Maybe it was environmental ruin. Maybe it was political turmoil. Maybe it was nuclear war. Either way, the earth is a blank slate for the bands of survivors to create their own civilizations, learning from the past mistakes of the world before.
Four tribes--the researchers onboard an Antarctic research vessel, the elites who survived in a Hindenberg-esque flying balloon, the preppers from a community of bunkers in the Alaskan tundra, and the guests of an underwater hotel--all have different visions of what this new society should look like.
They cannot agree, so they compromise with the Entities system, wherein four test cities serve as laboratories for democracy. Behind the Onyx Walls, the original survivors establish a stock-market to bet on the success of these cities. Citizens are used as currency, and whichever city recruits the most survivors from the Outside will win the right to become the dominant system. When a test city reaches zero citizens, whether due to disease or low birth rates or a lack of recruits, it Is eliminated.
No city has been eliminated yet. The Entities system persists--until a few rebel citizens from each of the four cities realize that their lives are the currency of a big, sadistic corporate system.