At Overthinking It, we’ve been lucky enough to get our hands on an excerpt from the upcoming Hunger Games Extended Universe novella Dockingjay, about a brave young woman who dares to dream of independence and the open road, set against the backdrop of the nation of Panem’s trucking, shipping, supply management and logistics industry.
Unlike the original Hunger Games trilogy, it goes into great detail explaining the design of the Panem economy and what sort of challenges it runs into trying to provide its decadent Capitol citizenry with finished consumer goods.
I finish the last stroke, fold the faded blue paper, and review. Four hundred pounds of unrefined District 11 sugar cane, A2 grade, by truck to District 10 in two weeks time, then, three weeks later, by train to District 1 for luxury chocolate production. I roll the stubby, brass-tipped pen in my hand. What I had just done carried a death sentence, by the laws of Panem enforced by her white-clad Peacekeepers. President Snow in the Capitol doesn’t take kindly to recording the shipment of intermediate goods. But in these dark days, who did?
I think back to the stories my father used to tell me before he died in that horrible forklift accident. I then pause, and think of the horrible forklift accident. The smear of blood across the concrete floor. The snap of cracking pallets. Packing chestnuts and broken salad bowls. But I figure I’ve done enough of that and go back to thinking about the stories.
I’m just a small girl, with skinned knees and a foam-front hat flopped down over my eyes. My father tells me about the bloody and dreadful history of our people – the people of District 6 Subdistrict 2b.
On that sunny road, I bid goodbye to the dark-skinned man from District 11 and turned toward my truck. In the darkness of my mind, I see my father’s face as clear as I ever have. Flashing back to memories of my father is one of my favorite things. I do it often, even in the middle of important conversations, for inappropriate lengths of time.
My father lifts the brim of my heavy cap, reaching down to brush his hand over my brownie-colored hair. I’m six now, and I look up past his thick salt-and-pepper mustache into the round, reflective, gleaming glasses that show a pair of little me, two little Convoyas, one reflected in each orb. As I force our noses together, my shadow falls across the lenses and I can see his eyes. He laughs.
In ancient times, men wore these tinted glasses to keep out the sun while flying fixed-wing aircraft at many times the speed of sound, fighting flying dogs, or roaming the land on giant hogs, chewing turf and belching smoke. Or so my father tells me. There are always such dreadful muttations in his stories. The glasses are his prized possessions, his “aviatings.” The design is from before Panem, before the persecution of our people.
My father always craved the freedom of the open road during his life. He tells me the open road is like flying. That is why he wears his aviatings, because it is like flying and reminds him of freedom. And aviating is another word for flying. Also the name he always used for himself was Road Eagle, which is about how driving on the open road is like flying.
When Panem is first founded, my father tells me, the President subdivides all people into Districts, each commanded to farm, mine, labor, research, develop or manufacture a specific good or service. Children take up their parents’ trades, and barely anyone from the Districts meet one another. By keeping the people tied to their ancestral labors, the Capitol prevents them from diversifying their economies. It makes sure people in the districts can’t take advantage of market inefficiencies and demand for capital to build personal wealth, which would threaten the power of the President.
It also kept the Districts distrustful of one another, because people don’t like people who do other jobs. My father jokes people like people who do the same jobs even less. I miss my father’s sense of humor.
I put the pen in my pocket and begin walking back to my truck.
My father hands me a bright green plastic plate, which I use as a steering wheel. He explains how keeping whole industries separated by large geographical distances is the only way the Capitol manages to organize and track the production of all its key agricultural and industrial inputs in a continent-wide command economy – but that this is much more an indication of the limits of central planning than that organizing an economy this way is a good idea. Micromanaging a diversified market economy from thousands of miles away by telephone or train is not, as my father says, “feasible.”
Command economies, he tells me, have problems with scale and distance. When local markets have autonomy, they can recognize market demand or inefficiently used available inputs and diversify. But when all is done by central planning, if a nation (that’s what he says Panem is, a “nation.” I wonder if there are other nations in the world. I wish I had asked him before he died. I’m sure if anyone knew, my father did.) has a sufficiently large population, but insists on central economic planning by a government entity, those inefficiencies and opportunities often go unnoticed, or at least unacted upon, because of information problems or the lack of a profit motive (Check out Perich’s great article on the subject! -Ed). Command economies have difficulty maintaining complex or dynamic supply chains.
When my father mentions supply chains, I smile, because I know he’s talking about us – District 6 Subdistrict 2b; shipping, supply chain management and logistical operations.
It is a lot to take in, but I am six years old, well old enough to learn the ancestral stories that we pass down from generation to generation. In two years, I will be on the loading dock taking down orders. In five, I will be a shift supervisor, or move to the container parks. In seven, perhaps even begin to learn how to drive a truck – the highest honor among our people, shy of managing an entire loading dock, which only thirteen people do in all the nation of Panem.
