Incentive Systems & Politics: Part 1
A Response to Extra Credits
As a game designer, James can’t help but think about how broken our political system is. And by broken, I don’t just mean it’s busted; I mean it’s broken in a Game Design sense. The underlying rules and incentives which govern our politics are just wrong. They’re completely out of whack.
If you’re not already familiar with it, Extra Credits is a web-series focusing on the video game industry; they cover everything from the development, to the marketing, the design, the social impact, and even the different themes that games explore. It’s a series which I find utterly fascinating (after all, Game Design is only a step removed from the Game Theory of Poli-Sci), and some of their insights have proved invaluable to me in the past. They manage to quickly and effectively communicate concepts which would otherwise require years of focused effort to discover, as well as exploring new ideas and structures to apply within the games, as well as to the industry as a whole.
In other words, I strongly recommend that you subscribe to their channel, if you haven’t already.
Over the past couple of weeks they began a series of videos analyzing American politics through the lens of video game incentive systems; utterly brilliant, on the one hand, but utterly misguided on the other. They’ve come up with great patches that will never be implemented.
Which makes these videos a perfect opportunity to explore the cached assumptions of modern politics.
A forewarning: if you’ve never heard the terms Dark Enlightenment or Neoreactionary before, some of the following is going to sound extremely strange, and you may knee-jerk to the response of “I don’t want some totalitarian telling me what to do!” I ask that you bear with me: I share your concern, and I will address it at the end of this series.
With that said, let’s begin.
Section 1: The End Goal of Politics
If you take the goal of politics to be the betterment of the people living in our country, the systems we have are so poorly set up that – if a student proposed them to James, he’d fail the kid on the spot. This either means that A) our system has gotten so far out of hand as to not even remotely reflect what it was originally intended to do, and we should fix it; or B) that in the end, the objective of our political system isn’t at all the benefit of its citizens. Which means we really need to fix it.
Right off the bat, we’re begging the question: what do we mean by “Betterment of the people”?
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not bringing this up to be querulous, but because this is the linchpin of the whole debate. Without a strict definition, it becomes a fluid which fills the container of the argument: when discussing economics, it means X. When discussing culture, it means Y. I’ve seen many a political discussion slip down the rabbit hole because of this.
So let me make a proposal which shouldn’t be too contentious. A system which is concerned with the “betterment of the people” should focus on:
- Their material well-being: an ideal system will not have mass starvation or systemic poverty.
- Their emotional well-being: humans are not cogs; if a substantial portion of the populace is on anti-depressants, something is wrong.
- Their spiritual well-being: moral development, and the maturation of wisdom – a Bonobo Idiocracy is ugliness incarnate.
I think I’ve made my point about the present state of affairs, but to make sure it’s per fectum:
- A permanent welfare/victim class is a problem.
- The mercenary transigence of modern relationships (both platonic and sexual) is a fatuity.
- A degenerate culture, where the blind sermon the blind, is a travesty.
These problems have been developing for some time, but only recently has the rot begun to show on the surface.
This is easiest to chart in the economic sphere: Detroit didn’t happen overnight; neither have the stagnating wages. My colleague Aaron Clarey sums up the correlation between government spending and growth in GDP here – and then goes on to demonstrate that the average modern salary could have been $100,000 rather than our paltry $40,000.
The same holds true for divorce:
Source: The Guardian
And after exploding at the beginning of the 20th century, violent crime remains relatively constant, despite the improvements in medical care:
For a full exploration of this topic visit Radish.
Not only is this system failing to provide for the betterment of its citizens, it’s been failing to do so for quite some time. At this point we need to seriously consider Extra Credit‘s Point B) What if the goal of this system isn’t what it claims to be?
As Marcus Aurelius wrote in his Meditations: “Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature?”¹ Or, if you prefer a modern example, Marshall McCluhan condensed it down to “The Medium is the Message.” We need to look at the Logic of the System; its ideological DNA, if you will. We need to ask, “What are its component parts? What does it do?” Examine its behaviour – not whatever it claims its behaviour is.
In the case of the American Government, we find – Individualism. Equality. Democracy. So what happens when these words are allowed to flourish unchecked?
First we have Individualism: this goes far beyond the mundane statement that “Everybody’s a little bit different.” It raises up individual identity into a cause célèbre. Not only are people different from one another, they must be different from one another. Conformity becomes oppression, we’re all a bunch of special little snowflakes… and if we’re all special, then we’re all equally special.
Their Uniforms are far from uniform…
Of course, this leads to Equality: within conformity (to your community, to your country…) there are honours and distinctions: some people are more accomplished than others, more capable than others. Blunt statements like this wind up bruising the egos of the special little snowflakes: ergo we’re all equal, we’re all identical little gods and goddesses, sitting atop our equally unique mud heaps, and all issuing statements that are equally profound. This leads to:
Democracy. We’re all individuals (nobody can tell us what to do!), and because of that, we’re all equally wise – so shouldn’t we all have a say in things?
