What's wrong with American capitalism? Play this game to find out
April 21, 2020 1:40 PM   Subscribe

I want to understand how the American economy got the way it is. What are the best intro-level explainers of capitalism that use code, simulation, or visualization as a primary means of explanation?

I've already made a couple of efforts to read about capitalism from different points of view:

  • Red Plenty: narrative and historical
  • Capitalist Realism: art and critical theory
  • Black Marxism: historical and intersectional
  • Surveillance Capitalism: timely and tech-focused
  • Capital in the 21st Century: quantitative and economic
However, none of these is sticking for me! There are too many words in a row. I get frustrated because it seems so obvious that these ideas could be better explained with some simple examples, computational models, and visualizations. But then, in the academic fields of quantitative/computational economics, the models are so narrow.

What I want is something like a code-based playable explainer, like one of these:

...but for understanding the emergence of capitalism and its alternatives. As long as we're in the realm of fantasy, I would love if the explainer also illustrated the nature of labor, the dynamics of structural oppression, and the emergence of automation :-)

I know of economic/simulation games like Capitalism, Sim City, and Universal Paperclips, but those are at the wrong level of granularity for me (and, I suspect, most people). I don't want to spend days adjusting widget production levels. I want a great writer to walk me through a clear model of how things got the way they are and let me experiment with the most effective points of intervention.

Am I kidding myself to think that someone has already made this? Maybe the NYT's Upshot?

P.S. If you know an editor who might be interested, I know several people who have the interface design expertise to help make this happen. So feel free to hit me up.
posted by Rich Text to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Not a game, but if you're interested in a more visual approach to learning about this, Robert Reich (Secretary of Labor under President Clinton) has a YouTube channel with a lot of "explainer" videos that use diagrams, pictures, and animations, along with relatively less dense & complex explanations than you might find in books.

For example: Everything You Need to Know About the New Economy
posted by soundguy99 at 2:36 PM on April 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

I would argue that an over-reliance on simulations and models - which turned out to be based on false assumptions - is a big part of what got us here.

That said, this very question is actually why Monopoly was originally invented - to show how a small advantage or disadvantage becomes magnified under a capitalist system.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:51 PM on April 21, 2020 [11 favorites]

Was also going to say Monopoly.

If, as an adult (or child, really), you can make it through the game without quitting, you're a better person than I.
posted by booooooze at 4:34 PM on April 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

While I haven’t any specific book to recommend, I think any consideration of how we got here should include a good hard look at the Chicago School of Economics.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:49 PM on April 21, 2020

Monopoly played strictly by its real rules, yes. Virtually nobody does that, because the game is actually designed to be unpleasant and unfair.
posted by mhoye at 5:36 PM on April 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sorry to be another non-simulator person, but I will always recommend the graphic novel Economix as an explainer of 'how we got to here' in US capitalism. It looks like the author has a blog covering more recent developments, too. With illustrations!
posted by PaulaSchultz at 7:31 PM on April 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Talking to my Daughter About the Economy By Yanis Varoufakis.

It’s not code/visual but it is a great writer speaking in layman’s terms, using helpful examples from history and literature.
posted by Dwardles at 1:07 AM on April 22, 2020

Maybe you'll find this to be useful context for your intro-level explainer. I learned it from a fellow Ph.D. student who had taken a year off to earn a MA in Public Policy from the University of Chicago. He left higher education with a BA in Economics, the MA, and a Ph.D. in Social Psychology. Anyway, as I remember it:

American and European capitalism differ because of different starting conditions. Europeans transitioned from the authority of Royals and Lords, and from economies, societies, and class distinctions of Lords and Peasants. They did so maintaining much of the authority and class distinctions. America settlers created their economies, communities, and societies. They looked to themselves for solutions, not to government. Long before it had a name, rugged individualism existed in America.
posted by Homer42 at 6:57 AM on April 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

>Monopoly played strictly by its real rules, yes. Virtually nobody does that, because the game is actually designed to be unpleasant and unfair.
The first phase of "The Landlord's Game" seeking monopoly is everything mhoye says. In contrast, the second phase is much more chill.
posted by k3ninho at 12:50 PM on April 22, 2020

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