There’s still a fortune to be made for the venture capitalist in the emerging indentured servitude industry.
Angel investors who early backed today’s big names like Serfco, American Helotics and Enchaintment have watched their IPO gold transmute exponentially, buoyed by one of the world’s fastest-growing emerging lifestyle trends: Voluntary Servitude.
“The misperception for the longest time has been that the institution of slavery, or, as we prefer to call it, the ‘Mendicant Lifestyle,’ is bad,” remarks Cosby Boswell, Serfco founder and CEO, or, “Master,” a title he disdains.
“Please! The truth is, forcing people into slavery is bad. But why shouldn’t they have the choice? A sensible choice, a safe choice? More than that, a responsible choice. Responsible to the earth, to posterity. It is all about choice, ultimately. Or so we’ve been always been told. This is the logical extension. You can choose to give up your liberty.”
We seat ourselves in comfortable pseudodermic lounge chairs in his book-lined study. The morning sunlight pours in advantageously. Wide windows to east and west assure a day of well-lighted reading in the comfortable room.
“Perhaps what distorts our view,” Boswell continues, carefully avoiding the verbs ‘colors’ or ‘shades’, “Is the unfortunate history of the institution as a product of conquest, punishment, rapine, plunder, involuntary servitude… etcetera.”
Boswell’s serious cast brightens with the arrival of a tray of midmorning tea borne by a morning-coated servant. We help ourselves.
“But history abounds with heroic slaves! Some of the greatest achievements of humankind were wrought by slaves!” He reels off the now-familiar names: Moses, Spartacus, St Patrick, Sinan the Builder, Harriet Tubman, Henrique of Malacca…”
Henrique of Malacca?
“The guy who guided Magellan!”
When I note that scarce few of them exactly “Volunteered” for the “Job”, Cosby rejoins,
“It’s all in how you look at it. Things happen!”
The servant returns with scones.
“James, here, is one of our bondsmen,” notes Boswell.
I hadn’t paid the footman much mind at first, but at the direct mention of his name, James had smoothly come to attention, empty tray at port arms.
“Isn’t that so, James?”
“It is as you say, Sir.” James is the image of Balmoral rectitude, like Mr Carson in Downton Abbey, save for his notable Ozarks accent.
“Please be at ease, James. What side are you on, James?”
James relaxes into a somewhat less rigid stance. A tall fellow in waistcoat with a bald pate peeking through his short graying hair, James offers a smile in which I cannot detect a glimmer of insincerity.
“The winning side, Mr Boswell.”
Boswell smiles back in reply. Then,
“Coke and Pepsi should be so lucky to get the talent that surrenders to us. James, here, is a Princeton man, an ethnobiologist by trade, Wharton MBA, minored in statistics. We get the cast-offs; the odd fits and oddball geniuses from the Fortune 500, we sift for the best; the best seek us out. We get the best. There is treasure for the taking in the Human-Resources runoff, from the ‘Downstream’ of ‘Downsized’ operations.
We pan for gold, and we find it. And more. We find treasure at Serfco.”
He speaks with the quick avidity of the visionary. He arises from the comfy synthevealskin chair and approaches the western window, which affords a view of the valley below, and with it, the growing campus of the Serfco headquarters complex, just beginning to intercept the rays of the midmorning sun.
“What really scares people… is the fear that a return to it, even if voluntarily, even with contractually-guaranteed manumission after, say, ten years, is that anyone could or would choose to live under such conditions. Conditions most right-thinking people scorn. As well as most right-wing people scorn. Yes, there’s a conservative element that detests the concept of human bondage, seeing it as a depravity, a social or moral abysm… But there is no specific denunciation of it in the Bible that I can find! That’s, I think, what really scares people. What really divides them…”
He returns to his Aon chair, hesitating, but finally pronouncing the words,
“But the fact is, we’re all in a condition of dependency to one degree or another. We are all slaves to something. Consider alcoholics, religious fanatics, cultists, arch-nationalists, the grossly obese; slaves to fashion, opinion, corporate masters. Most aren’t even aware of their bondage.”
“So, if you’re already a slave, why not get paid for it?”
“And THAT’s an insight that opens up a world of untapped market potential, right there. Why shouldn’t people enjoy an upgrade in their condition? It’s Serfdom Gold.”
“A lot of folks, deep down, prefer this condition, with its guarantee of food, shelter and bedding for a minimal amount of often desultory, unpaid labor.”
Brightening even more, Boswell laid it on with revival-tent zeal.
“And let’s not forget the world of possibilities that open when you make the choice to surrender your rights and prove yourself a good and loyal servant! The benefits can be immense! Why, even the Janissary slaves of the Ottomans eventually replaced their Masters!
“Opportunities abound in the world of research science, with medical data creation. Terraforming projects. Military adventure! The most ambitious civil engineering projects of this or any day.”