My father talks about how the Capitol originally attempted to use a national transportation company – I recite to him my favorite words in this story, “the Public-Private Partnership” – to ship raw materials to where they were made into producer goods, and producer goods to where they were made to finished goods.
This is what I am doing with my sugar shipment (Which is really weapons, of course, or is it? Will Bulfinch ever give me the full truth!?) taking the unrefined sugar cane for processing into refined sugar, which will in turn be used to make fancy chocolates. The chocolates would be the color of my hair when my father was touching it and telling me stories. This made me think of my father telling stories again.
“In one respect,” my father tells me in my memory, “an Empire is a system of control; a way of telling people what to do. In another respect, it is a system of privilege; a way of living a highfalutin kind of life. But in a third respect, and I might be biased, but I really see it as the most important of the three, an Empire is a system for moving stuff from one place to another. You do that good, you rule the world. You do that bad, it’s barbarians at the gates. ”
I nod to Helenia and Rob, my two best friends, as I walk past the cab to slam the back of the truck shut. I am so lucky to have them with me on my journeys. Helenia is the smartest girl in the whole district, the only one always able to determine whether last-in-first-out or first-in-first-out inventory management would best help the bookkeepers maintain cash flow, given the volatility of the prices of their goods. I’m sure Rob has a crush on her.
Rob seems to be a bit of a slacker, with his droopy eyes, freckles, and red hair, but every project he’s ever worked on is tremendously successful for some reason, so we assume he must have great talents. He comes from a large family, all of them quirky, most of them presumed brilliant.
It is a shame Helenia and Rob both have crushing morphling addictions. If it weren’t for that, it might feel like a storybook – perfect friendships, capable of overcoming any adversity. We would be like wizards. But unfortunately, this horrible problem and the traumas it has caused in the past and will no doubt cause us in the future subject us to constant physical and emotional distress, and while we do not discuss it for now, it will no doubt eventually destroy us. Unless some combination of the two of us eventually get married for no reason. But we don’t have the luxury of speculation. We have a delivery to make.
I look in the side-view mirror at Rob tying off, the length of inner tube stretched to his bright red lips, his teeth and veins clenched, and I think of my father telling me about the failure of the Capitol’s first attempt at a national logistics solution for its command economy.
The Public-Private Partnership is, of course, too powerful to control. It spans the divisions between Districts the Capitol wanted to enforce. It hires people from whichever district offers the cheapest labor. It bribes influential people in the Capitol to soften its restrictions and give it land rights. It establishes non-Districted corridors for transport through massive public grants. Eventually it begins shipping people as well as goods (Whole towns of people in trains a mile long! Imagine!) to visit other Districts.
The top three levels of the company management, along with most of their employees, and most of their supporters in high places, were tied to the train tracks, all in a row several miles long. It took the President three derailed trains to kill all of them. The fourth finished the job, before he blew up the tracks.
After that came the District Shipping Departments, says my father, the thick plaid arms of his favorite shirt rolled up to the middle of his wrists as he reaches under my armpits with his hamhock hands and lifts me onto his knee. Each DSD (my father loved institutional initialisms so), is only allowed to ship between the District and the Capitol.
But of course the Capitol gets, and my father waits for me to say it – “No finished goods!” The people of the Capitol are already far too decadent and distracted to take producer goods shipments and manufacture finished goods on site.
For example, a Capitol resident may think a holo or other handheld information device comes from District 3. But making microprocessors requires both more common and rare earth elements from the mineral mining in District 2 and acids (like sulfuric acid) that are most cheaply made using byproducts of the coal mining in District 12. Some medical devices even use silk in microchip construction, which requires imports from District 8.
So, the President permits the DSDs to ship transdistrict, but only with special letters of permit from the Capitol as to which Districts they can visit and when. The Capitol charters them with limited rights as public trading companies, fixes prices, and attempts to heavily regulate inter-District trade with next to no local control of the system.
But this gives the people, our ancestors, another powerful weapon – “Institutional knowledge.” It is not before too long that almost nobody in the Capitol or anywhere else knows where goods are shipped to and from, except for the truckers, stevedores, and bureaucrats in the DSD that load the shipments and track the bills of lading.
I pat my leather purse, where I keep my bills of lading. .
I think about how a bill of lading is a guarantee between someone shipping goods and someone carrying goods that the goods are arriving at their determined destinations at their determined times. My father drilled their importance into my head – they were critical, even thousands of years ago, before Panem, to supply chains and logistics, and yet few people knew they existed.
