The user's manual for this computer video game depicts a golden dollar sign at the end of a major road leading into a city. The advertising boasts that "Capitalism II" is the business game for people "who mean business" and though it is written from the point of view of a naive chief executive officer (CEO), the game does have considerable value— something that could be used in socialist training in economics.
As the CEO of a company, in this game players will try to make profit by expanding their lines of business including food items such as bread, clothing items such as jeans, housing complexes and luxury goods including lipstick, eye shadow, toy dolls, gold rings and televisions. CEOs can issue stock, set dividend rates, borrow money, repay loans and buy all sorts of buildings and plants including the media.
Since there are no politicians and no weapons or war in this simulation, one may wonder why MIM would recommend this game. There are also no labor strikes (realistic for the united $tates) and no complications from borders while one operates in several countries. We do not see military aid arriving for death squads who kill trade union organizers and keep wages down to 50 cents an hour in most parts of the world.
While it is true that "Capitalism II" promotes a somewhat naive point of view regarding capitalism, what it does focus on it does well. The intention of the game was to focus on the production process from the point of view of corporate executives in multinational corporations. From the capitalists' point of view, the CEO heroically detects and resolves bottleneck problems for the company including bottlenecks caused by suppliers, technology, lack of corporate training, marketing and sales.
Trevor Chan thought big and allowed players to become CEOs of multinational corporations that may own everything from the supplier of iron ore to the TV station advertising the final product—a car for instance. If a player succeeds on a colossal scale, s/he is bound to understand that the economy is like a gigantic set of algebra equations.
Resources cannot be wasted on factories that do not produce anything desired and there also cannot be too few producers so that bottlenecks in supply develop. Otherwise, competitors will make more profit and drive you out of business completely—and this aspect of modeling business competition by computer simulation is alone reason enough to endorse this game.
Playing this game, one would be hard-pressed not to feel that in fact there is some element of competence in organizing production in either socialism or capitalism. In the Soviet Union, the people proved able to develop rocket launchers to defeat a Nazi invasion in progress. Even much after the war though, the Soviet people launched the world's first satellite, but they were not able to go anywhere to buy a loaf of bread off a shelf without waiting in line. Even in a state-capitalist country as under Khruschev and Brezhnev, the problem was not a lack of wheat to make bread usually. What "Capitalism II" does is make people think about the particular competence of their leaders. While we do not hold the heroic view of CEOs, it is true that if a leader who happens to come to power does not have certain skills and drive, then elementary supply problems may show up. Although the quality of leadership is a political problem, it is a problem for both capitalism and socialism.
It probably was not the intention of the author to provide any lessons in socialism. There is little class struggle evident in the game. However, it is still possible to play the game in ways that get at what socialists must do. First of all, taking over from monopoly capitalists is very similar to taking over from the CEOs simulated in "Capitalism II." These multinational corporations could easily be the chaebol of southern Korea for instance.
Secondly, this game allows one to vary the conditions of economic competition. When one has reached a monopoly stage—probably by having a technological edge and by having enough retail outlets for one's product and when one has enough monopoly advantages in enough products, it becomes possible to give away food, medicine, clothing and shelter—even in "Capitalism II." Yes, total profits will go down, and no there is not a way to determine if advertising free bread in a department store helps sell other products there. Nonetheless, monopoly advantages in luxury goods make it possible to subsidize necessity goods to the point where they are free. Highly motivated people are willing to pay high prices for wine, lipstick and video cameras—compared with the labor and resources that go into making these products. By taking over a market in these luxury goods and making enough profit in them, it becomes easy to give away milk, eggs, bread etc. In fact, this was a question that Stalin insisted on turning to in his leadership circles in the last two years of his life. He called it "restricting the operation of the law of value," which is the proper Marxist terminology. He instructed that it was not correct to run the economy simply by where profit could be made. Humyn needs should be subsidized at the expense of luxury goods according to Stalin, and the beauty of "Capitalism II" is that it helps players to see why this is not something a small capitalist can do "out of his/her good heart" and it is in fact something that comes to mind more easily and within the realm of probability once the stage of monopoly capitalism has been reached.
Providing necessities free or at subsidized prices is akin to the capitalist strategy of dumping, especially in this simulation which knows no difference between capitalist-minded and socialist-minded CEOs. Even in the "Capitalism II" world of no borders and various competitors ranging from small local "mom-and-pop" operations to foreign countries not seen in the game itself, a socialist chaebol leader has no one to stop him or her. In fact, even a medium or small corporate competitor—say a small imperialist country—may continue to exist while a socialist economy expands its list of free or subsidized goods. A small or medium sized competitor simply cannot alter the terms of the economy to stop a business/company/country with the most advanced technology and largest size.