“And most of all: Pride. Pride at building what needs building. And rebuilding what needs rebuilding. A lot needs rebuilding.”
“And, practically, what resume isn’t strengthened by the record of ten or twenty years of loyal service, what future employer wouldn’t jump at a candidate with such a proven record?”
He rises again to the wide window of his office suite.
“The market is growing. Below is another aspect of the future: Deautomation.”
Indeed, looking down at the busy site, I can see that costly fuel and expensive machines have more than met their match in the disciplined men and women below, physically smashing granite for the foundation of one of the new structures below. A large infirmary tent stood not too far away from where all the heavy fragmenting carried on.
“Granted that, historically. there’s been the abject misery aspect, but once you clean it up, bring it out of the shadows, take care of it, feed it right, allow it access to every level of society, things shift back into overdrive.” He pondered the workers below.
“Deautomation means human hands on the job. No more gadgets to break. Human craftsmanship. No more intrusive electronics and passworded everything. No more scary robots or robot arms prying jobs from people.”
“Not that we abandon machines entirely. The diagnostic tools and prosthetics-tailoring 3D printers are state-of-the-art. No expenses are spared for the health of our associates! It’s just one of the many benefits that brings so many candidates, so many of the best candidates, to us and to our discerning customers, here at Serfco. And for those who choose to become Serfco Bondsmen, three meals, a safe place to sleep and keep a few belongings, healthcare, and even vacation thrown in!”
“And with so many people choosing or being singled out for the mendicant lifestyle, you must, must concede that this is not entirely the stereotyped “Serf” lifestyle. Call it an alternative lifestyle. Which it is. And more.”
“It’s a way of life.”
“A way of life?”
“Of freeing people from need, and putting them to work doing whatever it is they do best.”
“And looking their best. As you can see from James, here, our industry supports not just the efforts of local tailors, but the local economy as a whole by relieving wage pressure. The rest of the economy is freed to flourish.”
Is this the end of Search Firms?
“They’ll always have their place on the outside. But, for the real advantage these days, you can forget about Adecco, Korn-Ferry, Jefferson Partners and the rest of the headhunters. They’ve gone the way of the Marshall Islanders. I mean, the Easter Islanders.”
Boswell addresses the butler, again.
“That’ll be all, James.”
May I ask James a question before he goes? Yes? James?
How long have you been a…?
“I’ve been in the business twenty years, now. I should inform you, however, that I started originally with TransPeon.”
“Oh, yes,” concurs Boswell. “We traded for James about six years ago. A good pickup at an opportune time.”
“Thank you, Sir,” replies James.
What do you think of all this, James?
James looks at his “Employer,” who nods smiling permission.
“I much prefer it here, Sir. I do occasionally miss the Wife, but the trade-off more than makes up for it. I can decide how much I really miss her at contract renewal time.”
Are you trading freedom for bread?
His brow wrinkled minutely at my frankly impolite question.
“None of us is born free, to my reckoning, Sir.”
Is that what you meant by “trade-off”?
“No, sir. What I meant is that here at Serfco we feel free in the best sense. Freed of responsibility. Life with the Wife could be bitter, Sir. And now life is better. Simpler. We are now perfectly unfree, and, in that sense, free from trying to understand… whatever it is we are ordered to do.”
“Well said, James! I couldn’t have put it better,” Boswell beams with pride.
“And right out of the mouth of one of our internal stakeholders!”
Boswell, who’s come to slavery management from the C-Suite of a major Madison Avenue branding shop, exults.
“Research got us to that benefit! Good old-fashioned focus groups got us here! Complete moral flexibility! Once you ‘Let go and let Serfco,’ as we like to say, or, ‘Leave the thinking to us!’ Our internal audience gets it.”
“For the servants of Serfco, there’s no ceiling. There’s even the possibility of rising to management level, and back to freedom. If they want it. And they can always rejoin the world after they’ve completed their previously agreed-upon term of service. Everybody, and I mean, everybody, wins.”
He beams at the manservant.
“Now, that’s all, James.”
James nods, allowing me a tightlipped smile as he exits.
“We’re building the future here at Serfco. My CFO, my top beancounter, is indentured. A Fordham gal. Yet she travels as she pleases between here and her home in Greenwich.”
That’s a surprising amount of freedom, I offer.
“Not really. I mean, where can she really go? And here’s the kernel of what they used to call the USP, our Unique Selling Point. To our consumer audience. The advantage is, My bondsmen,” he paused, “Correction, Our bondsmen here at Serfco offer the strictest guarantees of quality assurance. The kind of compliance a voluntary corporation can only dream of. My CFO, for example, has every incentive to succeed, in a cost-effective, transparent manner.”
“Well, suffice it to say you can bet your life on it with Serfco. Or hers.”
“That’s the Serfco guarantee. It’s a real point-of-difference.”