The view from Venus
Jacque Fresco designed a society without politics, poverty and war. Will it ever leave the drawing board?
Published: October 13, 2011
Before Jacque Fresco became a revolutionary, he was an inventor. It was in the summer of 1948 when Fresco, then 32 years old, came closest to traditional career success. His “Trend Home,” built almost completely out of aluminum and glass, had earned a prominent display at Stage 8 of the Warner Bros. Sunset Lot in Hollywood. The home was a marvel of economic efficiency: It took only 10 men eight hours to construct the Trend Home, and it could be built for about half the price of that era’s average wood-and-brick houses. Like nearly every other product Fresco had ever invented, the Trend Home was designed for rapid mass production – something Fresco figured would be particularly important in the post-World War II world. The end of the war meant low demand for warplanes, and Fresco figured that the production of Trend Homes could save metal-working factories from shedding workers or shutting down completely. The homes would also solve the problem of housing for the tens of thousands of soldiers who had returned home from the battlefields and were starting new families.
The cost to tour the Trend Home during the three months it was on display was one dollar. Proceeds went to the Cancer Prevention Society; Fresco’s invention already had a $500,000 investment from a car salesman named Earl “Madman” Muntz. (His nickname came from one of his brilliant marketing schemes: In the early 1940s, when TV advertising was in its infancy, Muntz would promise to smash a car to bits with a sledgehammer, on camera, if he could not sell it by day’s end.) Muntz’s success in the commercial arena made him a powerful ally, but he regarded his investment only as seed money – for the Trend Home to reach its intended consumers, it would need federal funding. When an official from the Federal Housing Administration arrived at Muntz’s makeshift office at Warner Bros. Studios during the summer of 1948, it appeared to be the beginning of a prosperous era for inventor Fresco. But instead, it was the end. After the official left in a huff, Muntz told Fresco through an associate that the feds’ proposal – which would have added significant bureaucratic overhead to the production cost – nullified the home’s low-cost appeal. But without federal money or an additional private investment, the project could not exist beyond a handful of prototypes. After Fresco spent a year and a half perfecting the design and seeing the Trend Home through to completion, it was shot down in one day by a financial impasse. “That was my first awakening,” Fresco says.
It was but one of many professional setbacks that eventually led Fresco to a sobering conclusion: In the free-market system, his inventions would be considered valuable not only for their potential to help others, but their potential to generate profits. Even worse, he found that his knack for automating mundane tasks – for instance, he built a machine in the mid-’40s that could automatically sort dried beans by color – would most likely result in displacing workers, and unemployment was far worse than the boredom of the repetitive, mindless tasks from which he sought to relieve them. Fresco figured that the only way he could continue being an inventor was if he could change the society in which those inventions were evaluated, and he began seriously entertaining latent revolutionary thoughts. Fresco launched Project Americana just before he moved to Miami in 1955, rebranded his vision as Sociocyberneering Inc. in 1971; in 1976, he met the woman who would become his romantic and professional partner, architect Roxanne Meadows. In 1980 the two moved to Venus, a rural town about two hours south of Orlando. (Eventually, the town would become the namesake of their effort to create an economically equitable world.) There, Fresco finally saw his architectural designs not only built, but utilized. He and Meadows constructed four concrete domes, one of which they made their home, on a campus there. It offers a superficial taste of Fresco’s cities of the future, which would operate according to a “resource-based economy,” in which the monetary system – and hence, the profit motive and all of its inherent social ills – is abolished.
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