Let’s pull back for a moment, and think about a young adult, who just reached the age of majority: by this point we expect them to have learned enough about the world to make sensible decisions (that is to say, that we’ll now hold them criminally culpable if they don’t), but even as an adult, they still require mentoring. Take marriage, for example (this will mesh nicely with the divorce statistics above): it’s a life-long commitment, potentially wonderful, and a vital building-block to a stable society – but when it goes wrong, it goes horribly wrong. It’s an extremely risky decision.
Is your average eighteen-year-old – forget average, is any eighteen-year-old – wise enough to pick a marriage partner without the advice of parents, grandparents, and the community at large? Are they going to be able to overcome the temptations and frustrations that crop up over the years, without a bunch of grey-beards advising them? Are they going to figure out the mutually-satisfying roles of husband and wife ex nihilo?
Of course not; and yet that’s exactly what they’re expected to do. Not just with marriage, but with all things in life – their career, the subculture they join, their diet. We’re tossing a bunch of atomized babes into the woods, without an established culture, or hierarchy to lean on for advice. The economic and social systems which then develop around them become parasitical in nature. Without elders to advise them on their needs, they go out and purchase what they want – only to learn, once it’s far too late, that all of that Halloween candy wasn’t good for them.
And it’s no different when they cast their ballot. People get the government they want, not the government they need.
Section 2: Incentivizing the Economy
So let’s give our politicians an incentive [to improve the economy]. Let’s tie the wages of a senator or Congressperson to how much your average citizen in the US makes.
By now I’ve made it clear that I don’t think that the GDP is the be-all and end-all of a nation’s well being. Focusing solely on material comforts can lead to a Utilitarian Death Spiral, and an endless orgy of consumerism. But that doesn’t mean that the economy isn’t vital, and James’ proposal here is brilliant.
I can already spot the low-hanging counter-arguments: the Austrians might point out that Keynesianism is always more tempting to politicians, or the Nationalists, argueing that this could provide an excuse to import thousands of undocumented workers – but these are all cases of the Perfect being the enemy of the Good.
James is an expert at controlling behaviour by structural design, and thankfully, he doesn’t use this power for evil (I’m looking at you, Everquest). The system he’s loosely sketched out here will wind up guiding politicians in more-or-less the right direction. Perfect? No. Better? Yes.
In fact, it’s very similar to how corporations are set up; say what you will about Monsanto having Satan on the Board of Directors, you can’t deny that they’re good at making a profit.
I’d be very interested in reading more of the work he’s done here.
But I’m here to critique, not praise, and my critique is this: what is the true currency of USGov.org?
- The US Economy (as well as its Geopolitical strength, et cetera).
- Lobbyist Influence (both the carrot and the stick).
- Special Interests and Parasites.
The first is what we want them to focus on; the second is a structural flaw, which they address in their second video. But it’s the third where things become insurmountable.
The Special Interests and Parasites are an interesting bunch; even if you agree with everything they stand for, you can’t agree with their methods. Remember, this is a Democracy – voted-in by, and manufactured for, the massed, degenerate man. Even if you’re in favour of charity and helping the environment (as opposed to all of those people who hate the poor, and enjoy poisoning the planet), to become a Special Interest you need to up things to the next level: you need to become part of the system itself.
Your survival depends not on your success rate, but on how many supporters you can gather. In fact, you actually benefit if things get worse for your supporters. The more instances of racism you can find – legitimate or otherwise – the more votes you can secure for Senator Clay Davis. The more evidence of environmental damage you can drum up, the more legislation you can pass. The parasites are everywhere: from NGOs, to lobby groups, to the Civil Service itself.
Just look at the Professional Charities: what sorts of people do you think run those things?
These parasites need to be denounced from on high, but in a Democratic system nobody is willing to step up to the plate. The parasites are their own system, duping their supporters, and leaching off of USGov.org, which is run by people elected by the dupes.
They’re also the people who decide which News Channel to subscribe to.
At present, roughly 70% of the United States’ budget goes to transfer payments – which is to say, 70% of the taxes go to welfare of one variety or another. A massive incentive system is already in place:
- To train the populace to accept handouts,
- To train the populace to feel victimized,
- To train the politicians to look the other way,
- To train the media to remain silent.
When I bring up the Special Interests and Parasites, I’m not talking about the welfare queen; I’m talking about the structures which incentivize the welfare queen. Parasites which exploit the mass ignorance and mass stupidity of the massed man that Democracy creates, and which are deeply embedded in the system.
It’s not enough to reform USGov.org – we need to reform the society.
1. Technically this is a paraphrasing from Silence of the Lambs (the original was writtenin Latin, however, and is subject to interpretive translation): the original quote is: “What is this thing in itself, in its own constitution? What are its elements of substance and material, and of cause?”