Running the Game: What's a Red Market?

Brian G. asked this question on our Facebook page: "The 'Glory' adventure refers to one of the NPCs as part of the 'red market' dealing in 'red tech.' I can't find an explanation of what that means. Is it just 'black market' dealing in 'illegal tech,' or something more specific?" Since red markets are kind of a sci-fi concept (one for which you won't find a Wikipedia entry), I thought an explanation might be helpful... Thanks to Rob for input on this post.

Sort of. It's a concept that doesn't have a lot of useful real-world referents.

Red markets are basically what black markets turn into when they don't have to hide from governments anymore. The economy that characters in anarchist space are taking part in when they use Guanxi networks to get goods & services tends to be a red market.

In a red market, exchange of goods is mediated & regulated by violence and/or the threat of violence. It's sort of the ultimate buyer beware situation; your only guarantee of a fair exchange is your ability to smite the seller if they screw you over. Black and gray markets basically work this way now, but the presence of government authorities keeps a lid on the worst excesses.

Also important to note that not all of anarchist space is like this. This is one of the things that sets the criminal world apart from autonomists & mutualists. Economies like Extropia don't have government authority, but they do have contract law to stabilize them. Predominantly autonomist economies like Locus have anarchocommunist social structures that prevent them from acting like red markets.

At the end of the day, though, it has a lot to do with mindset. The distinction between criminal red markets, autonomists & mutualists may seem sleight from a capitalist vantage point. They're all basically lawless, right? But for the people participating, this isn't the case. They self-identify as belonging to one camp or the other, and this should play out in terms of how their reputation networks react to certain kinds of behavior.

Example: Let's say you sell some shady tech that doesn't really work (or works with unintended consequences) in autonomist space. If you're dealing with the average anarchist on Locus, your @-rep is going to take a hit and most people will just think you're an asshole and not want to deal with you. In an Extropian framework, your @-rep would take a hit and you'd be seen as a terrible business person. In a Guanxi framework, however, nobody cares, and the buyer's only recourse is to come after you; the proof is in whether you end up dead.

Note that even autonomist spaces like Extropia & Locus have their anti-social criminal elements, of whom the character referred to in "Glory" is one.

A lot of people have asked how there can be criminals in the outer system. One way to be a criminal is to do stuff so heinous that even a place with no large government authority wants you around. Hopefully this post helps illustrate another, more subtle way to fall into the criminal camp: by using a red market style of doing business in a libertarian or anarchocommunist environment.

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standard_gravity standard_gravity's picture
Re: Running the Game: What's a Red Market?

Quote:
The distinction between criminal red markets, autonomists & mutualists may seem sleight from a capitalist vantage point.

My intention is not to pick on words, but surely a "capitalist" would feel rather at home in a mutualist or, even more so, anarcho-capitalist setting. The distinction between red markets and anarchism may (to a "capitalist") be a matter of degree, though.

jackgraham jackgraham's picture
Re: Running the Game: What's a Red Market?

Sorry. "Hypercorp capitalist" would've been a more precise choice of words. In the Planetary Consortium's sphere of influence, the hypercorps with the most political clout enjoy a favorable regulatory environment, while those on the outs may have their actions curtailed. From the hypercorp capitalist perspective, then, mutualism, anarchocapitalism, and red markets all look like the Wild West.

standard_gravity standard_gravity's picture
Re: Running the Game: What's a Red Market?

Just like capitalists in many Western countries are in bed with governments. "Capitalist" labels anyone who owns capital; should he be involved with and protected by political and bureaucratical powers we could call him a "Corporatist"?

Nemo30 Nemo30's picture
Re: Running the Game: What's a Red Market?

Might I recommend "Systems of Survival" by Jane Jacobs? if you can get past the format of the writing (it's written as a Platonic dialogue) it's quite eye-opening. It pertains to these sorts of concepts, and might be useful for speculative fiction when trying to invent new forms of commerce or politics. She defines and explores a biological, organic model of how the two (and only two) means of human subsistence (namely, trading and taking) create two separate, often diametric but completely interdependent syndromes of ethics and morality. The rest of the book explores the nature of various examples of corruption through these terms. Check her out. She's anti-utopian, brilliant and slightly snarky. She also saved New York from Robert Moses.

Even without the problems of thieves or predators, commerce requires some kind of third-party guardianship to enforce contracts, regulate weights and measures, and keep the merchants themselves trustworthy; or else the marketplace itself falls apart. Nobody would trade with each other. Trusting commerce to present itself honestly without a third-party to inflict consequences is absurd. As far as I can imagine, a "red market" (open commerce in a place devoid of any organized guardianship) would quickly and organically develop its own set of protectors out of the toughs who align themselves, even by threat of force, with certain groups of merchants and providers of commodities. These little warlords would end up enforcing whatever agreements were made and (if trade were to continue in such a dangerous place) would find themselves, after a time, judges, inspectors, attorneys, policemen, firemen, &c of their own fiefdoms.

Any thoughts?

standard_gravity standard_gravity's picture
Re: Running the Game: What's a Red Market?

Thoughts, yes. Certainly you - ultimately - need the threat of force to ensure contracts are respected. Perhaps most people are honest and law abiding most of the time, but still. However, such enforcement need not be in the form of a criminal network / government (I largely equate the two for these purposes as they both exercise violence on people who have not voluntarily subjected themselves to their authority). In contracts today, companies to a large extent use arbitration clauses in their agreements with each other. In case of conflict (which could range from interpretation of the contract to breach of contract and everything in between) either party takes the issue to the arbitrator.

Also, historically, the source of legal rules have not been governments, but custom. The threat of expulsion from the community, private punishment etc have compelled people to honour their word / contract and respect other community memebers' persons and property. It is only relatively late in our history that governments have joined the game and introduced the myriad of rules and regulations that people really could not care less about (i.e. they have no foundation in our sense of right and wrong).

jackgraham jackgraham's picture
Re: Running the Game: What's a Red Market?

Nemo30 wrote:
Might I recommend "Systems of Survival" by Jane Jacobs? [...]

As far as I can imagine, a "red market" (open commerce in a place devoid of any organized guardianship) would quickly and organically develop its own set of protectors out of the toughs who align themselves, even by threat of force, with certain groups of merchants and providers of commodities. These little warlords would end up enforcing whatever agreements were made and (if trade were to continue in such a dangerous place) would find themselves, after a time, judges, inspectors, attorneys, policemen, firemen, &c of their own fiefdoms.

Any thoughts?

Yes, red markets, by their nature, will tend to be temporary. They exist in some parts of the EP solar system because it's a post-apocalyptic game. H+ is still picking up the pieces of its near-destruction, so even ten years AF, a certain amount of warlordism is going to be a fact of life for a while. Extropia & the more stable sectors of the Guanxi world could be read as places where the solidification you describe has already happened, although in the case of Extropia, stability comes more from a well-developed body of custom than overt enforcement.

R/e Jacobs, interesting reco. If I ever run across a copy, I'll give it a look. Thanks. :)

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