Heinlein’s Magic, Inc, and Politics

I picked up Waldo & Magic, Inc by Robert Heinlein at a thrift shop a while ago because I wanted to brush up on some old science fiction. Just my luck that these books aren’t really science fiction at all, but fantasy. Magic, Inc is entirely fantasy- except for some interesting commentary on politics, legislation, and how government works.

I was only reading it because reading fiction is my drug of choice and I have that dry socket thing going on, and I wasn’t terribly interested in the story until… but let’s give some background, first.

This summary from an Amazon review by Daniel Jolley serves to set up the plot of the story, the part I didn’t find very engaging, interesting, or even compatible with my theology:

“Magic, Inc.” is pure fantasy. Virtually all businesses rely on magic to some degree, but there is a mysterious effort afoot to form a magic regulatory council, one capable of monopolizing magic, running out of businesses any magicians who refuse to join and inflating the prices of magical services rendered. Archie finds his hardware store threatened and then trashed when he refuses to sign up for magical protection. Just as the citizens begin examining the danger posed by such regulation of magic, the government seeks to ratify the plan and make it the law of the land. Archie and his magically-inclined friend Jenson team up with an ancient, benign witch and an African witch doctor to put an end to the danger by exposing the reality behind its conception…

But before we have a bit of a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington set up- not that Archie joins the legislature, but he and his friends visit D.C. and attempt to get the bill stopped (think CPSIA). And that’s when things got really interesting for me.

First they go to a local Chamber of Commerce meeting where they have trouble convincing their fellow businessmen that there’s a problem. Most of them are too consumed with their jobs and every day life to connect the dots or follow politics.

Then one of Archie’s friends who does follow politics (and a good thing for his friends he does, he says, or they’d wake up to find the government had stolen the sidewalks in front of their homes), says that he’d just learned that in an unrelated special session of the government, the agenda included, tucked away down at the bottom, a little item about regulation thaumaturgy.
He could not find out much about it, but a friend in the capitol discovered:

The item was stuck into the agenda at the request of some of the Governor’s campaign backers; he has no special interest in it himself.”

Nobody else really knows what it’s all about, but one bill on the topic had already been ‘dropped into the hopper, ‘ but only by title- nobody had an actual copy of the bill (doesn’t this sound familiar?!). It’s called:


A bill to establish professional standards for thaumaturgists, regulate the practice of the thaumaturgic profession, provide for the appointment of a commission to examine, license, and administer…

That mouthful, Archie’s friend Joe explains,

isn’t even a proper title, it’s just an omnibus onto which they can hang any sort of legislation regarding magic, including an abridgment of anti-monopoly legislation if they choose.

Well, they get together a delegation to go to the state Capitol, try to get their own bill submitted, bargain for the best compromise they can get, and seek an implementing amendment that will sort of cancel out some of the worst aspects of the omnibus bill, whatever it turns out to be.

The one who knows the most about politics says he’s got to spend a lot of money on wining and dining these guys because it’s too late to expect ‘sweet reasonableness and disinterested patriotism.’ Some of them think this is bribery, and he says no, it’s that these guys are like weather vanes and will vote with the last guy they had a drink with.

Then they go to Washington- first there’s a discussion of women in politics. Jedson explains that there’s a difference between women politicians and politicians who are women, and what he has to generalize about the first doesn’t necessarily apply to any specific woman. Due to the conditioning from the male created romantic tradition of the last century, he said,

“women as electors are usually suckers for romantic nonsense. They can be flattered into misusing their ballot even more easily than men. In politics their self-righteous feeling of virtue…”

basically causes a lot harm, and unethical political chiseling. Make of that what you will, but I think that self-righteous feeling of virtue is responsible from a lot of harm from D.C. and it’s not specific to one gender or the other.

Then they get a look at the bill, which:

“is filled with phrases like ‘reasonable and proper,’ which means the sky’s the limit, with nothing but the good sense and decency of the commissioners to restrain them. That’s my objection to commissions in government – the law can never be equal in application under them. They have delegated legislative powers and the law is what they saw it is.”

The group splits up for a bit- those who know what they’re doing go seek a sponsor for their own bill, while Archie, the narrator, goes to watch the Assembly in action. That body is discussing a resolution to censure the tar and feathering of some agricultural workers the previous month. He’s told it won’t take long because the people proposing the resolution don’t really want it passed, but the Central Labor Council had demanded it and these particular legislators are labor-supported, so they need the resolution for political lubricant. The Labor Council didn’t really want it anymore, either, because they hadn’t realized at the time that the ‘agricultural workers’ were actually only mandrakes (fake humans in this fantasy story), illegal to create, illegal to employ, and competition for their own workers.

So what happened is every member present got up and spoke strongly in favor of the resolution, and then somebody suggested tabling the resolution until later, and they had a voice vote on that- and every single person who spoke so stoutly in favor of the resolution also voted for tabling the discuss, so it passed. This, too, sounds familiar.

Next is a discussion of a proposed treaty with the gnomes for extracting the natural gas in their lands. One representative stands and is all for it. Eventually, another stands and is all against it. He has no particular interest in oil, but several of his constituents have business interests with a different oil company.

Then there’s a bill to outlaw every sort of magic- the bill’s sponsor speaks at length about why this should be done, then, without further discussion, the bill was voted on and passed unanimously. This puzzles Archie greatly, but his friend, who has joined him, explains that the sponsor needs to introduce the bill to appeal to his own constituents, and everybody’s agreed to let him do that, but they all know the bill is now going to the committee where it will die a quite and ignominious death. Sadly, I think this explains a number of pro-life bills and subsequent defeats.

Later they explain lobbyists to Archie- lobbyists are the ‘third house’ (senate, congress, and lobbyists, which is what we have today as well), and that many of the lobbyists are not human- they are mandrakes. That would explain a lot.

They have no luck finding a sponsor for their bill, then one of the potential sponsors tells them they don’t have a thing to worry about, that this bill is just a place holder, really, for a better bill that won’t have the bugs this one does (sort of like the current 1000 page health care bill)

They think they have it defeated, but at the last minute it ends up being passed as an amendment to ‘must-have’ appropriations bill, and there’s nothing they can do about it.

In the end, they discover the man behind the bill is also not human, but a demon from the underworld, and I had to squelch the uncharitable thought that this would explain Waxman as well.

What’s really fascinating is that this was first published in 1940.

P.S. Now available on Kindle! Waldo & Magic, Inc.

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