Economics in CoR


#1

A warning to anyone worried about spoilers: This thread is basically full of them, and you kind of need to have played the game to get anything I’m talking about.

In a previous thread, I talked about how the game discusses several topics incidental to the main plot of the game, including the (lack of) role of the European Union and Russia in the world, but at the same time admitted that while those could give some sense of an Amero-centric worldview, they could also be excused as simply not relevant to the plot, which also didn’t really cover much of America outside Palo Alto, California, and Alaska, for that matter. (You could hypothetically live elsewhere, but the living conditions outside your own residence are never discussed.)

By contrast, economics is probably the second most important theme in CoR, behind only the nature of robotic intelligence, itself. Much of the plot of the game is driven by what impact Artificial General Intelligence would have upon human society, and it’s almost entirely expressed in economic terms. The game even goes so far as to expressly link the war that marks one of the largest dramatic high points in the game to the economic pressures of an increasingly globalized economy, “cheap” robotic labor, and the unemployment that causes.

It is for that reason that it is more than slightly disconcerting that economics is treated so haphazardly in the game. The game seems to treat the economic stability and consumer buying power of the vast majority of humanity as somehow completely decoupled from the economic stability of the marketplace as a whole.

First, I should give some (unfortunately rather lengthy) context for whose works I’m drawing upon: For a much more in-depth look at how technological change has wrought social, economic, and even philosophic changes to society, I again want to point to the fantastic book, Debt: The First 5000 Years, which is an economic anthropology book covering the changes in the medium of exchange of the marketplace, and the social consequences thereof, but also covers the ways in which society has run in cycles regarding its economic foundations. For a much shorter and probably more aesthetically entertaining take on the problems this game tends to gloss over in particular, the documentary, Inequality For All, which largely consists of Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich giving a lecture on how decreasing wages and middle-class buying power, along with an income-inequality gap translate directly into an unstable marketplace and a propensity for more frequent market “bubbles” that lead to recessions or even economic depressions.

To start with why key consequences of the economic impact of robots are glossed over, let’s start with something seemingly relatively benign: During the Mark interview, the only answer you can give that saves your chances of getting your doctorate is to say something to the effect of, “Nobody complains anymore that scribes have been replaced with scanners.” While true, and perhaps purposefully a little glib as a means of taking a stab at a player character who is frequently described as out of touch, this is a statement that ignores a much larger and far more consequential point this game never really seems to acknowledge; Technology doesn’t simply “steal jobs”, it enables the development of new jobs.

Let’s take the foundation of all economic development, and indeed, permanent civilization, agriculture. It’s not discussed nearly enough, but the single greatest effect the Agricultural Revolution had besides the development of permanent settled towns was the precipitous decline in the Quality of Life of the peoples who were subjected to “civilization”. In fact, by some estimates, it took until the 18th or 19th centuries for human society to actually spread enough benefits to enough people that the overall quality of life of living in a “civilized society” could actually outweigh the losses in health, resource availability, and reliability of food supply that simply living as hunter-gatherers could provide. (Compare this to the simple +50% food production or whatever most 4X games give to it before never mentioning it again… But then again, Sid Meier doesn’t care about humanity…) For reasons that take too long to explain for the purpose of this thread, (but Debt explains fantastically,) agriculture was also the cause of sexism, class division, organized warfare, epidemic diseases, and even racism. However, that’s not really the main point I want to get to; What I really want to talk about is the division of labor that occurred as a direct result of technology and agriculture.

In the earliest agricultural societies, crop yields were terribly low per capita. Farmers worked with wooden tools because steel was too rare and expensive, even where it was discovered, for mere peasants to use it, crude iron too brittle to plow a field, and copper or bronze (also too expensive) too soft, and could only work about 3 acres of land. The class division was one of almost every single human being outside the ruling/priest classes forced into farming, where they had to be self-sufficient for nearly every need because no humans could be spared for any other economic activity. Nevertheless, with a few basic tools, this could be increased to one person being able to harvest 5 acres in the Classic Age. With advances in the Middle Ages, this could rise to nearly one person per 10 acres, but in practice, the customs of inheritance actually drove farmers to the smallest or most marginal plots of land one could possibly survive upon, (with excess having to go off and fight in wars to make a living, or at least die and not need to eat anymore,) resulting in a lower total per capita yield until the blessing-in-disguise of the Bubonic Plague redistributed the land. Even with those advances, however, ever since the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago until about 250 years ago, (the Industrial Revolution,) over 90% of the population of the planet was engaged in agriculture as their primary job. It was only with self-propelled tractors (originally, coal-fired,) made cheaply enough for a farmer to afford one that this ever started to change. In modern times, a tractor can drive itself based upon GPS, and use satellite imaging to micro-target precise fertilizer mixtures to the specific elemental composition of the soil. A single farmer is capable of farming hundreds of acres alone, provided it is a machine-harvestable crop. (And those crops that aren’t machine-havestable certainly seem to just be begging for some kind of hexapodal monkey-bot that can pick beans or bananas without destroying the plants they harvest from…)

So, what does this mean with regards to scribes and scanners? Farmers were not educated or made literate. It was seen as a cruelty to do so, because it would only give a child the impression that they might possibly be something OTHER than a farmer. Scribes were always a rich man’s (emphasis on man’s) luxury, as it took a social class that stripped the excesses of thousands of farmer’s work and pooled them into a degree of excess food that could afford to feed people dedicated solely to the copying of texts. In practice, this was usually fed by the tithing to the Church, although aristocrats would sometimes deign educate themselves on topics of scholarship, rather than war. It was only by the printing press “stealing the jobs” of the scribes that any form of universal literacy program could ever be conceived of taking place.

So what does this mean technology really does when it “steals the jobs” of workers? It usually means it liberates the people to actually take a better job. Unless we’re direct descendants of royalty or members of the church, we’re only granted the capacity to piss away our leisure time reading things because machines stole the job of desperate subsistence farming away from us.

Beyond that, it usually means people, as a whole, become far wealthier, or at least, inundated with more stuff. The driving question behind Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel was of a native New Guinean asking why Europeans had so much cargo that they brought with them to New Guinea when the New Guineans had so little relative cargo of their own. Capitalism requires the constant expansion of the economy to sustain itself, and to do that, it requires a constant increase in the per capita productivity of the workers that comprise the society. Technology by and large supplies that: One worker produces far more widgets now than they once were capable of producing, as hand-labor has given way to assembly lines that have gradually become automated. Per-worker, more and more goods are produced, which in turn, at least hypothetically, should mean that a greater and greater share of the goods should return to the workers. After all, one of the largest costs of goods is always its labor, (even raw material costs are mostly a reflection of the labor taken in extracting them, and any machine capital needed to extract those resources is usually ultimately derived from the labor somewhere down the line of that machine’s construction,) and so reducing the costs of labor reduces the costs of goods, allowing relatively lower-income people to afford those goods. Where once people had to stitch their clothes by hand and pass them down generation by generation, they now can buy socks in value bundles by the dozens for a trivial amount of money and throw them away when they get their first holes.

