Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sobel Wiki: Heart and Soul

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on Pedro Fuentes, the eleventh President of the United States of Mexico.

There's no denying that alt-Sobel, the in-universe author of For Want of a Nail, is an unabashed fan of Kramer Associates, the global megacorporation. A more uncertain question is what our own Sobel, the book's actual author, thought of it. After all, Sobel wasn't just the author of Nail, he was also the author of Frank Dana's critique, in which he wrote that K.A. "dominated Mexican life for much of its existence, and was finally expelled from the nation after a long and bitter struggle. Many of Mexico's problems may be traced to the work of Kramer Associates," and noted that "no nation is safe from its influence, the more frightening since Kramer has power without responsibility."

Which brings us to Pedro Fuentes, the first President of the U.S.M. to take serious steps to curb K.A.'s power. Fuentes didn't have an easy time of it, because one of the first things K.A. founder Bernard Kramer did after forming the company was start to donate large sums of money to elected officials to ensure that they voted the right way. Kramer's successors continued this tradition, until by the time Fuentes was elected in 1926 the Mexican Congress was doing pretty much whatever K.A. told them to do. (My Sobel Wiki colleague Christina suggests that K.A. nobbled Taiwan from Japan that way in 1948; funded an independence movement, then purchased a referendum while the Japanese were busy fighting the Mexicans.)

Fuentes attempted to work around the corrupted legislature by creating a presidential commission to investigate K.A. Sobel reports that K.A. President John Jackson was able to keep the commission hopelessly baffled by carrying out a massive reorganization of the company. Noel Maurer found this idea ludicrous, and suggested that what really happened was that Jackson used the reorganization as cover while buying off the commission.

Sobel paints Fuentes' attempt to rein in K.A. as an inept failure, but was it? Five years after Fuentes set up the commission, Jackson moved the company headquarters from San Francisco to the Philippines. Jackson claimed the move was "to be closer to our Asian interests," and Sobel never offers any alternative motive, but it may well be that Fuentes was able to pry the Mexican government out of Jackson's hands after all.

As for what our own Sobel thought of K.A., it may be significant that thirteen years after Jackson's move, his successor, Carl Salazar, moved the company again from the Philippines to Taiwan. Alt-Sobel writes, "Taiwan had a more skilled population and a better climate than Luzon, and in addition, was more stable politically." The last clause is telling, because alt-Sobel never mentioned any political instability in the Philippines before then. Reading between the lines, it seems as though the Filipinos, like the Mexicans before them, got fed up with having their country run by an unelected, unresponsive commercial behemoth, and the company fled the growing popular discontent.

Alt-Sobel was writing a little over twenty years after the move to Taiwan, and if the Taiwanese people were also growing restive at having their country run by K.A., he might not see fit to mention it, just as he didn't see fit to mention political instability in the Philippines. Carl Salazar was around 70 when alt-Sobel was writing, and it may be that in the not-too-distant future, his own successor will find it expedient to find a new, more politically stable home for Kramer Associates in the 1970s.

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