In each destination along a shipping route, the bill of lading is signed by the carrier and someone receiving the goods. The bills of lading in my purse are a dozen death warrants.
A bill of lading was once coupled with a letter of credit, according to my father and the ancient scrolls in our district temples. The bill of lading guarantees the shipment, and the letter of credit guarantees the payment at the end. But nobody has seen a letter of credit in hundreds of years. According to some very knowledgeable people who are always right about everything, letters of credit were once issued by people even worse than the President Snow! I can hardly imagine such a horrifying place as to house such monsters, and while letters of credit certainly seem useful and important to global trade, I am glad that whatever monsters ever provided them were expunged from the Earth during one of our semi-regular cataclysms.
My father continues his story, and I smile at the sonorous tones of his voice, resounding within the acoustics of memory. Without the knowledge to track the shipments, and with such gross imbalances between supply and demand in the various districts, it is not too long before only a small fraction of the shipments departing from a district meet their intended destination. The truckers are stealing shipments, and the DSDs are rerouting them. The very control of the economy begins to slip. People across Panem begin to enjoy dangerously frequent breakfast.
As punishment, the Capitol designs special techno-organic Monster Trucks, which pour forth from the mountains into the Districts, trained to hunger for the scent of DSD workers. They devour the organizations person by bloody person. Panem also dissolves their incorporation and revokes their charters, but the latter is largely cosmetic once the Monsters have had their way.
I hop over a dormant tracker jacker hive as I amble toward the cab of the truck. In my mind’s eye, I see my father’s puffy orange vest. I feel his rough jeans against my feet, caked with hard, flaky remnants from thousands of roadside coffees and slices of pie – before the Capitol banned roadside pie and boiled all the line cooks and diner waitresses in giant steaming coffee cups on some paper-thin rationalization that it would narrow the budget deficit.
After the DSDs, the Capitol tried a vertically integrated model, where the shipping of goods was put under the organizations that developed and manufactured those same specific goods, rather than kept as a separate function. The same District 12 leaders who managed the coal industry would manage the shipment and delivery of key industrial inputs and outputs. But that started providing the Districts with too much intelligence on happenings in the outside world, and it gave the Districts a lever for engaging in competition for key resources without going through the Capitol — the shipping apparatus — which the Capitol could not abide. The so called “baron-robbers” were forced to watch their children thrown to lion and shark muttations, the lions trained to swim briefly before drowning, and the sharks genetically engineered to walk on land for a few spare moments before suffocating — but both abominations quite thoroughly lethal in the spare moments they used to savage the helpless youngsters.
If I had not seen it with my own eyes as I got older, I still would not believe one government could come up with so many bizarre and hellish ways to punish people.
Some in the Capitol whispered that the districts should handle their own shipping, but whenever they spoke up, muttations soon followed, murdering their entire families and slicing off their limbs before boiling their heads in locally sourced acid.
It got to be that very few people in Panem even wanted to work in logistics anymore.
This part of the story always makes me gasp, and my father knows it. How could someone not want to work in logistics?
So, the Capitol decides to rebrand District 6, which had previously been the music district, as the transportation district. It forces thousands of residents from all the other Districts to move there and tasks them with solving Panem’s logistical supply chain problems without allowing any of the Districts to actually talk to one another, but still being able to produce complex, multi-stage finished goods like televisions or tater tots.
And then my father tells me how District 6 fell into a deep depression, and most of the population became addicted to morphling, so the Capitol created a series of tightly controlled subdistricts to continue to work on the problem, periodically razing entire subdistricts to the ground for having the audacity to work on the problem. I climb into my seat and look back at Rob drooling onto the shoulder of his jacket in the back of the cab.
Nowadays, to fuel up, truckers from the loading dock subdistrict have to go to the diesel station subdistrict, and then they have to proceed back through the other subdistricts, through their plan, and back to the refeuling subdistrict — and if they don’t make it, they die, either from exposure, starvation, or being shot on the streets, which are all clearly marked with NO STOPPING OR STANDING signs.
The reality is that most of District 6 that actually conducts shipping or logistical work does it illegally, hoping the Capitol will never bother to fill out the proper forms to understand why. Because a place like Panem is not designed with logistics in mind — that is our curse as a people, but also, I am convinced, the source of the eventual downfall of our evil overlords.
“See, Convoya, you can’t just do shipping in a place,” I hear my father say to me, as I start up the truck. It is his croaking, dying voice to me now. His last words, which I hear every night. “Shipping, supply management and logistics happen everywhere. We’ll be everywhere in the night. Wherever there’s a crate being loaded onto a train, we’ll be there. Wherever there is an invoice that is ambiguously dated at either the date of purchase or the date of delivery, we’ll be there. Wherever there’s a….”