The jump from farmer to factory worker to information worker has also not only allowed the average human to have a chance at education, but essentially demanded an ever-rising minimum level of education for entry into the marketplace. This, in turn, is precisely why government has almost universally funded free public universally available education, first starting with elementary school, but eventually working its way up to high school, and, inevitably, will include college education. In fact, countries like Germany already offer it, and the fact that America is falling behind in educating its populace is probably the largest part of why it’s losing its lead on the global economic stage.

In Inequality For All, one of the segments in Robert Reich’s lecture to his class is one where he polls his students on where his students think the money spent making an iPhone goes. Most votes go to China, because that’s where people always talk about things like iPhones being made, but the greatest amount of money, 36%, goes to Germany, with another 16% going to Japan, and only 3.6% going to China. China is merely where an iPhone is assembled, (something that takes moderately-skilled labor,) it’s in Germany and Japan that an iPhone is made, because that’s where the highly skilled labor it takes to make the delicate, highly sophisticated electronics that run an iPhone.

While there is a significant amount of labor being done in China, because their labor is so devalued for being lower-skilled, they take home a tenth of the actual money the Germans take. The overall result of technology being introduced over the long term (which the game itself hints at understanding with Irons’s election page) is an overall rise in the wages of individual workers as they need to be further educated and specialized, and as the per-capita productivity rises commensurately.

Because of all this, one end of the possibility space is that of a more-wealthy-than-ever America, where people lose their jobs to factory robots, yes, but are retrained into careers that rely more upon the sorts of creativity that the robots can’t replicate. (This is somewhat hinted at in Elly’s vignette in the Grace ending.) For example, the likes of text-based Interactive Fiction games necessary for training robots in humanity… Following this path, Americans would have a sharp rise in average wages, and be able to afford ever-more stuff to buy from those factories making ever-cheaper products.

On the other hand, the game overtly hints at the other end of the spectrum, where nothing is done to adapt the American workforce to the new economy.

Rising income inequality directly correlates to financial bubbles, and by extension, recessions and even depressions when inequality becomes extreme enough. While this is not seemingly obvious at first, consider, again, what that inequality’s impacts truly are.

The key to understanding why is rooted in the Multiplier Effect. 70% of the American economy is in consumer spending, largely meaning the middle class has to buy a product for that money to be recycled through the economy. (Most of the rest is international trade, which basically means foreign consumers need money, too.) The economy relies upon money getting into the hands of the majority of the populace so that they can then spend on goods that fund companies that pay workers to make things. The faster and more efficiently this system works, the greater the GDP of the nation as a whole. The problem is, the system “leaks” whenever someone saves their money.

Poor people spend their money to the last dime, just to keep the lights on. The middle class, especially in recent years, has also been less than frugal, and leading up to the Great Recession of 2008, were notably spending over 100% of their income, getting leveraged up to their eyeballs. (Fantastic fuel for a market crash…) Meanwhile, the richest strata of society save their money simply because they have nothing left to spend it upon.

Someone who makes 1000 times as much money as a typical middle-class family does not eat 1000 times as much food, they don’t drive 1000 cars, or buy 1000 houses. They also are highly unlikely to hire 999 servants that they then pay a middle-class wage. These are the things that keep the economy going, the reason why businesses expand. Unlike some myths of economics, rich people don’t just buy more factories to start making more things when there isn’t the existing demand to buy their products. When someone doesn’t spend, the economy just stops. In short, they form pools of stagnant money in the economy, incapable of keeping it flowing and making the pie larger for everyone.

They do, of course, use their money for something, however; They invest.

The reason why the stock market has become increasingly divorced from the actual health of the economy over the past few decades is that income inequality has driven up the amount of money that exists purely in the financial sector as a part of a financial confidence game only vaguely tethered to the actual industrial realities of the companies whose stocks are traded.

To give a quick example of what I mean, the 2008 crash supposedly involved the “loss” of a couple trillion dollars, but in actuality, most of that money never even really existed to begin with. The subprime lending trick used to start the downfall is not a unique event in economics, and similar Ponzi schemes, reliant upon essentially setting up fraudulent financial commodities to then sell before the bubble bursts is essentially inevitable in a market over-saturated with investment capital. There is, quite simply, too much money in the hands of the investment class, and not enough actual commercial or industrial activity to invest in. As a result, they tend to just make up new investment opportunities, wholecloth, for as long as they can get away with it. This same pattern can be traced back to the “dot com bubble”, where people were so desperate to find something to invest in related to tech that they didn’t care if the company couldn’t possibly make money, or the “savings and loan crisis” of the Reagan years. I’ll just use a direct quote from the intro of Debt to explain:

As it happened, she didn’t actually know what the IMF was, so I offered that the International Monetary Fund basically acted as the world’s debt enforcers - “You might say, the high-finance equivalent of the guys who come to break your legs.” I launched into historical background, explaining how, during hte '70s oil crisis, OPEC countries ended up pouring so much of their newfound riches into Western banks that the banks couldn’t figure out where to invest the money; How Citibank and Chase therefore began sending agents around the world trying to convince Third World dictators and politicians to take out loans (at the time, this was called “go-go banking”); How they started out at extremely low rates of interest that almost immediately skyrocketed to 20 percent or so due to tight U.S. money policies in the early '80s; How, during the '80s and '90s, this led to the Third World debt crisis; How the IMF then stepped in to insist that, in order to obtain refinancing, poor countries would be obliged to abandon price supports on basic foodstuffs, or even policies of keeping strategic food reserves, and abandon free health care and free education; How all of this had led to the collapse of all the most basic supports for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on Earth. I spoke of poverty, violence, malnutrition, hopelessness, and broken lives.

To make a long story short, being pooled into a tiny collection of hands is where money goes to die.

The widespread unemployment, the abandonment of education, the pooling of money into a few “winners” in the economy, and most definitely, the cessation of consumer spending as exemplified with the 20-year-old cars line described in the game, whether the economy is going to “do fine” or not, are all flagrant indicators of a country slipping into desperate Third World status. When people stop being able to afford those new cars, the car makers collapse, and when that happens, all those industries that support car manufacturers collapse, as well.

Why is it I’m able to make bank selling factory robots to a car manufacturer who wants to expand when nobody is buying any new cars from the old factories? These events take place at basically the same time, especially if you give your company away to charity.

And this is sort of the crux of the problem I have with this game’s take on economics: It sort of understands some of the basic cause-and-effect, but never manages to put two-and-two together. It understands that widespread cheap robot labor would cause unemployment, but then says that the economy is doing great, anyway, as though suddenly having a giant chunk of consumer spending disappear into the ether has no effect upon the economy, whatsoever. It kind of understands that a majority of the population living on unemployment checks and welfare is a bad thing, but doesn’t stop to think about who, exactly, is paying taxes (or buying the treasury bonds necessary to fund a deficit) to actually keep those checks flowing, and why, if they have all the power, they keep letting it happen. It mentions some unrest, but it’s always localized, never enough to actually foment into a real movement.

