I’ve mentioned the concept of water empires here before.
The idea is that a central government has control over a vital life-sustaining resource, such as water. If a province rebels or otherwise acts up, then the supply is cut off. The problem takes care of itself in a year or two of savage starvation, since there will be no harvest if the fields are dry.
Water empires invariably lead to both despotism and corruption. It is so easy to exert total control over life and death, why wouldn’t the people in charge work to consolidate their power? They’d be idiots if they didn’t, after all.
And, since the aforementioned people in charge are in total control, the rules simply don’t apply to them. They can indulge their every whim, favor this person or industry over another, simply because they can. Who is going to stop them? Anyone who tries will be in big trouble when the water stops flowing, after all.
So what happens if the vital resource is electricity instead of water? Why wouldn’t history repeat itself?
(Hat tip to Glenn.)