“Such lovely brown hair,” he’s really really dying now, stroking my chocolate locks. “To think what… brown… could do… for this country….”
And my father dies, as he does every time I start the car. And I pull out of the driveway onto the main road, singing in my head the early strains of the song he taught me as a child. Very few of the words mean anything to anyone anymore; it has been passed down for hundreds of years in our sacred scrolls.
It was the dark of the moon on the sixth of June
In a Kenworth, pullin’ logs.
Cab over Pete with a reefer on,
And a Jimmy, haulin hogs.
We’s heading for bear on eye one oh
Bout a mile outta Shaky Town.
I said, ‘Pig Pen, this here’s the Rubber Duck
And I’m about to put the hammer down.’
Cause we got a little old Convoy
Rockin’ through the night.
Yeah, we got a little old Convoy.
Ain’t she a beautiful sight?
Come on and join our Convoy,
Ain’t nothin’ gonna get in our way.
We’re gonna ride this trucking convoy
Across the you essay.
The last word, the word I’m named for, draws out like a dirge over the rumbling engine as I shift up gears and get my truck going toward the Coastacoast. My father in my memory tells me I’m named for the legendary Convoy, a group of shipping and logistics professionals so powerful they were unstoppable and overthrew the government. Because shipping is important, and is a way of exerting economic and social power. Which is why I am named Convoy, like the way that truckers exert economic and social power.
Suddenly, a bomb went off. I could see Descereaux on the right side of the truck, totally dead. The chapter was over.
The Hunger Games Original Trilogy’s biggest flaw was it didn’t go into the real nitty gritty on how to run a dystopian hellscape. Thankfully, the Extended Universe looks to be making up for everything that ruined the Hunger Games — just like how Empire Strikes Back sucked because there were only one or two scenes with IG-88 in them.
What are you looking for in the HGEU? Sound off in the comments!
This was incredibly well-written, and had me laughing (and learning) the whole way through. You’ve pretty much recast Katniss as a District 6 logistics worker. The friends are the perfect touch (read: copied ideas) of Harry Potter and Twilight/Hunger Games “Twi-Angle” (I’m not sorry, I love this expression!) that the main character must always face and come to grips with a pending decision. Will Convoya have to face life with a morphling addict over the vast backdrop of time and shipping coordination. Will this be the first (correct me if I’m wrong) YA bisexual main character/homosexual relationship among protagonists?
“Unless some combination of the two of us eventually get married for no reason.”
That’s that sentence that ambiguously implies what I said above. Either that, or I’m a major creep.
Anyway, I’m impressed that you followed through on a gag from the podcast, and it became a full article. This amount of exposition was great, but hopefully the story will continue in the comment threads, or even in a forum thread.
Anyway, thanks for making my day. Keep up the good work!
UsernameTed: “This was incredibly well-written”
Belinkie: “That is […] a brutal Susan Collins parody.”
By the way, if geek parody is your thing, I had a Magic the Gathering humor piece published this week on a different website:
Fenzel, this is Overthinking It. if geek parody isn’t our thing, I’m never coming back. In other news, I think I love you.
This is fantastic, I was laughing out loud. Thank you for giving me something better to read than my actual work. You are hilarious.
Wow, that is both a skillful introductory lesson in logistics, and a brutal Susan Collins parody, which is not an easy thing to do! My personal favorite quote: “Flashing back to memories of my father is one of my favorite things. I do it often, even in the middle of important conversations, for inappropriate lengths of time.”
I have some questions about how Panem works myself. For starters, the existence of District 12 would imply that the whole empire runs on coal power. But as far as I can tell, NOTHING runs on coal power. You’re not telling me all those hovercraft are coal-powered, right? Or those trains that travel at hundreds of miles per hour? Or those nuclear weapons? All the technology (the force fields of the arena, the mutts, the seemingly invisible cameras) seem to imply that this is a civilization well beyond our own. Why do they need a whole district just for coal?
This is an interesting question, and there’s no authoritative single reason. But there are a couple of potential other reasons:
1. District 12 is absurdly small. It only has about 8,000 people. So it’s possible that coal is a pretty minor part of the economy, and it’s just a geographical and political fluke that it has its own district.
2. There is also one district dedicated entirely to power, which isn’t really reasonable based on the way we currently distribute electricity. Even with the best high-tension wires, getting a power plant in Arkansas to power an electric fence in West Virginia is crazy.
So, maybe they provide electricity over power lines to, say, the Capitol and District 1 or something, but District 5 can’t generate power locally to run an entire continental power grid.
So, maybe the primary energy source in Panem is a form of advanced rechargable batteries.
If that’s the case, you mine the coal in 12, process it in some way in 12 (we learn that Prim learns something in school at one point about coal byproducts), then ship the sulfur to 3 and the refined coal product to 5.