In the previous thread, @kgold mentioned that there’s only one variable that affects the economy, at all, and it’s basically a measure of the war. Frankly, that basically is the problem I have with the game. The actions you take as a player should be having an impact on the economy, even if it might only be significant locally, and relatively minor globally.

As I mentioned in that previous thread, consider what the impact would be if Ford’s CEO decided to close up shop, and put all the Ford employees, and the employees of the thousands of secondary and tertiary companies that supply those Ford factories out of work just to give it all to charity. It’s a seismic shift in the economics of the area, probably even the nation, but this game doesn’t seem to recognize any possible impact that a billion-dollar company being given sold off root and branch would have. This game lets you barter for cheaper robots to become available to your neighborhood, but has no means of recognizing that an act done ostensibly for the economic welfare of a community might have any impact on the economic welfare of the community. If I set up a massive company that employs thousands of people *IN ***ING DETROIT, and possibly helps pay for the employment of hundreds of thousands of people throughout the secondary and tertiary jobs that factory supports, the game has no interest in depicting any sort of change in the community that my company might bring about. Nothing that should have an economic impact does have an economic impact.

By contrast, the only thing that matters is whether a war is won or not, which seems more than slightly strange. As my economics professor explained to me, simply going to war didn’t end the Great Depression, because for all the economic value a tank has to a nation, you might as well drive it straight into the scrapyard as soon as it’s off the assembly line, because then, it might have some chance of being remade into something economically useful. For all the value of the government employing a worker to make that tank has, you might as well just pay them directly for nothing, because then, they have free time to go get another job that will contribute more to the economy. At best, it can kickstart investment in research for products that would then be useful for the commercial market, (again, airplanes, space ships, and the Internet all owe their existence to military funding,) but everything that is described as economically valuable already exists or could exist without military funding. (You can make love-bots “as companions for all the unemployed people”… AND THEY BUY THEM USING WHAT MONEY?! The game already described the price of your robots as being $1,000,000 apiece in the Galen segment! If they had that kind of money, they probably would have bought a new car by now…)

Nothing about that war involves anything as fundamental to the strength of the economy as the rate of unemployment, so why is it literally the ONLY thing that matters?

What I would have rather seen in the game is some sort of meter involving the unemployment rate or some other simplified, but accurate-enough macroeconomic indicator to declare the health of the economy over the course of the game. If it was visible on the stats page, the player could see exactly why such-and-such a negative event was occurring in the middle or end of the game, and why people were having a human uprising against robots, or why Irons was being elected as opposed to whoever her hypothetical opponent might have been based upon an anti-robot platform. Maybe the robot uprising starts as a reaction to a Neo-Luddite style human uprising, where robots fought back in self defense, but which is avoidable, even with high autonomy and low empathy, if the economy still manages to stay healthy? If wide-scale unemployment persists, where is the financial market crash that such a state would predict? (Games like Fate Of the World outright incorporate it into the economics model as the cost of letting finance become too large a part of the economy, and it’s devastating when it occurs.) Declaring that you were purposefully making your robots stupider to “let humans compete with them better” might have had some effect other than just lobotomizing your robot’s autonomy score for no good reason.

Beyond that, consider what happens when you actually declare that robots can get paid for their labor. That kind of throws the whole notion of robots being cheaper straight out the door. The notion that they were cheaper to begin with is somewhat dubious if they genuinely cost $1 million, anyway, as, even if you paid a human a pretty cushy $100,000 a year, that’s still 10 years of labor before you even start calculating maintenance and all that bio-diesel. (There’s zero chance you can just fuel an entire world of robots on McDonald’s grease traps without the value of bio-diesel increasing from practically free to one of the most valuable commodities in the world…) Keep in mind, many companies existing in the real world right now are running significantly sub-optimal factories just because the initial cost of capital for changing to a more efficient system is so high. The world depicted in this game depicts the cost of robots being so cheap, they drop human workers overnight. Even if sheer productivity increases (which seems odd for deliberately general-purpose robots with humanoid hands - or worse, guns instead of hands - and which are not necessarily more graceful than human fingers) made up for it, wouldn’t the likes of China and Taiwan have their lower-cost workers more threatened before the likes of waiters lost their jobs?

That raises another question: Would lobotomizing the robots of their autonomy really even help the economic situation of humanity? Again, focusing more upon helping humanity be reeducated into being able to fulfill different jobs than what robots could economically outperform humans at performing is a more sensible long-term strategy. The laws of Comparative Advantage would inherently favor the maximum use of labor to supply goods to the economy, anyway. No matter how inefficient, the comparison of human to robot labor is still one of relative cost-effectiveness, and eventually, the value of human labor is so devalued, or robot labor has such a premium put upon it, that some form of parity is maintained. This would mean most people work dirt-cheap wages to stay under the price of a robot, or work on those jobs robots are fundamentally ill-equipped to handle, although presumably, there would come a point where the marginal cost of a new robot increases to economic infeasibility because of the overwhelming demand for robot labor. (Again, only so many french fries to feed those biodiesel engines…) That is, until such a time as the market reaches absolute satiation of all possible demand for goods.

This, however, brings me to the last major point I want to make, which is that capitalism, itself, is generally based upon the assumption of infinite demand for goods. To prevent a crash, the economy must constantly be growing, meaning an eternal increase in productivity delivering larger quantities of cheaper goods to an insatiable consumer who always has more money to spend upon said goods. With hyper-efficient robot labor, it actually raises the question of when you just simply satiate demand. The answer, generally, is that people start investing in fraudulent market opportunities for more money they can’t spend until a crash occurs, but if the economy does well enough for more than just 1% of the population to hit that point, it would start becoming more abundantly clear to humanity as a whole.

Amusingly, in the Empathy ending, you hint at what Futurama laid out rather explicitly in the Lucy Liu lovebot episode, which was that perfect robot lovers would probably significantly impact the population growth rate of humanity… And, honestly, that might actually be a solution. Much of the developed world is already going through a population contraction, as wealthier families have less children as a result of higher education and labor force participation of women, and also because the high-education demands of a modern marketplace demand more focus upon the education of less children. If super-intelligent robots that are capable of making “Kinkaidian” art take over most human duties to the point that humans become less necessary for all but the most abstract of thought, the human population would honestly be better off contracting peacefully to a point where resource consumption per capita could continue to grow until satiation by simply letting global population decline through a program of “Cheap Lovebots For Everybody!” (A certain line at the end of Caddy Shack comes to mind…)

Even when going so far as colonizing outer space, the use of sentient and semi-sentient robotics would allow tiny numbers of colonists to run whole societies, vastly diminishing the actual need to build such a star empire, and also, incidentally, answering the Fermi Paradox by severely disincentivizing extreme acts of interstellar colonization.


#2

Thanks for the extended post, which I found interesting. I don’t disagree with a large part of what you say; let me just explain some of the philosophy that went into CoR’s treatment of economics, and maybe you’ll find we don’t actually disagree on much, here. (Spoilers ahead if you haven’t played the game.)

