Economic wealth is a system of ruling cliques optimized for justifying behaviors that alienate people

This is a graph showing the wealth distribution segmented by social network interactions in a massively multiplayer game called Pardus.


It comes from an interesting paper titled Behavioral and Network Origins of Wealth Inequality: Insights from a Virtual World, by Benedikt Fuchs and Stefan Thurner. I think a number of their findings seem to support why I so vociferously hate both money and the ways money corrupts human relationships (my aphorism: “Money is a technology that destroys trust”). The authors’ abstract plainly describes a number of those factors:

We find that wealth distributions in the virtual world are very similar to those in western countries. In particular we find an approximate exponential for low wealth and a power-law tail. The Gini index is found to be $g=0.65$, which is close to the indices of many Western countries. We find that wealth-increase rates depend on the time when players entered the game. Players that entered the game early on tend to have remarkably higher wealth-increase rates than those who joined later. Studying the players’ positions within their social networks, we find that the local position in the trade network is most relevant for wealth. Wealthy people have high in- and out-degree in the trade network, relatively low nearest-neighbor degree and a low clustering coefficient. Wealthy players have many mutual friendships and are socially well respected by others, but spend more time on business than on socializing. We find that players that are not organized within social groups with at least three members are significantly poorer on average. We observe that high `political’ status and high wealth go hand in hand. Wealthy players have few personal enemies, but show animosity towards players that behave as public enemies.

I’ve emphasized the parts I find especially poignant. These aren’t groundbreaking observations. They’re simply statements pronounced in an academic jargon evincing much of what perceptive folks have been intuiting for a long time.

Some other excerpts from the study go into more detail, for instance, referencing the graph above:

In Fig. 8 D the situation for the in- and out-degrees for the friendship network
is shown. It is visible that players with high wealth-gain are those that are liked by more players
than they like themselves, k friend in > k friend out. Poor players have marked fellow players as friends more
often on average than they have been marked.

Taken together, these findings seem to suggest to me that economic wealth is itself basically a ruling clique system biased towards early adopters whose personality is predisposed to social capitalism (people who care more about reputation than, well, ethics). The “hard radical” conclusion from a purely economic standpoint, to say nothing of the ethical implications, is that any universal system of symbolic value exchange (like “money”) is inherently corrupt because of this bias, and the resulting alienation in the Marxists sense. From an ethical standpoint, such systems are particularly evil when they so dramatically impact people’s ability to do things like eat food.

One reason I hate the general concept of “business” is because it’s an unacknowledged meta-game whose object is to bend or break the rules of the current wealth-accruing game in such a way as to literally force people who were previously unwilling to play by new rules to begin participating in said new rules. The cultural wars over copyright in the music industry is just one high-profile example. I’m not saying that any given status quo deserves to be defended. Rather, I’m saying that money is an economic nuclear weapon, and “the only winning move is not to play.”

Do. Not. Cooperate. With. Evil.