Then, in 5, there are coal power plants that use the coal to recharge commercial batteries, and then those batteries are shipped around Panem, perhaps with district 5-made coal-based generating and recharging stations.
The trains are a whole other issue, and as I point out in the Dockingjay excerpt, they really can’t work legally the way Panem is organized. So let’s assume they are electric, have recharging stations with generators or use superconductors to draw power from district 5.
This all would require considerable leaps in the availability and affordability of superconductors to run a train network from one localized power source, and probably impossible leaps in battery technology to run a batter-based economy, but it’s the most feasible thing I can come up with.
3. It’s also possible the goal is refined into a liquid fuel like LNG – which might be something we see in the future anyway – but we never see anyone refuel anything ever in the movies or books, so it’s hard to say.
I should add, that while we have this idea that coal power is low-tech and outdated, making it a bad choice for a future fuel, it is also very, very abundant relative to other fossil fuels – and is likely to be around long after the crude oil becomes so prohibitively expensive to extract that it falls out of broad use.
Especially since it doesn’t require a ton of infrastructure to use and is easily transported, coal would be a very strong choice as a primary energy source for a futuristic dystopian society.
You see that in China now, in fact. Lots of coal use there.
Possibly I didn’t read closely enough, but can you explain why a rail based hub and spoke model around a central warehouse wouldn’t work? The way I pictured shipping being handled in Panem when I read the books is that literally everything is being shipped to the Capitol (or maybe district two), where it’s being siloed and then sent back out to the outlying districts. Every producer in every district has a certain output quota, and the Capitol keeps the necessary stream of inputs flowing to them. Excess inventory is warehoused in the event of unexpected supply chain disruptions. A team of logistics engineers in the Capitol (they can’t all be fashion designers and politicians, right?)
The objection to this model is that it’s ridiculously inefficient, but so what? You keep populations stagnant in the districts through deprivation, and institute fertility controls in the capitol. With zero population growth, no outside competition, and the ability to repress dissent via military force, there’s no great need to deliver the kind dynamic economic growth we’re used to in the modern world. Just keep the lights on and churn through fashions regularly so the intelligentsia doesn’t get bored.
Sure! There are two reasons why this wouldn’t work, at least based on the little bit of information that we have:
1. The rail system wouldn’t work. In order to run railroads across long distances, you need support infrastructure for those railroads. Same with cars, planes, or really any other mode of transportation.
Because of the increased energy cost it takes to transmit electricity over longer and longer distances, it isn’t feasible to power an entire electric rail system from District 5, the power district. You would need to have power plants scattered in a grid across the country.
If the trains run on diesel, coal or other fuel, then you need supply depots, pipelines or other ways of getting the fuel to the places the trains go to.
And what happens if the trains break down? It’s hard enough to maintain a municipal subway system, where everything is really close. If the people who build trains are in district 2, and if all the electronics experts are in district 3, what happens when a train breaks down in district 11? There will be no spare parts nearby, and people around there are forbidden by law from learning how to fix trains.
Well, I suppose you could schlep people out there. But this is kind of question-begging. You might not be able to take the train — because the train is broken. You could fly people out in hovercrafts — but what if there is a hovercraft breakdown?
The hovercrafts don’t appear to ever land — and the districts don’t appear to have hovercraft landing facilities (this would require people in ever district who are trained to work with hovercrafts, which is against the law).
So, if a hovercraft breaks down, it basically seems like it crashes and sits around until somebody from far away comes to fix it.
The continental United States is not small, and there are no airplanes in Panem. If a critical grain shipment destined for Denver (the Capitol) gets derailed in Alabama (District 11), if you don’t have local people in place to do the repairs, it could be weeks before that food gets moving again.
Your line of thinking (we don’t have to grow, we just need to maintain, so we don’t need to worry as much about logistics) seems reasonable – and indeed central planners have used it in the fairly recent past. I’m thinking in particular of the Warsaw Pact countries and their industrial bases in the 60s and 70s – where an entire country would have its economy aligned around making light bulbs.
But it leads to a ton of problems where goods and services don’t get where they need to go, and this ends up undermining the stability of the government and causing the collapse of the plan.
2. The second reason is that we know the people in the Capitol have extremely complex finished consumer goods that can’t be the product of just one district. Consider the machines where you talk or push a button or whatever and get whatever food you want. Just one of those things would probably be designed and assembled in District 1, and would require materials from District 2, electronics components and engineering from District 3, and it would have to have a food store from Districts 4, 10 and 11.
So, if the Capitol is the hub where all the goods come together, then somebody in the Capitol needs to have the job of loading all these different goods to a loading dock and taking them to a factory where the final product is assembled, then somebody else has to have the job of assembling and maintaining it.