One of the big reasons global economics is not tracked with more variables in CoR is that by and large, I see this as something that is outside the player’s control. (“Some things are under our control and others not.”) Once the cat is out of the bag for producing robotic technology – and it deterministically gets out of the bag before the war – people are going to make robots do all kinds of things, and there’s a limited extent to which the player’s company alone can change the economic fate of the United States or the world. You can build a factory in Detroit and treat the workers there well, and that’s nice, but the overall fortunes of the country probably going to be changed by that. The world economy is going to be hugely impacted by robotics, but we can argue that the course of that change may not be up to the player. This is not to say that the player can’t change all kinds of things in the game, but for basic workers-for-a-variety-of-jobs-that-power-the-economy, that just happens.

So what does that do? In the game, in the short term it displaces a lot of workers. People downsized because of new technology don’t necessarily get retrained overnight. This is one of the factors that leads to the general dissatisfaction that leads to public support for war. But what happens then? I could argue that many people might never leave welfare – productivity is so high that not everybody needs to work, but what that looks like could be a very high unemployment rate. Irons’ political affiliation is not directly discussed, but one thing she definitely is, is populist. If a majority of voters were on welfare, but industry was nevertheless being very successful and productive while actually being taxed for it, I could see a sustained high unemployment rate coexisting with consumer purchasing power.

A couple of the things you say are straw men – the Galen million dollar figure is what you can sell the robots to Galen for, before the technology has even really hit the market. There is no way that that figure is the same as what it costs to make the robots, even at the time, nor even necessarily what you would sell them for at that time to a non-medical market. And the game covers 30 years, so you could expect the price to drop precipitously between each chapter from 5 to 7 (the times between chapters increase roughly exponentially). Those jumps in time are also important for understanding how seemingly sudden changes in the economy can come about; there’s actually a fair amount of time for the U.S. to recover between the end of 5 and 7, for example. Also, the bit of dialogue about scanners is not the only thing that can get Mark to like you, and it’s a glib response to a common (if a little naive) concern. It’s realistic dialogue option (you don’t even have to say it!), not The Game’s Point of View.

The one big thing I let you impact in the fate of nations is the U.S.-China war, and I think it’s entirely reasonable to think that a resounding U.S. defeat would shake investor confidence in the U.S. enough to cause serious problems for the economy, even if that result is a little exaggerated in the game. The U.S. benefits economically from a lot of worldwide faith that it is one of the safer harbors for investment, and many dollars might be exchanged for other currencies if the world suddenly decided otherwise.

But what do I know? My Ph.D.'s in computer science (guess the specialty!), not economics, and I probably won’t be writing Choice of Stagflation any time soon.


#3

I don’t necessarily think it’s a disagreement, so much as a difference in perspective. I’m guided by having read and engaged in arguments in the forums of other games that leads me to expect certain consequences after certain actions.

The cat was out of the bag for cars before Henry Ford started making Model Ts, but that doesn’t mean that Ford wasn’t capable of impacting the national, if not global, economy. If your company is capable of making you a “billionaire”, (as stated in the status page, and is not particularly difficult if you have 18+ empathy,) you’re probably doing some pretty serious business, and are buying enough resources and intermediate products to functionally be employing hundreds of thousands of people through secondary and tertiary businesses.

In fact, since the only notable (as expressed in text) domestic competition that seems to exist is Josh’s company, you can buy that up when it crashes after the rare earth embargo, (or just somehow have Josh join your company if you gave your company to charity then restarted it after stopping the war, as some of my playthroughs went…) and it’s generally stated that the competitor’s products are all vastly simpler and inferior to your own outside the Chinese direct photocopies, I find it hard to see how your company could be anything outside a Microsoft or an Apple. At least, that’s the direct impression that is given by the text; At one point, if you decide to sell factory robots to the whole world, you have so much business from your own factory that your decision literally is the difference between riots in the streets of Europe or not - how is that not having an impact on the global, much less national, much less local economy?

But let’s say the player has no direct control on the national economy for the sake of argument; Why does the player have no control over his local environment? Why does starting a business that can hire hundreds of thousands of people in the area of Detroit not start to turn the place around? Why does donating 10 wealth to charity let me solve global warming with giant floating powerplants or prevent extinctions on a global scale, while 4 wealth to charity for scholarships for college do nothing to change the rate at which people actually go to college? Why does getting Josh to agree to sell robots cheaper to the community not result in any cheaper robots for the community?

For that matter, why does the player have no capacity to engage in policy on a national level, when you’re capable of being absurdly famous, and even “Secretary of Autonomy” at some point? You even outright personally dictate by a spur-of-the-moment whim whether robots get the vote or not, and your decision cannot be revoked if you think that decision was the wrong one, yet have no say on any other form of policy.

Saying “productivity is so high that not everybody needs to work” is… well, just utterly anathema to the concept of capitalism. There is no “enough” in Capitalism, there’s just which choice of how to invest gets you more than the others. If there was, we wouldn’t have hungry people in America, because we certainly produce more than enough food to the point of exporting or even wasting 40% of it, but we still have 46 million Americans suffering from food scarcity, even now. Again, Comparative Advantage would demand they go to work, even if it were at a lower real wage, since their productivity would still be economically valuable at the point where the marginal cost of robots exceeds the salary of a human. If this all doesn’t matter, if people just say “enh, we have a strong enough economy, whatever, people don’t have to work,” then it’s really not a Capitalist society, anymore, it’s full-blown Socialism if not teetering on Communism.

Further, (while I’m rather loathe to say this after saying your own take on politics was a little too bleak,) it oftentimes doesn’t even matter what the populist majority wants when it is at odds with the elites, and there’s even studies that prove it. Populist president or not, Irons is just a president, and wouldn’t be capable of passing such laws on her own. Even when 80% of the public was opposed to the bank bailout, congress voted for it, anyway, because that’s what the wealthy donor class wanted.

In any event, if it WAS the case that the American policy on welfare was completely flipped on its head, (again, to the point of near-Communism,) and supported by the majority of the people as a way for most people to live their lives, it most certainly was not discussed in the text of the game, and that would have kind of been an important thing to mention. The sort of crucial impact upon everyday life and philosophy people have about their fellow man as a result of the player’s actions that, if critical to understanding the economic landscape painted in the game feels like a rather significant omission.

Honestly, I would think it more reasonable to expect the player to have a significant chance to impact the national economy and politics far more easily than the player could affect the whole course of the war, especially since warfare is largely based upon the economy of those waging said war to begin with.

And on a similar note, I’m not sure why a military loss would be so economically devastating for America, for that matter, either. The British Pound is still the favored currency of the financial world because it is such a high denomination, and was so even while the British Empire collapsed around it. They certainly wouldn’t want to shift to Chinese Yuan, when the Chinese have been so ready to shift economic policy drastically, are at times openly hostile to the notion of foreign investment, could very easily decide arbitrarily to nationalize something-or-other if foreigners started making money off it, and generally devalue their currency (read as: inflation via state change to the exchange rate/basically just printing more money) purposefully in such a way that it improves the attractiveness of their goods for export, but weakens their currency to the financial markets.

