Oliver, Chad – “Of Course” (1954)
Humans from space arrive on Earth in an invincible space ship and send a message to every governing body in the world: they have come in peace to determine which is the best culture on the planet, from which they will take a representative back to their world and pay back the nation with whatever it desires most. Every country assumes it will be them, although there is a lot of hand-wringing on the American part about what the outcome will be if the Soviets are chosen.
While everyone is waiting for the aliens to make their decision, it’s noted that people accept the spaceship as just a new manifestation of modernity. “People had been more or less expecting a spaceship, and they tended to accept it philosophically, as they had accepted electricity and airplanes and telephones and atom bombs. Fine stuff, naturally. What’s next?” I couldn’t have made a wittier ironic comment about the strikingly non-alien aliens of these stories if I’d tried.
Eventually, an Eskimo is chosen, and his people are repaid with all the seals they can eat. In the closing scene, the aliens reveal to the reader that this was a trick to get the planet to work on self-improvement, as it had been “getting to be the eyesore of our sector.” By not revealing the (fake) criteria on which they had made their decision, they had duped all of the other peoples of the world into blindly improving everything. One alien notes that they know which culture will actually be advanced enough to join Civilization in a century, and the second replies… “Of course.”