In the Capitol, we see Avoxes do work sort of like this, but the idea of running a factory completely of Avoxes has its whole own set of problems. How do Avoxes manage other Avoxes? Who is doing the client service to make sure the food delivery machines are working?
There just doesn’t seem to be a professional class in the Capitol that makes up for the fact that you’re not letting it get done in the Districts, because the Districts can’t have specialists.
3. But more importantly than the Capitol itself not seeming very industrialized, despite the fact that it would have to be to assemble all the goods it gets from all the different places, you have the issue of intermediate goods or producer goods, which I go into in the story a bit.
Let’s take the example of a fancy watch. Let’s say the fancy watch needs a battery. You need to ship chemicals and metal from District 2 or 12 to District 3, which does electronics, and then you need to ship the electronics to District 1, which does the luxury goods, before shipping back to the Capitol.
Now, you could go through the Capitol each time, I guess. You could ship all the coal to the Capitol, refine it there, put the sulfur byproduct through a chemical plant, then ship the sulfuric acid out to District 3, ship the batteries back to the Capitol, then ship them out to District 1, where they are put in the watches, then ship the watches back to the Capitol.
The levels of inefficiency go way up here – and I guess the issue I have with it is the Capitol not really looking like a place that does this sort of work. It’s not Dickensian London.
And if it were Dickensian London, you wouldn’t have places like District 1 or District 3. You would just make the finished goods in factories in and around the Capitol – or at least in places a lot closer by than the “colonies” with which there was a lot freer travel. Which is generally how you would do it in a very simple and boiled-down merchantile economy.
But if it is done, it still requires a lot of logistical management, making sure that the goods get to each district, and this again would generally require people in each district familiar with the overall supply chain.
For example, who is reading the bill of lading in District 1 and making sure the batteries have been to all the places they have supposed to have gone before they’ve arrived? This would be the work of people like Convoya — except the core, joke assumption of Dockingjay is that these people would be too knowledgeable about the overall system and would themselves be confined to a district, which would not work.
Basically “loading dock worker” and “trucker” are jobs that really needs to exist in every district. Even if you do run an absurdly inefficient hub and spokes model where all intermediate goods go through the Capitol, even if you figure out the technical and logistical problems of running trains, cars or hovercrafts out to districts that don’t have mechanics or gas stations in them, you still need people in the districts to account for the goods, and get them from the mines to the trains to the factories.
What we’re really talking about here are Teamsters. We never see any of them in the books or the movie, and one joke in the piece is that the Capitol keeps murdering them because there’s no way to do their job that doesn’t involve having some sort of forbidden knowledge or political power.
I dunno, I’ve rambled a lot. Here’s the super-short answer:
1. You can’t send cars, trains and hovercrafts on long-haul cargo trips to places where there are no spare parts, mechanics, or fuel stations.
2. Electricity transmission over long distances is a huge issue.
3. The Capitol does not appear to have a large population of people who do shipping and logistics. It also doesn’t appear to have factories for doing any of the processing of industrial inputs or assembling of finished goods.
4. The hub-and-spokes model for transporting intermediate goods is horribly inefficient and would break down all the time.
5. The districts need people whose job it is to manage cargo shipments. Lots of people. But this would require them to have information and communication with people outside the districts, which is against the law.
6. The silliest thing the Capitol could do would be to put the trucking industry all in one district, because the trucking industry is mobile. This for me underscores the fact that most industries are a lot more mobile than they look.
Does that make sense? I mean, these are good questions.
And I’ll add that in the story I go over a few different ways the Capitol could try to fix this problem (a centrally run, but geograhically dispersed transporation administration, separate departments for logistics in every district, vertical integration of logistics with production), and explain comical ways in which they might fail – and at the very least, run against the deranged governance style of President Snow.
This is very good, thank you. One and two are points I hadn’t really considered, and it’s an interesting question how much reach the capitol has into “wilderness” areas. The fact that they’re setting up massively high-tech arenas out in the boonies every year (and apparently carting the occasional tourist group out there as well) suggests that their ability to deliver people and parts wherever they’re needed should be quite high, but it’s certainly an open question how that actually works.
Another sub-thought on this, do we know how spread out the districts really are? 12 is in Appalchia, and the Capitol is in the Rockies, so there’s probably almost 2,000 miles there, but it’s possible that the other districts aren’t quite so spread out. Certainly, we know District 2 is right outside their front door. For the extractive districts, you need to go where the resources are, but there’s plenty of discretion in where you put your manufacturing districts, so you could certainly picture having the bulk of Panem’s population and infrastructure contained mostly in Colorado. In this case, it might be that coal gets shipped into Denver, and then shipped immediately back out to a refinery in Ft. Collins who processes it into various raw materials, ships it back to Denver, who crossdocks it onto boxes bound for Pueblo and Grand Junction. The picking, packing, and crossdocking gets handled by these guys.