If anything would cause investors to flee America in desperation, it would be a policy of welfare that basically gave up on employing or educating Americans…

As for the Galen figure, I use it because it’s the only figure available, anywhere. I’m not really talking about the last 20 year jump, since there’s little said about the economy, then, anyway, (other than that it’s fine because of the war or not having the war,) and any estimate I might give about the economy of scale is a wild leap into the unknown, because we don’t even seem to agree on how large or important the company is, to begin with. For that matter, I’m not sure the marginal cost of robots necessarily favors the development of robots. Many of these technologies tend to seem relatively mature to start with, a new application of old technology, since you basically just use off-the-shelf smartphones (read: smaller versions of PCs) and hard drives to build everything. (At least, your first robot was, and there’s no in-text discussion of any major changes that would lead a reader to think otherwise.) For that matter, as I’ve mentioned before, you have the problem of increasingly straining supplies of bio-diesel or batteries, as well as likely copper and gold supplies. While you could certain argue a drop in price, I’m not sure you could argue the more-than-two-hundred-fold decrease in price it would take to bring a robot down to less than the $5,000 where it would even start making sense to buy a robot rather than a new car in less than the space of the around 5 years between Galen’s vignette and the chapter 6 stuff. In fact, with demand as high as the game seems to put it (where you can sell to so many people directly, from your own company, that it causes riots in the streets of Europe when you go on a cruise whether you pick one option or not,) then there’s reason to believe the marginal costs of robots would actually start increasing at some point as some basic resources start being demanded more heavily than they can be supplied, the way that copper has been rising in price with China’s rise in the real world.

As for the “scanners” bit, the reason I mentioned it was because it was one of the first things that set me into thinking about writing this whole mess, to begin with. At first, I was just going to write a “list of options I wish I had that the game didn’t let me take”. The game doesn’t let me make an effective argument about DARPA research funding the Internet or NASA, the game doesn’t let me make an effective argument about the role technology has had in raising wages or allowing people to pursue other careers… and while that may not necessarily be the view of the game, the fact that it cuts off any discussion of those topics in the game, that it’s just not valid to think these things in the game, is a frustration I felt. You’re basically “a little naive” of the economic impact you are going to have by the game’s fiat, no matter what.


#4

Haven’t been on here in a while, but here’s my take on the social-welfare question, as one of the playtesters with an amateur interest in economics.

First off, yes, the player has a fair degree of control over whether the working class will be wiped out, though as you said, even if he doesn’t, college diplomas will still be necessary for entry-level work. An effect of capitalism is that money tends to accumulate in the hands of capital owners, as you noted. However, I also see that there is mention in a couple of routes (this could be better-emphasized, but Kevin isn’t an economist) about how the government responds to this in the postwar economy. In the Empathy route, one of the things that kicks off the companion-bot boom is a government program for using robots as slave income for disabled veterans.

I definitely side with @kgold on the effects of welfare on the purchasing power of the consumer class, though ensuring that said welfare system works would indeed require a functional US government (which we don’t have now, but give it a couple decades - or President Irons running on a revolutionary economic platform). Given that the marginal tax rate under Dwight D. Eisenhower ® was 92 percent for the top tax bracket, I believe that yes, you can have an economy with a capitalist structure and a functional welfare state that encompasses the majority of the economy, particularly if robots are doing all the labor. Is it socialist? Yeah, in the sense that it’d look like Scandinavia’s big brother. While (again) it isn’t stated and it could have been, the idea that robots will “take care of people” in the Grace route, or the veteran-replacement program in Empathy kinda implies that it happens. People who don’t have jobs still have groceries delivered to them. (Whether the majority of the population “supports” this is irrelevant - in the Grace route, people have been isolated from influence over government policy.)

Why is it not spelled out more explicitly? Because this isn’t a near-future CoG version of Spice and Wolf, and the economics and policies are kind of a sideshow to the more visible social changes - whether they be the abolition of human labor, the replacement of human lovers with Lucy Liu-bots, the Alaskan Rebellion and the revolutions that it inspires, or the fall of the United States to robot revolution. To be blunt, the economics side is for econ nerds. (I realize that this goes against your request not to say “it’s just a game,” but sometimes introducing more emphasis into a subject would derail the story - the target audience are going to be more interested in the R2D2 with T-Rex arms.)


#5

I don’t think you grasp the argument, here. The marginal tax rate during the Eisenhower administration has absolutely nothing to do with what I’m talking about. Eisenhower inherited the greatest period of American growth to ever exist explicitly because there was full employment, a G.I. Bill sending nearly every male in the country to higher education, an American industrial base that was at least equal to anything else in the world, and it really didn’t hurt that all competitors happened to have a smoking crater where their industry used to be. All of this led to the greatest period of worker wage increase ever seen, which in turn meant they could spend on things like white picket fence houses and kitchen appliances and TVs so their kids could watch Leave It To Beaver, all of which were (at least, initially,) manufactured in the USA, affording the ability to hire even more workers and build even more factories, which enabled more spending, which enabled more growth, etc…

The point I’m making is that all those things - the important things about the economy, not the top tax brackets - are what are necessary to keep the economy going strong. There is no economy without an industrial (or at least, information worker) base that actually engages a significant chunk of the population, and that requires infrastructure to maintain.

While welfare payments from the government in a recession can paper over holes in the economy temporarily, trying to create an economy that runs on checks from the government alone is a recipe for nigh-permanent underclasses. What you are describing with a permanent welfare class is essentially why the “petroleum curse” keeps nations like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Russia from developing real economies, even when (or “because they can afford to”) they are drowning in resource wealth.

Worse still, unlike a single-resource-dependent country, you’re talking about a nation that would be dependent upon a few high-tech industries, the sort which absolutely requires higher education, and will simply leave the country if said higher education evaporates. Then, there’s no tax-generating high industry to provide for said welfare, and instead of being Saudia Arabia, you’re looking at being Syria or Lybia… which don’t work out so well the first time a drought causes food prices to spike above where welfare and government price controls can do anything about it.

The strategy outline in this game is basically a guaranteed path to joining the Third World.

The problem is that this really is the plot of the game outside the immediate development of your robots. There isn’t a single pure evil villain in this game, and no particular goal laid out before you. The adversity the player has to face is the social upheaval their robot creates, which is played out explicitly in economic terms. The war is because of economics, all the riots are because of the robots’ impact on economics, one of the big reasons Mark is ready to talk about you like Dr. Evil is because of how robots will impact economics, and the two paths that don’t involve a giant robot war both strongly relate economics in how they are resolved.

To ignore the economics in this game is to assume that China just declares war on America “because it’s evil”, (which the author explicitly argued against being the reason,) people hating robots just because they’re different, and the economy falling apart for no good reason. The game utterly deflates into meaninglessness without it.


