through Hurricane Ike in the city. On the one hand, it’s remarkable how people could get along through that, without breaking down. On the other hand, yes, there were curfews and armed police and National Guard to keep order at grocery stores (when they were up and running again) and food/supply distribution points. — There is some point where it would have gone from civilized people to any of those post-collapse TV/movie situations.

  7. Sounds fascinating, though I do feel a little sad about the space elevator falling down, going boom.

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