As for onsite dock workers in the districts, I feel like you’re overestimating the amount information they would have or need to have. All they’re required to do is pull off the stuff out of the box, scan a barcode that updates the inventory into the system and send it on its way. Peacekeepers are on site to make sure everyone does what they’re supposed to and inventory doesn’t just go walking. The actual planning and inventory monitoring is all done electronically back in the capitol.
I’d be curious to know what the total population of Panem is. They talk in the books about how there’s a decent risk the human race could go extinct, even without nuclear war – the numbers could just dip too low to have a sustainable population. But usually, communities numbering in the tens of thousands don’t have an unlimited supply of manufactured trinkets. I’m assuming that automated factories are amazing in the future, and you can produce a whole Walmart full of stuff in a single building, with a skeleton crew.
Of course, if we’re being honest, Collins didn’t really put a lot of thought into the science fiction or political science. It’s supposed to be a myth. Doesn’t mean we can’t overthink it, but I expect at the end of the day Panem doesn’t quite make sense.
Also, do people who grow up in fishing communities really develop amazing trident skills? Is she confusing fisherman with Aquaman?
Obviously a big part of the joke is that Panem isn’t really a rigorously fleshed out fictional world — and that rigorously fleshing out your fictional world is something you really shouldn’t _have_ to do, although we will still hold you to it.
I also kind of get the sense thinking about all this that Panem is actually really small, which makes all of this doubly sad, because if you’re only dealing with like a few hundred thousand people, you really don’t need these mass psychological control mechanisms. On that scale, it’s still reasonable for everybody in the country to know a gal who knows a gal who knows the President.
At an absolute minimum, every district has more than 8,000 people (which is how many people there are in District 12) — so that would be 96,011 people outside the Capitol. But if we assume District 12 is maybe only half as big as all the other districts in population (which I think is mentioned, or at least might be reasonable), we start at 184,000 people outside the Capitol. Which is still really really small.
Plus, we get the sense that the people in the districts outnumber the people in the Capitol by a wide margin. And the capital is a big enough city that — well, no spoilers. Let’s just say it seems likely to have at least 150,000 people in it. It’s bigger than, like, Stamford or Bridgeport Connecticut at the very least. Would probably be better to start at around 250,000.
I mean – the Capitol has to be big enough that entertaining people is worth the investment they make in doing it, right? It has to be, like, bigger than a medium-sized college town, I’d imagine.
Eh, the numbers are tricky, and there are a lot of conclusions you could come to. But it definitely seems like the place is eerily and improbably small sometimes.
At any rate, genetically engineering a whole bunch of abominations that are only going ever be used to go after like 4 or 5 people ever seems especially sad and wasteful.
I haven’t finished the 2nd/3rd books, so maybe this is answered there, but the question of “Who runs logistics?” and “How can you trust those people?” is related to the biggest question I had – where does the Capitol’s military come from?
While they could conceivably get conscripts from the Districts, that’s a pretty dangerous brew to be messing around with – your Officers and a good percentage of your NCOs had better come from the ruling caste if you want your futuristic-dystopia to last.
Whatever solution works for the military could probably work for their civilian infrastructure as well – logistics and supply chain management is frequently the most important (and overlooked) part of a military’s effectiveness, so it’s possible that the logistics side of the entire society is operated by the military.
Of course, that’s bootstrapping, because it still doesn’t answer the question of how to create a politically reliable military (or Teamser’s Union) in a society where the underclass all hate you and the ruling elite are all foppish dandies.
They address this in the later books – the Capitol’s military comes from District 2, which is pretty well taken care of by the Capitol.
But of course, this is a pretty unsatisfactory answer, because why doesn’t District 2 overthrow the government, since it provides the military?
I guess the answer is it very well might if it wanted to. But the Hunger Games work really well on them I guess.
Gotcha – there’s probably a pretty good social/political commentary in that, about how the upper classes use divisions between the lower classes to keep them down. For District 12, the Hunger Games are just about sending their kids to die each year. But for the higher-up districts, they might buy into the glory aspect of it a little more (since they can actually win).
And, after all, at least they’re better off than those losers in District 3 (who are in turn better off than the jerks in District 4, etc.)
It might be somewhat akin to the makeup of the Confederate Army during the Civil War – most of them weren’t slave holders, but they did most of the fighting and dying on behalf of those who were (after all, even the poorest white man is supposedly a lot better off than the house slaves, who are in turn better off than the field slaves…)
great article, the Collins “style” was especially enjoyable.