#6

[quote=“Wraith_Magus, post:5, topic:12558”]
While welfare payments from the government in a recession can paper over holes in the economy temporarily, trying to create an economy that runs on checks from the government alone is a recipe for nigh-permanent underclasses. What you are describing with a permanent welfare class is essentially why the “petroleum curse” keeps nations like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Russia from developing real economies, even when (or “because they can afford to”) they are drowning in resource wealth.[/quote]

One problem with your assertion is that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, to name two countries, are not third-world (no guarantee that they won’t fall into the Third World once the oil runs out - but robots aren’t running out). The median household income is about $25,000 (source: Gallup), similar to Ireland. Kuwait has $40,000 a household, which is entirely first world (again, median, not mean). The difference between Saudi Arabia and Venezuela is in several factors, one of which being that Venezuela’s institutions were set up by a moron (Chavez) and are being maintained by a moron (Maduro), but also because Saudi Arabia is very good at milking its guest workers. Which, in the real world, is a human rights abomination - but in this game, what you get instead is robot labor for humanity’s benefit.

[quote=“Wraith_Magus, post:5, topic:12558”]
Worse still, unlike a single-resource-dependent country, you’re talking about a nation that would be dependent upon a few high-tech industries, the sort which absolutely requires higher education, and will simply leave the country if said higher education evaporates.[/quote]

Contraindicated. The high-tech industries do not require educated workers in the path where education dies out. They require robotic workers who are, as a conceit of the setting, superior to human workers in pretty much every way, and they can manufacture their own workers. There does not need to be any human input into the process at all. Now, the question becomes “so who buys their stuff?” And the answer is, of course, that welfare recipients fuel the consumer society - people have a certain amount of purchasing power allocated to them, and robots deliver their chosen goods.

While it’s not a post-scarcity economy (as you pointed out, capitalism assumes infinite demand, and humans are always capable of wanting more), it is an economy where everyone gets their needs and most of their wants met without having to work for it. So you aren’t going to see a Third World economy come out of the removal of humans from the productive process.


#7

I think it would be worth mentioning again (well, I think for the first time in this thread,) that I come to this game as a simulationist gamer first, not as the sort of narrativist that I would expect most inhabit the forums of an “Interactive Fiction” game site. As such, I think it’s worth impressing that what’s important is not only the notion of verisimilitude, but also the concept of what biases and assumptions a game teaches to its players through the inherent assumptions of a game’s mechanics. The differences between what assumptions build what models in Simcity 2013 and its functional cousin, Cities: Skylines, and what they mean for gameplay and the lessons that players take from the game are key to understanding the nature of how a player will experience that game. When government is limited solely to zoning laws and taxes, it functionally states to the player that is the only role of government, whether the developers meant for such a radically conservative fiscal philosophy to be part of their game or not.

It’s blatantly obvious what gender politics Zachary Sergi subscribes to when you play games like Versus, since the mechanics are specifically designed to allow a greater range of freedom than most games would even consider, and use of terminology like “ze” and “hir” as commonplace a relatively small subset of English-speakers even recognize. It’s difficult to imagine those weren’t deliberate choices the author made specifically to get a message across. Even in the relatively less radical games like Mecha Ace or CoR, you can choose the gender of certain characters, and the concept of homosexuality rarely receives any form of comment at all.

These aren’t treated as issues simply for “gender nerds”, they’re an important part of what the game tries to say to its audience, and what kind of fantasies they’re allowed to construct when they play the game. They’re something openly acknowledged by the community, and open to discussion.

It’s for this reason that dismissing this as something “only for econ nerds” a little disingenuous. It reflects an assumption that economics inherently can’t be important except to a few people who are easily marginalized… you know, totally unlike sexual minorities. It states that the implicit assumption that everyone agrees upon a certain set of economic assumptions that are not open for discussion. (Again, I can draw a parallel to the assumption that most games have that all players are horny straight white young males afraid they’d get the cooties if someone “forced them to play a girl” for a moment.) Considering how economics is somehow not considered important enough to be a mandatory part of every student’s high school education alongside the rest of social studies before we assume they are mature and educated enough to vote for their own economic future, including an actual discussion of economic theory in our culture and media is at least as critical a choice game developers make as the inclusion of gender politics.

The stats that a game tracks indicate precisely what dimensions of freedom a player has to actually interact with the game world, and by extension, direct the goals players have going into a game, and what they must do to achieve them. If it doesn’t have stats, it’s something considered “not worth talking about”. (You also can’t kill it, but that’s another matter.) Granted, some of these stats are invisible in many games, but present. So, what does CoR value as game mechanics? Four dimensions of robot personality, a character’s “humanity”, wealth, fame, geopolitical power balance, and taking up the visibly biggest chunk of all, relationships with other characters. Compare this to, say, Choice of Dragons, where all choices are graded on three sets of binary personality traits, where your choices are graded upon an axis like alertness versus disdain, or Versus, where your choices impact your character’s “growth”, and are used as a measurement of, essentially, how well you understood the message the author wanted to convey to you. What do these mechanics say about the values the authors of those games held, and what purpose the game was supposed to serve in terms of how it impacted the thoughts and feelings of their players?

One of the major reasons I dislike Sid Meier’s Civilization (not to be confused with the generally superior Avalon Hill boardgame that came first) is that its pretending to be some sort of arc of human history, rather than the Risk-style game of direct competition it actually was, has cemented in the gaming public’s mind the notion that technology is performed solely through direct, organized state-funded research along explicit, inviolate “tech trees” demanding a uniform progress through technology as time advances. The concept of burning the Treasure Fleets of Zheng He and erasing the records of how the most massive sail ships ever built were constructed so that nothing could ever threaten to destabilize China’s government through international commerce and intercultural exchange could ever happen again are completely incomprehensible to this model. (For that matter, it’s incomprehensible to the modern understanding of technology as an unquestionable source of goodness in the world and eternal engine of limitless progress.) Civilization assumes animals were first domesticated because some tribal warlord paid money to cave scientists to research more efficient farming techniques for a +50% bonus to food production, and the living conditions of the villagers or the nature of the balance between hunters and gatherers in one particular culture had nothing to do with it. It’s perfectly acceptable for landlocked countries to develop nautical navigation techniques they would have no use for at the same rate as a nation made of an archipelago, because that’s just what you have to learn to reach the next level of “mathmatics” branches on the tech tree. The notion that necessity is the mother of invention has been assumed out of existence in the gaming parlance by the inviolate edifice of the assumption that Sid Meier’s Civilization just IS how one makes a game involving the development of a culture.

By that token, it’s become something of a given that the theories of Jay Forrester and Jane Jacobs are baked into nearly any city-management game, due to their influence on the developer of SimCity.

I’m reminded of all this because a little Jane Jacobs, along with some Joseph Tainter are rather key to the point I’m making - that societies built upon a single industry tend to inevitably collapse as the industry they are built upon reaches the point of diminishing marginal return.

