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Maoist Internationalist Movement

"City Life" explores internal economic balance of cities

"City Life"
Monte Cristo

First of all, this game requires a fancy graphics card and the box exterior does not mention that. The reviewer installed the game on two persynal computers of relative recentness and power, sufficient according to the box standards, but the game did not run. The relationship between game developers and card manufacturers looking for reasons to convince people to keep replacing their video cards has to be suspect. Under communism, no such shady motives to sell new computer hardware will exist, because there won't be profit gained from video card sales.

"City Life" is very similar to "Sim City." Some differences include that "City Life" breaks people down into six subcultures, any one of which tends to get along with two others. There are the fringe, blue-collars, have-nots, radical chic, suits and elites. Without city government intervention, the subcultures go to war against each other and burn down buildings. The natural result is a kind of segregation.

Our "Sim City" review criticized the notion that police deter crime. In "City Life," we learn that belief in the police is cultural. Blue-collar people are police and seek police. So do elites and suits. Other social groups could tend to live without as much police presence and may even stage protests against police. So on the police question, "City Life" is a step up, where "Sim City" falsely assumed a factual basis linking police presence to a decrease in crime.

In fact, the first protest in the reviewer's game was by people wanting better shopping centers. Generally the protests were for stupid and petty issues, but citizens do not look as dumb as in "Sim City."

It's easy to become confused by the details in this game regarding subculture or various lifestyle demands. As usual, what MIM wants to talk about is the more profound economic logic behind the game.

The two main factors are employment/business and demography. So we can say we are pleased with the overall questions.

Superficially the game is about pleasing residents in terms of education, health services, shopping etc. However, pleasing city residents with these services is generally possible after business has succeeded well enough to provide profits. Here profits and taxes are identical, because as in many science fiction games, the economy in "City Life" is state-capitalist. What is important is not whether we call the money so gained "profits" or "taxes," but the fact that there is an economic surplus arising from a particular enterprise or at least so it appears in "City Life."

"City Life" provides a basic sense of the "unproductive sector," which among other occupations, includes any services that do not generate a profit. "City Life" did not model the productive sector the way we would have, because we would have shown what would have happened to enterprise profits if resources from the Third World suddenly rose in price. Nonetheless, though not drawn as we would have drawn it, the important distinction between a surplus-producing sector and a service-production sector is present. The one in-between category is in some forms of entertainment where it is possible that an opera house or restaurant for example would be a service but generate a profit from sales. Police, however, are a straight loss of revenue. Only by pleasing residents who then move in and pay taxes or generate profits do police make sense. Otherwise, they can be a drain on the economy.

The possibility for a service drain on the economy is very real. Without giving much thought and just paying attention to subculture demands, one might keep adding services and end up putting the budget into the red. Once the budget is too far into the red, it becomes impossible to borrow money and build anything more in the city. So there has to be a harmony between the surplus-producing sectors and the unproductive sectors in "City Life." For that alone, MIM is grateful. Not just the government, but the whole city will spiral downward without that harmony.

Social-democrats tend to emphasize that capitalism does not inherently demand the correct level of services that people need. Such social-democrats represent the view of the consumer and service producers--parasites on the surplus-producing sector. In contrast, communists tend to emphasize that production of humyn needs comes out of the productive sector--farming, manufacturing and mining.

In Marxism as in "City Life," there is the idea that there could be an overall sense of downward spiral and overall budget deficits and thus economic crisis. Add too many services in the game and people will move in, live unemployed and watch the city go downhill into oblivion.

That's the demographic side. Then there is the employment side. By adding surplus-producing businesses, it is possible to keep expanding employment in "City Life" and this notion is also parallel to Marxism. In "City Life," it even becomes possible to make greater profits with fewer people. Just for the idea of a trade-off between surplus-production and services, "City Life" is valuable.

Other parallels with Marxism break down beyond that. For example, "City Life" promotes the idea that upper classes actually are working harder or more efficiently. Enterprises with elites, radical chic or suit people produce more profit per so-called worker than employment of ordinary people. In Marxism, these businesses can make high profit by appropriating the labor of other classes of people: it is not that they actually work harder, quite the contrary. To its credit, "City Life" says that enterprises require more investment as time goes along and per worker profit goes up.

A central aspect of Marx's theory of surplus-value is that capital must attract a transfer of value whether or not that capital is in the productive sector. So once there is an investment, it generally goes on with wealth accruing from labor sources that could be from the Third World as in the majority of wealth created today.

One aspect of the software model for profit-making that we approve of is that the surplus-delivering capacity of a firm depends on size and demography. This gives people the sense that the organization of the firm is important to surplus-delivery. On the other hand, the demographic component in the formulas behind profit in "City Life" says that the more upper-class people there are in the city, the more advanced forms of organization of the firm are possible. As time goes on, it becomes necessary to dump wind power for solar power, because of the efficiency per worker. That's a nice touch. So this reviewer created a situation where more than 12% of the city was "elite" and this was conducive to high surplus-delivery. In a real world, with an elite consuming so much more services than the rest of the world, the economy would fail without a large transfer of labor into an economy from the outside.

Marx would have said this game masked much about classes. It is not their labor that is creating surplus, but the capital the upper classes own appropriating labor from lower classes. That is what creates riches. Yet it is possible to mistake one for the other and that is what "City Life" does while still maintaining a sense in which services are a drain on the economy. It looks like elites are generating wealth when in fact they only steward the labor extraction process from the Third World. In "City Life," services attract people and allow an upward business spiral if the surplus-producing sector is built up along with the service-producing sector.

We do not agree with much in "City Life," but we would still rather see people play this game than others available that are only militarist in the most twisted ways. "City Life" will also tend to promote a scientific view of life, just with the wrong theories.