When food and clothing are free, there is no way for a capitalist to compete in that area any longer. S/he must attack in the luxury good sector to undermine profits to such an extent that subsidies have to be cut back. A capitalist-minded competitor attacks by producing goods and cutting prices in the luxury good sector. That is why as Marx noted and all Marxists noted until the early 20th century when imperialism changed the rules that it is easier to institute socialism in the most developed economies.
Economies that are extensively developed, high-tech and profitable in many industries cannot be derailed from a socialist path by smaller or more backward competitors. Quite the contrary, the smaller, more backward capitalist competitors can be gobbled up by a socialist economy—within a bourgeois legal context by buying the stock of the backward competitors. The dynamics of luxury good production in the game remind MIM of how the imperialists set out to conduct psychological war against the socialist bloc. To demonstrate that socialist lingerie was unstylish or shoddy was to strike a blow for the whole capitalist system. Commodities like designer perfumes become key to the capitalist strategy of restoration of capitalism and this can be seen even in "Capitalism II," if one plays the socialist strategy I outline here.
In fact, while socialists are giving away bread in my simulation run in "Capitalism II," some people still prefer to buy it. Again, through no intention of Trevor Chan, in the simulation I ran, we see that free and superior quality bread will not take 100% of a city's market when the competitor uses extensive advertising for inferior quality bread with a price that makes its owner a profit! The lazy and stupid will continue to be conned by advertising, even if bread is free and higher quality elsewhere. This is something that again favors the capitalist competitor. It raises the question whether or not socialist economies must advertise the obvious in some commodities. One bright side to this question is that the enemy cannot make the most profit in this way. Rather it is something to watch out for in the overall culture of luxury goods.
Where there is demand and a legal situation permitting, no moral conduct can prevent profits in cigarettes or other self-destructive commodities. If one corporation refuses to produce and advertise cancer-sticks, another will. That is the nature of the capitalist system. However, there is nothing saying that a large and diversified socialist competitor could not buy out the competitors or the politicians and bring an end to cigarettes that way. In the simulation I ran, I refused to produce cigarettes, and the result was that my main corporate competitor made his/her largest profits there. Even driving him out of business or attempting to buy him out became more difficult because I was not in the cigarette business. It shows that there is no substituting for an uncorrupted People's Army that can really shut down harmful businesses. People who think we are ever going to solve the drug problem within a capitalist system without an uncorrupted communist police and army are just talking like they were high on drugs themselves.
In many regards, the development of the leisure culture in the imperialist countries comes as a set back or an indication of the setback in the class struggle. Emphasis on the luxury goods in the culture and minute differences— imagined or real—were an important part of the imperialist attack and attempts at capitalist restoration. An irrational advertising culture is a distinct advantage to pro-capitalist competitors. On the other hand, "Capitalism II" holds out some hope, because it proves possible to motivate people with luxury goods and then subsidize humyn needs production with the revenue from luxury goods. Rather than avoiding luxury good production in the fear that it will corrupt the proletariat, it appears that there is a case to be made for plunging right in to be able to expand subsidies for humyn needs. Unless most people can be motivated as communists, it may be that luxury goods are important to the solution of humyn needs problems.
In the real world, people who could be fighting for a better world read Cosmo magazine and play computer video games instead. At the same time, games like "Capitalism II" do have a major silver lining for us scientific communists: what would take several chapters in a book to explain with mathematical formulas can now be placed in a game simulation. This is a major advantage that Karl Marx never had. In the past, socialist economists would have to labor in such a way as to garner themselves the equivalent of the Nobel Prize to understand the impact that solutions of simultaneous algebraic equations could have in running the economy. Now much of what was only of detailed concern to planning experts and academics can play itself out on a computer screen while entertaining its user. While there is no hard proof yet that computer video games are improving education, "Capitalism II" makes a good case that such a trend is inevitable.
The problem with a large portion of simulation computer video games is that they simply crash and then the developers or company disappears. Business has found that it is possible to sell poorly programmed games and then run with the money before anyone returns the games or realizes that they will crash before the completion of very long simulations that take days or weeks to run.
"Capitalism II" did not crash in the simulation we ran, and thus seems better than average in the programming department. Used in proper context, "Capitalism II" can provoke much useful thought.
Download a free demo version of Capitalism II 56 megabytes
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