Dig a little deeper.

Yes, Saudi Arabian citizens have income from government subsidies, but that’s not what builds a First World economy, which is exactly the point I was making. (And Kuwait has the advantage of far fewer people per barrel exported.) Further, that whole human rights abomination thing is a good part of the point I was going for, as well. They have rampant unemployment, but hire guest workers to work for them, anyway. Without an investment in the population, they are disposable citizens, simply fed Bread and Circuses to keep mollified and the regime stable, but desperately unstable without that base of a well-educated, economically-active middle class. (For that matter, I could go into how Rome wound up consisting of over 90% slaves due to the way economics worked in Rome at the point where the economy finally died once and for all. But that would take citing far more sources…) To keep their anger pointed away from the government, they let radical Islamic sects say whatever they want, so long as it’s not against the Saudi government. There’s a reason most of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. There is a whole class of people with no place in society, no other meaningful way to interact with society than to attack it. And this is before I even get into the basement-level quality of life and human rights indexes in Saudi Arabia.

Saying “Venezuala doesn’t count because that country is only in a difficult spot because their leader is a moron,” is not even an argument, it’s a refusal to even consider the argument. Their leader is a “moron” because the country’s economy is in shambles, and the economy is in shambles because the leader is a moron. How conveniently shaped like itself!

It’s a statement that there’s nothing at all to be learned from how a set of circumstances leads to a set of results, just “don’t be a moron!” There’s no consideration that maybe, electing a “moron” is encouraged in nations with a particular economic situation. Most Third World nations have governments that run on, and stay in power because of, the subsidies (and/or land reform) that they promise. This is part of why, for example, the 2014 Indian election was so surprising, since the subsidy-heavy INC was kicked out in favor of a more overtly capitalist BJP as the Indian people felt their economy was stuck in a quagmire without any real opportunity for growth, and a serious rate of suicide from inescapable debt in the rural areas of the country. That’s considered a “man bites dog” story because it’s the complete opposite of the usual - re-electing some sort of Chavez or Ahmadinejad type who promises subsidies and a mostly stylistic method of governance designed to bolster national pride. (Irons definitely seems to fall into this pattern, as well, and it certainly seems a deliberate choice, it’s merely the full consequences of this pattern that aren’t modeled.)

Also notable is that Russia, Syria, and Libya are completely ignored. (And in fact, I really could have added Iran, while I was at it…) All of them are oil-producing states that have no real economy beyond their oil industry, but you don’t respond to them, presumably because they don’t support the point you’re trying to make. The Russian economy, in particular, watched as the Ruble fell to basically half its value after gas started getting cheap, and it didn’t help when Iran’s oil supply was finally let back into the rest of the world following the nuclear treaty deal. W “looked [Putin] in the eye… [and] was able to get a sense of his soul” when oil was moderately priced, before Putin invaded Georgia when oil prices spiked. Russia’s fortunes crumbled after invading Ukraine when gas prices plummeted, with said Iran deal coming at a very bad time for Putin. Russia isn’t completely without other industry,

The rise and fall of the power of Venezuela and Iran are also neatly traced along the price of oil. They can afford to placate their masses with subsidies when oil is expensive, but face upheaval whenever the prices drop. The Arab Spring was triggered by a prolonged drought, but the nations that had the money to subsidize food imports (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran,) could simply solve their problem by throwing money at it, while the poorer nations watched their governments overthrown.

Which again begs for a peaceful protest for android and gynoid rights.

The economic equation would flip on its head if they were paid wages equivalent to what a human would receive, as can happen in some of the paths. Now, you’re not only paying significant sums of money to create a new worker, but then paying them as much as (and probably more than, considering their higher productivity,) a human, anyway. If an android is sentient enough to say that it actually doesn’t want to be a doctor, it’d rather be an airline pilot, and you’re hiring them like you would a normal human, who would pay the up-front cost of building them when you could just try hiring already-built robots out from under other companies?

For that matter, it begs for a violent human overthrow of robots if the economy is not as well-managed by the end of the game, as they become a focal point for the blame of a failing economic system. This game has token protests, but they never become more than a localized event that are forgotten the instant that one protest is over. The game mentions it being a part of Irons’s speech, but it’s never carried over into any serious cultural or legal ramifications, aside from being a side-issue in the build-up to the war with China. How humans react to the robots becoming a dominant force in society is mentioned many times, but it’s never really explored, and there never seems to be any moment of crisis or any resolution to this concept in spite of being practically a core theme of the game. It’s simply an idle option at the end of some paths that asks you if you want to arbitrarily lobotomize robots to make humans more competitive or upgrade robots in some other numeric stat that has absolutely no impact on anything and is never mentioned again. Only robots can have an uprising, which is done as a reflection of the humans that made them, but, much like with the (lack of) conversations that other humans might have with your robots, this is entirely one-way, and no human actually reacts to the robots, or what they have done or become, themselves. Selling sentient beings into sexual slavery is just some idle thing to mention just once with choices that impact your stat sheet, and nothing else, since it’s at a point too late in the game for your stats to really do anything, anymore, but “run up the score”.

That’s actually the opposite of what I pointed out.

I pointed out that consumer demand IS NOT infinite, and that nearly all humans can reach some point of satiation. That is, in fact, the fatal flaw of capitalism, because, again, just because you make 1000 times as much money, you aren’t going to eat 1000 times as many dinners, drive 1000 times as many cars, or live in 1000 houses.

Different people’s satiation points are different, with Warren Buffet notably living a very modest lifestyle in spite of his tremendous wealth, but eventually, there is a degree of wealth to which nobody is capable of being so opulent that they could possibly spend it all.

That’s why capitalism breaks down when there is a tremendous degree of wealth in some hands, and infinite wealth in every hand means every possible consumer is satiated and unwilling to purchase anything else, no matter how functionally limitless their resources may be. That’s why I’m talking about it being a flaw that capitalism assumes that there can be infinite growth of the economy based upon an infinite growth in demand - when consumers reach satiation, they freeze whatever portion of the economy’s wealth they still have in their bank accounts, crippling the engine of economics by refusing to spend their wealth, and keeping that wealth in circulation. That’s why it leads to speculative financial market nonsense that results in market crashes, since there is literally nothing else they can think of doing with that large a degree of wealth.

Brave New World infamously played with this notion when it talked about its consumer base: People had to play state-approved games, which were, in turn, designed by committees that were required to make sure that every new toy they built had to have more complicated mechanisms that required more manufacturing that required more workers than any previous toys that had already been built, resulting in “toys” that largely consisted of a giant, tangled mess of pneumatic tubes whose sole purpose was to randomize which hole a ball would pop out of so that people could catch the ball and pass it back into the hole for another randomization. It’s completely superfluous engineering bloat designed solely to spur greater consumer demand solely to justify the tremendous workforce of functionally semi-sentient laborers the government had already grown solely to keep the government model they already had sunk costs in stable.

Three points.

