2019-05-26 The Quality of Capitalism

I want to continue down the line I started following after reading and reacting to the Tyranny of Excellence.

I think my main take is the fundamental nature of human interests in the good, how we learn of the good, and how that is the foundation of capitalism, and how struggling against it all is also about struggling against capitalism.

Let’s start slowly. What is good? Something we enjoy in both the longterm and in the short term. How do we learn about something that is good? By experiencing it, by seeing it, or by hearing about it. As communication improves, hearing about things turns out to trump all the other ways of learning about the good.

This is how we arrive at marketing, and effectively at some form of capitalism, for if you have capital, you can market your product, which helps more people learn about it, which makes people buy it, so you can market it more. Those that have more shall receive even more.

This is true even if all products are equally good!

It is important to note what feeds this loop:

The sad part is that I must assume that many more products are as good as the commercially successful ones, they just aren’t as well capitalized. Or maybe they aren’t as polished and they aren’t as well illustrated. Money makes the world go round. It mobilizes editors and layout people and artists and guest writers. Things get done. This is the blessing of capitalism.

But I think it is important to ask the question about the good again. If a product is successful on the market and it is good, is this the best possible outcome? What if we knew about more products, less polished, but still good? I’m assuming that these products are out there. We just don’t know about them because they never get mentioned. We can’t hear about the good because nobody else has heard about it.

Or, and here I am undermining my own argument, perhaps without capital they don’t get made. Perhaps the polish I have partially dismissed above is all we are prepared to pay for.

I want to return to the question of capitalism. What if there are things that are good enough, but not as polished, not as illustrated, and we wouldn’t want to pay for them: might this not still be good?

How could we help bring about this alternative?

And finally, to bring it back to roleplaying games: anybody can run a game. Anybody can write an adventure. The game is about adventures and therefore polished and well illustrated adventures are unnecessary. Good ideas are harder to come by.

And if somebody talks like I do about DIY and then does a polished thing and sells it to you, then perhaps they’re no longer about DIY. Know that if I change my tune then I’m not to be trusted.

I think we should all cultivate a suspicion of all processes that reproduce aspects of the winner takes it all.

I want contests where everybody wins. I want to encourage more people to make more things, but rough things. I want unpolished things. Things I could have made. Things anybody could have made. DIY and punk.

Know that we are being coopted all the time and defend against it.



When I think about capitalism I think about the specific mechanism by which those who have it can invest it in order to make more. Making something and getting paid is not enough for there to be capitalism. Getting compensated is fair. But there’s the trouble with money: if you have a surplus that you can invest in marketing, things change. Most musicians are poor. Michael Jackson was extremely rich. How much better was he, though? On a scale from zero to many millions? That’s what I mean.

Or to put it back in the context of the tyranny of excellence: folk music is about grabbing an instrument and joining the performance even if you can hardly play. Just play this note. Just clap your hand. Just join in on the chorus. Simple stuff. And how unlike rockstars and stage performances. What do you want your hobby to be: grab some dice and start playing, or watch professionals write for you, play for you?

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-27 04:50 UTC

Music records, then Radio, TV and the Internet, led to an increasing and global winner takes it all effect. A 100 years ago, there used to be more than 10,000 professional pianists in New York City alone. Nowadays everyone can listen to the “world’s best pianists”, so their income gets a massive multiplier and all the other “mediocre” ones can barely live from their passion for music.

The bigger the Network effect, the more extreme is the distribution of incomes. Nassim Taleb’s “Fooled by Randomness” covers this topic well.

Same with sports, like football. All the kids in Switzerland are now wearing shirts of Barcelona, Liverpool et al. and their parents are watching Champions league matches, not of the local 2nd or 5th tier clubs like it used to be a 100 years ago.

The interesting thing about D&D: The multiplier effect may apply for the sale of products like adventures, here you have to compete with the “best in the world”. But it does not apply for the actual gaming experience, we can’t all game with Matt Mercer or other celebrity DMs.

D&D is totally anachronistic in that regard and at the same time a good antidote against all this consumerism and increasing loneliness or maybe insularity of experiences (everyone watching Netflix or Champions League matches alone at home instead of playing games, making music or going to the stadium together).

– Peter 2019-05-27 18:27 UTC

Yes! I forgot the network effect had a name, but this is exactly what I mean. Thanks for that story about the piano players.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-27 18:32 UTC

Please make sure you contribute only your own work, or work licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Note: in order to facilitate peer review and fight vandalism, we will store your IP number for a number of days. See Privacy Policy for more information. See Info for text formatting rules. You can edit the comment page if you need to fix typos. You can subscribe to new comments by email without leaving a comment.

To save this page you must answer this question:

Please say HELLO.