In the mid 21st century, the US had closed its borders to the world after decades of international fatigue. While the rest of the world was both elated and frightened to see the US abdicating it’s duty to the planet in favor of pure protectionism, the people of the US felt tired of being both requested and reviled in equal measure.
During this period of isolation, corporations based within the US took a stronger lead than they had previously accepted. With the need for the country to be almost 100% self sufficient, the federal, state, and local governments alone couldn’t handle the needs of it’s citizens. With deep pockets and vast resources, many corporates stood up and began diversifying their goods and services to meet the needs of the population.
In the course of this activity, corporations saw ways to subvert the government to become premier players in the lives of US citizens. They were providing the things that the people needed, not the government, and corporations found that they could shift public perception in their favor simply through the adjustment of supply and demand. At first, many corporations overplayed their hand and were take aback by the public blowback in response to their overt attempts at manipulation of public opinion, but most corporations quickly mastered the art of advanced public relations in the 21st century to rally the population behind them and their agendas.
Feeling stretched thin by the scare continental resources, corporations began to consolidate their workforce into regional centers. The early “arcologies” were mostly constructs of convenience. Much like San Franciso or Austin in the early 21st century, companies began to relocate far-flung offices to ring their corporate HQ. This kept their employees close at hand, but also allowed them to dominate the region surrounding their corporate offices which they used to their advantage in influencing local and regional policies through economic power.
As regional control grew, it began to clash with other corporations. In order to solve this, decisions were made to move HQs to more open, currently less populated areas that could be developed totally for the needs of the company. Montana and South Dakota were popular for the first waves of corporations, but eventually as the distance between the entities grew, populated hubs were taken over and rebuilt for corporate purposes.
These new mega-cities — the current arcologies — were self-contained city-states that housed the corporate offices, but also provided their employees with housing, recreational and cultural facilities, schools, restaurants, shopping malls, and other venues that were built so that no one had to leave the corporate campus for anything. People were allowed to do so, of course, but few saw any reason to do so outside of visiting distant friends or relatives, or taking vacations to the “common zones” that were not under corporate control.
Despite their size, their number, and their reach, arcologies could not house everyone in the country. Many millions of people would not or could not work for these corporations, and therefor found themselves relegated to the existing cities that ringed the shiny new arcologies. In the slang of condescending corporate citizens, these cities were nicknamed “orbitals”, since they were hangers-on that orbited the arcologies good fortune and existed only because of the gravitational pull of the new upper class.
People who lived in the orbital cities were a mix of anti-corporate revolutionaries, self-made business people who refused to submit to bland corporate white-washing, and immigrants and forgotten people who had no chance of ever moving up into the arcologies even if they wanted to.
Although corporations focus their energies on maintaining the arcologies, their revenue actually comes mostly from the orbitals. In the late 21st century, the corporations forced a weakened US government to re-open the borders, and sent out emissaries to other nations to establish trade routes and outpost offices, manufacturing, and distribution centers. Over time, arcologies were built on other continents by US companies and by foreign companies that wanted to mimic the success and fanatical loyalty of a workforce that depended on them for everything in their lives. Still, the people living in the orbitals vastly outnumbered those who lived and worked in the arcologies, meaning that the corporations had to tailor their marketing strategies and their products for a class of citizen that was socially and economically far beneath their own experiences. This resulted in major reforms to privacy protection disguised as market research, strong-arm tactics to revise consumer protection laws, and a loosening of advertising restrictions that resulted in corporations being allowed to track and monitor their consumers, charge outrageous prices for questionable merchandise, and to market to all people in any way that saw the best results.
As the influence grew, corporations once again began to butt heads, this time more economically than physically. Demographic targets were many, but not infinite, and while corporations felt that their attempts to put on a reassuring face for their consumers was of paramount importance in building the trust, they had no such compulsion when dealing with each other. Corporations soon began building their own security forces, first to protect their assets, but eventually to conduct raids against their competition in a bid to undermine their projects, obtain their research, and even to poach promising researchers and development staff that opposing corporations did not want to lose. The corporations went to great lengths to keep these battles from spilling into the public sector, but it’s a poorly kept secret. Most of the public agrees that for entities as large as these corporations, powerful security is needed to ensure economic competitiveness and therefor look the other way, but on occasion there’s concern that corporations are enjoying too much power inside the country. Usually, corporations tamp down on these situations with sales and new products, and the populations is once again lulled into a consumerist coma.