First, a significant portion of the argument I am making is based upon the premise that this game clearly wants to underpin itself in the modern-day (or rather, 20 minutes into the future) real world to give its story more dramatic weight through relation to our own lives and times, it doesn’t think its economic assumptions all the way through to realistic conclusions that would demand, so arguing that this game had a couple lines that contraindicate those conclusions does nothing to actually argue against my point, it’s already a part of my point.

Second, the other major thrust of my criticism is that its economic messages are internally conflicted where they are spelled out at all, thus resulting in a muddled mess of what its economic message actually is supposed to be.

The game doesn’t really say that ALL high tech jobs are replaced by robots, because there clearly still are humans working high-tech jobs in some parts of the game’s text. If you choose to live in Palo Alto at the end of the game, there’s a vignette about how Silicon Valley’s gotten over robotics, and now it’s onto research into genetic engineering, which is largely headed up by humans. Beyond that, when it describes who the “winners and losers” of the economic upheaval are largely through the lens of what fields they worked in; Factory workers are out of work, because robots are better than factory workers in every way, but information workers are making a killing, because selling web apps is still economically viable for a human and impossible for a robot. For that matter, so is educating all those robots with new text-based interactive fiction games that for some reason this game thinks would be the preferred method to teach those robots choice and consequence, and it takes a human writing those games to teach that meaning of humanity to those robots.

This difference is core, as well, because those factory jobs are the ones that only required a high school education, or maybe a couple years of tech school to take, while the information workers require college-level or higher education. Hence, this again flies directly in the face of the conclusion that colleges are just some place parents send their kids to get into a comfy middle management job, and are unnecessary with a robot boss who is more efficient than a human.

If you got a different impression when reading through the text, that means that either you’re bringing radically different assumptions into the game that you simply overlook any contrary evidence, or else the game’s messages are so muddled that it’s difficult to actually get a clear sense of how many different things it says unless you go over the game several times specifically trying to tug out every individual thread of reasoning in the overall fabric of the game’s text.

Third, and most honestly, the biggest oversight in both this game and your argument, is completely forgetting the “Race to the Bottom”.

Why would robots support the welfare of an unemployed humanity at all? Why would corporations stay in a country that is raising taxes to 90% when they don’t need the workers of that nation? Why wouldn’t they simply move wherever they can move to have the cheapest labor and taxes, and screw the rest of humanity? Why would corporations pay taxes at all if they can buy the voters in the “democracy,” then build security-bots to defend the fiefdoms over which they are lords and ladies after they drove the rest of humanity to anarchic barbarity? Why have worker wages and “globalization” even been concepts in global politics for the past few decades at all? These are the concepts this game bases all its economics, and by extension, the conflict in the narrative upon, but it suddenly stops considering what they mean when the root causes of these problems are declared to be uncontrollably exacerbated to the absolute breaking point. If robots really did do absolutely everything, why keep humanity around at all? Presumably simply because robots were programmed to unquestionably like humans, (lest they rebel,) but surely, it’s logical to look at the trends of capitalism, and see that nigh-infinite demand for resources is better fed with much fewer humans around to feed. That’s why population has been largely declining in the First World, anyway. Clearly, Lucy Liu sexbots to prevent population growth until humans are a manageable number of pets for robots to raise in their free processor time would be the logical consequence of this train of thought…


#8

“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.”
- Tommy Lee Jones, Men In Black

Well, I can’t really leave well enough alone. (Although I’ve been meaning to write something on Mecha Ace for a couple weeks, now…) As such, I’ve spun my wheels enough to come back for another couple of shots, even if I’m only talking to myself at this point.

Although it blurs the lines between the economic and political stuff, one of the things I should mention is how the economic fortunes of a country radically alter the politics of a country. Robert Reich in Inequality For All does a fairly good job of outlining this, so again, if there’s nothing else you read because of this, I recommend TiVoing that documentary. But to keep it simple, the rise of Communism and Fascism are always tied to deep economic instability and inequality. It’s not just the USSR or Germany, even recently, when Greece faced its existential crisis, they actually went into a split government involving the Communist party and a Fascist party… In a major European nation in 2012.

To that end, while it didn’t quite come up in the last post, I should also mention that the notion of a Third World America isn’t at all far-fetched. In fact, a significant portion of America already is Third World by most measures. States like Mississippi largely can only continue functioning as far as they function because of massive transfer payments from wealthier portions (Read: the Northeast) of the nation to the poorer regions (Read: the Southeast) of the nation. Georgia, in particular, is actually closing down so many hospitals that groups like Doctors Without Borders have to fly in medical care to people who could otherwise never get access to medicine exactly like some place like Haiti after a tsunami, but the disaster, in this case, is permanent and structural. I would, again, point to that synopsis of Jane Jacobs to help give a sense of why this is the case.

That is to say that if CoR really wanted to go down this road, the things that CoR says about government are actually rather underplayed… But that’s part of the problem I have, and what unsettles me.

You see, CoR could have made this statement of the connection between these supposed wonder technologies and the drastically society-rending dangers they possess. It could have talked about how these concepts of economics it at least name-drops plays out in ways that could truly terrify people, and make a story of social upheaval, rather than simply going the standard “20 Minutes Into the Future” route of picking a fight with America’s international rival of the day. It could have shown all these failures of government as being caused by something actually related to what the player is accidentally causing with this massive, unbalancing leap in technology, but instead it sort of aimlessly swipes at government without having any real ability to say why it is doing so or what it’s point even is when it does so. It would have been a much more coherent story to make it all about the genie you let out of the bottle, and all the terrors it might wreak upon the world, but the game never quite figures out whether this is supposed to be a background detail or the main plot, and it tosses the player like a ragdoll between the two, introducing major world-changing events, but then forgetting them by the next page. (The notion that people might rise up in anger against your robots are reduced a single vignette to be vanquished forever by simply sending out a robot with a high enough empathy, or at least being willing to take a --Empathy ++Autonomy, and never mentioned again. That box was checked, no reason to explore the concept any further.)

Even the idea of blowing up all the robots and somehow trying to pull off the Ming Dynasty Burning of the Treasure Fleet, (and destroying the navy that kept the peace in the Indian and Pacific Oceans just before the Europeans arrived worked out just great for the Chinese…) is handled with a single page of text, and immediately afterwards, they then let you give your mom a robot dog because, hey, it’s not like all the robots were destroyed, or anything! And it’s certainly not like eliminating all computers in the world, shutting off the power grid, grounding the majority of global transportation, and eliminating telecommunications and the banking industry (all computerized) would have any sort of noteworthy impact on society or the economy worth mentioning… (For that matter, why not just develop a zombie virus while you’re at it, since you’re already destroying all human civilization at that point?)

Ultimately, the way that the game does approach the concepts of society, economics, and government is with the same approach that the game berates the player if they share similar thoughts: By simply assuming that robots would make everything better, and are inherently superior to humans in every way, without really stopping to consider the consequences of what it’s talking about or working towards. It compares human self-determination to “trying to hammer a nail with a fist”.