Megacorporations, The History of

Image from Steve Bowers

The megacorporations have been called the most enduring legacy of Terragen society.

The early megacorps were amongst the most powerful institutions modosophonts ever developed. As nation states gradually declined in influence, the big corporations filled the political vacuum and in many ways began to resemble nations themselves; buying, owning, and regulating large areas of land and providing services for the people within them from internal companies. Beyond commercial and territorial interests, many megacorps became international meta-organisations, beholden to their stakeowners (which ranged from a share purchasing electorate to Boards of Hiveminds) and acting to further the goals of said stakeholders at every level of society.

The Interplanetary Age saw great disruption to the economic models of the previous centuries. Automation was gradually eroding the bedrock of capitalism as demand for sophont labour fell with each passing decade. Many nations implemented forms of basic income to cope with this, but social tensions grew between those that could gain work for more resources and those that could not. One part of the issue was expensive augmentation treatments; those with jobs were more able to pay for the augments that made them even more competitive for the work remaining. Whilst groups like the New Economy Movement attempted to construct novel economies for the new era, the megacorps took a different approach. Nascent megacorporations enjoyed vast profits per employee capita, consequently each could afford to provide basic material and informational needs to millions for free. It became common in the late 100s for megacorps to offer free basic homes, products, and services in exchange for some promises of responsibility (such as enrollment in a university sponsored by the megacorp, or a willingness to accept a job if one became available). This relationship was referred to as "clientship" and many preferred it to the basic services offered by their national governments. Some megacorps enacted these programs from a sense of charity, others as a way of gaining influence and a pool of indebted people from which to draw employees when needed. The 190s saw this competition rise to a new level, as the major corporations became military as well as economic powers. That decade saw three Belt-based and five Cis-Lunar corporations demonstrate a nuclear capability.

Although originally under the control of baselines, tweaks, and superiors, many of the big megacorps came to be guided by AI. Initially this was in a limited capacity due to a combination of mistrust and various difficulties of interaction, but as the decades passed more and more megacorp boards appointed artificial minds into Chief positions. Eventually, as AIs consolidated power behind the scenes, the control of each megacorp slipped more and more from biont hands.

The first half of the 3rd century a.t. was a time of rapid evolution and change for the megacorps. Of particular note is how the Cis-Lunar and Belt-based corporations emerged as more tightly-integrated entities during this time. Memes of corporate identity and loyalty were more firmly embedded into megacorp members and clients. The Belt corporations in particular had a serious disadvantage in the struggle with their Cis-Lunar rivals due to the small size of the Belt population. To offset this, the Belt corporations embraced extensive memgineering and by the 280s the difference between corporation, society, and family in the minds of their employees had disappeared almost entirely. The Belt corporations became the Belt Zaibatsus with each Belter having a fierce loyalty to their particular Zaibatsu and defections becoming almost unknown. Despite these radical measures, the Belt megacorporations still remained relatively minor powers next to the great Cis-Lunar postnationals.

By the early 4th century, the megacorps were expanding throughout the solar system, gaining greater percentages of colony GDP, and growing in power even more. But their old power bases were eroding as the balance shifted from the Orbitals, the Inner Worlds, and the Belt asteroids they controlled to the Genetekker Republics around the gas giants, and claim jumping by rival megacorps only worsened the situation.

The fifth century saw the unleashing of the Technocalypse and in the ensuing chaos many of the old megacorps disappeared. Many, but not all. A number of AIs had the foresight to push out their center of operations, or at least major backup nodes, to the Kuiper Belt and beyond. These AIs and their associated bionts, survived the Technocalypse, and after a few hundred years, when the Solar System was once again safe, they returned to the inner planets. Together with the AIs that had remained, they formed alliances that, at around the turn of the first millennium a.t., would lead to the establishment of the First Federation. Later the AIs were to contribute to the design of cheaper starships, including various amat and amat fusion designs, bringing the price of interstellar travel within the scope of the new generation of rule-by-council megacorp-states.

The Interstellar Era saw great gains in territory for the megacorps. Those with the strongest expansionist tendencies established semi-autonomous fiefdoms among the stars. This was achieved by funding a significant portion of the cost of a new colony, consequently the local megacorp branch of that system would open with enough local capital to rapidly grow and firmly embed itself in the system economy and culture. Records show the megacorps at the time were regarded as innovative and creative, as well as cultural institutions to be valued. There is some disagreement over how true these claims are, particularly as megacorp power in these cases was enough to effectively control public perception through intensive memetic engineering.

By the later Federation period, especially in the colonies and on the Periphery, some megacorps had changed significantly from their earlier beginnings. Those megacorps that began to practice tightly controlled oligarchical rule used their immense power to set up their own empires. By this time technological progress had slowed significantly from a modosophont perspective, with all significant innovations now coming from the hyperturings. The new Age of Empires had begun.

The neo-feudalism of the post-Federation period and the rise of higher level transapients (and eventually the archailect Gods) progressively lessened the influence of the megacorporations. Despite this they did not fade into history. Whilst the level of power they exert throughout the entirety of the Terragen Sphere is greatly reduced, many thrive in the NoCoZo, various Free Zones, parts of the Outer Volumes, and along some of the Deeper Covenant trade and cycler routes. There they have been able to grow and diversify even to the present day.

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Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev and Anders Sandberg; updated by Ryan B and Todd Drashner
Initially published on 10 June 2000.