(spoilers, lots of spoilers, ahead)
But as good as the article is, I think your answer to Weevilbits’ question shows that you’re assuming that The Capitol wants the economy to actually work. I think Panem’s goals for its economy resemble Oceania’s in 1984 much more than they do America’s in reality. If a centralized system transportation and logistics, which could be almost entirely computerized and require only minimal offsite oversight from district 6, isn’t perfect, it’s not a problem for them. As is so brilliantly explained in 1984, constant scarcity is a good form of control for a totalitarian government. Also, district 6 or 3 could send out citizens as roving construction crews and mechanics in much the same way district 2 sends out Peacekeepers.
My own take on the whole logistics/transport thing is that the Capitol doesn’t even need much of the stuff that the districts produce. Canada, Mexico and the US are able to keep hundreds of millions of people fairly well fed. But Panem, located more or less in the same place and with access to advanced technology, needs four separate districts to feed a few million people (at most). The same applies to pretty much every other raw material Panem might need. Even considering the natural/ecological disasters, which seem to have left most of the continental US unscathed, Panem should have surpluses of everything.
When I read it, I figured that the only reason the citizens of Panem work so hard to fill quotas is because it keeps them too busy and tired to revolt. This also answers Belinkie’s question: Panem may not actually use any of the coal mined in District 12. lt might all just end up being dumped in the ocean or something. Such an elaborate and complicated fiction would also be in keeping with Panem’s leaders’ particular style of repression.
Also, much the same way that district 2 is supposed to be the “quarry” district but is actually the military district, District 12’s entire purpose might just be a “buffer” between District 13 and the rest of Panem and a trap for those trying to get there.
As yet I have only read the first book, and seen its film, yet I still think that marc got it right.
From the book district 12 had a population of 8,000 yet was not significantly smaller than any others. The total in the districts could not have been more than 200,000. From the film, the Capital had 100,00 people in a single stand, and held a modern advanced economy. It is hard to imagine that it held fewer than quarter of a million. Its technology, and the size of the valley it occupied was such that it could have produced nearly everything it needed (including growing food in vats) given tight recycling and a small input of new materials. It clearly generated such huge surpluses that it could have supported the rest of Panem in luxury, from automated factories if it wanted.
Unfortunately, as we are told, their has been a war between the wealthy Capitol and districts, which it seems to have won easily, but it must have been angered at having to kill so many in the districts. That would have provided it with three powerful objectives.
1) support the survival of the districts
2) reduce the ability of the districts to wage war
3) keep its own soft populous in the right frame of mind to resume the fight if necessary
And the hunger games provides all three, but the Capitol employs auxiliary mechanisms to ensure the other two.
The first goal is achieved by giving each district a specific task.
The second goal is achieved by reducing the potential for economic growth. The above article shows how well it achieved this. This is just as understandable as the nasty USA not providing North Korea with technology that could build modern nuclear powered electricity generation, simply because it knows the same technology will eventually be used to build weapons. Also we should remember that the poor are usually happier than the rich and decedent.
We should thus all feel sad for the Capitol, that has been forced into a Machiavellian role by the previous petty and murderous jealousies of the districts.
At first I looked at the page length and skipped most of it, only to read the litany of references at the end that made me cry a little from laughter (Convoy, the greatest movie ever made from a song). Then I actually read the entire thing and admit I was touched by the history of District 6 Subdistrict 2b and its ancestors. I only worry that after this chapter, Dockingjay may fizzle into an exploration of human to human relationships via word and actions, rather than the exploitation and distribution of goods that is the true heart of any story.
To some degree, I always thought that Panem as a whole just didn’t seem to have the most diverse ecosystem. We’ve got 12 districts (plus one Capitol), each of which has one (and only 1) economic output.
District One: Luxury goods/jewelry
Capitol: Luxury professions (fashion designers, poets, artists, etc.)
So – who’s mining the gold that the District one jewelers use? Who prints the textbooks used in school? Who manufactures medicines or trains construction crews(even assuming that the districts are left to their own folk remedies and so forth, are we really going to buy that Capitol residents living in the lap of luxury aren’t going to want access to, say, penicilin?) Who manufactures make-up, or trains lawyers (even with a totalitarian government, there must be civil disputes between citizens) etc.
Even allowing for some of the districts’ specializations to be very broad, like “technology,” there are far more than twelve kinds of products and professions needed to run a country.
I think this complaint is pretty common in spec-fiction. Harry Potter has the same problem – the pre-eminent high school in the magical world has no English classes, social studies, science or math. There’s no higher education, and despite a vast beauracracy in the Ministry of Magic, there’s no evidence that anyone ever learns how to actual run a government, write a law, etc., etc.