How MegaCorporations Die

Toshiba, which has been embroiled in all kinds of intricate and massive financial and accounting scandals, that investors deluded themselves into thinking were now behind it, is once again melting down.

After reading up on the latest Toshiba fiasco – outrageous accounting frauds, conducted again and again despite promises otherwise, coupled with a dying nuclear power business hidden by layers of vague, fantastic, or nonexistent numbers – I realized that this would make a great model for the death of a megacorporation.

Typically, a megacorporation is supported at least in part by an interstellar government money and regulations.

  • Or, in Menderes Corporation’s case, is owned by the same dynasty who owns the interstellar state.
  • Or, in the case of the three Vilani bureaux of the First Imperium, the corporations are the government, and vice-versa.

Now, with government backing, a megacorporation can last quite a long time, regardless of how inefficient and corrupt it gets. But nothing lasts forever: one day, something repugnant simply won’t stay swept under the rug, and things begin to fall apart. Slowly at first, then more quickly, then you get a crisis smashing through the roof like a ton of bricks.

So, going from the macro to the micro, how can the PCs prosper (or, perhaps, merely survive) a titanic event such as the death of a megacorporation? What can they pick up? What corporate raiders can they deal with, or flee, or snatch a tasty morsel from?

If the megacorporation holding title to your ship unexpectedly dies, how long will it take before the creditors come for it? (Or can you play one creditor against another? Or buy the ship for pennies on the credit?)

Or if the megacorp was supplying their paychecks, what happens when their paychecks stop? Who’s going to pay the bills? What kind of arrangements can be made?

Going back to the macro scale, in the economic/political game, some members of the Imperial Nobility no doubt got wiped out, while others are suddenly put in the “sole survivor” position. Entire industries may die on major worlds, leading to a planetary (or even a subsector-wide) depression; other, small-time players may see a surge of new customers.

The First Imperium attempted to set up a closed-cycle, nearly frozen interstellar economy “with growth rates [and, therefore, a rate of cultural change] set at manageable levels”: that actually succeeded for a long time, when the Vilani’s Ziru Sirka was the only game in town. But that just won’t work in today’s competitive interstellar environment.

I believe that major corporations are just a part of capitalism: but far too many times, the businessman with the bucks wants to make sure that he always stays on top forever, and colludes with the government to make it happen.

(Businessmen are largely devoted to getting and staying rich, and not to free market capitalism as an efficient and just resource-allocation system. A great tragedy, but there it is. And even if they refuse to rig the rules, all governments are intensely fascinated with huge, fat pots of money…)

The best thing is to keep the government out of the business of business: that way, when said business inevitably dies, 1) there is no risk of the entire interstellar state suffering for it as well, 2) new industries and businesses can spring up quickly to take its place. The Third Imperium is, in some ways, lassie-fair; but a lot of Nobles are invested in the megacorporations… and are willing to go out of their way, to defend their wealth in ways legal and otherwise.

More regional organizations — domain-scale, sector-scale, and subsector-scale corporations — can have just a huge effect on a campaign or a PC, but are not so heavily protected by the wealthy and powerful. Naturally, they rise and fall more often, and the Referee can play with them without having to worry about huge unpredictable macro-effects of, say, Makhidkarun actually going bankrupt.

(Makhidkarun is a megacorporation dating back to the First Imperium, focusing on communication, entertainment, food, and robotics: its failure would have a huge effect on Vilani interstellar culture and uncounted systems across Charted Space.)

About Alvin Plummer

I'm working to build a better world, a world that blesses Christ and is blessed by Him. I hope that you're doing the same!
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