Socialism versus Capitalism

Up, Left, Down, Down, Circle, Circle, Square. Capitalism wins. But only because it has more experience.

I was talking with a friend this evening during a nice Indian Curry dinner, and the talk eventually went into the direction of the Pirate Bay and the trial. We talked about one of the most prominent items on the agenda of the Swedish pirate party: abolishing the patent system, which led us to ponder about a world where all ideas are public and shared by everyone. We had a long and satisfying discussion about whether or not this is good, and what will happen to society. My friend was convinced that the difference between rich and poor will only get worse, because suddenly the large companies will be able to take advantage of the ideas of less fortunate companies. For example, any startup software studio could use source code made by Microsoft or Google.  I believe that this might happen in the beginning, but that eventually the situation should balance out, and there will be less big companies and also less small companies. Thanks to the internet we have the ability to make a choice from a huge amount of options, and sites like youtube prove that it's quite possible to be 'big' (famous, in this case) without being a professional. As long as you are good at what you do, you will emerge at the top of the rest. That's the power of the internet, and I can see why The Pirate Bay would like to apply it to the rest of society by abolishing patents.

In the end we both agreed that it depends on what one thinks is more important: society, or the individual. In other words: socialism versus capitalism. Ideas are as much a product of society as is music, bread, software or beer. It should be free. Or at least, that's my opinion. And free meaning that the idea, the concept of it is free, not the actual product. Granted, for software, that's a very shady area, but for bread and beer it's pretty clear. Everybody knows how to make it, how to make variations of it and how to sell it. Having this information out in the public only allows for better products. So why not expand this philosophy a bit more? A lot of people disagree. They disagree because they will lose money, or, as others might say, their ideas will no longer be 'protected'. The idea might be copied ('stolen') by someone else, who will do a better job of implementing the idea than the owner ever could. That's unfair. Even though a person owned the idea, because of lack of resources someone else can snatch it away and do something with it before the owner could do anything. But it's only unfair if you look at it from a capitalist point of view. An individuals property is taken away and used by another individual. But if you take away all personal feelings and look it at from a birds-eye point of view the net results is the same. Society improves by the same amount. Socialism doesn't care who does what with the idea, as long as the idea exists. Having this idea out in the open only increases the chances that society as a whole improves.

Real life of course is never this black-and-white, and past experiments with socialism and communism have already proved that the world is not quite ready for that yet. It's just so easy to gain personally when everybody else around you is working for society. Take a classic game show example: two contestants are offered to share a sum of money, or 'take' all of it. They have to give their answer at the same time. If both of them answer share, they each get half. If one of them answers 'take', he will get everything and the other person gets nothing. If they both answer 'take' they both get nothing. It's obvious from this situation that the person who plays for 'share' stands to be taked advantage of. At least the player who plays to take everything will ensure that he will never be worse off than the other player, even if they both get nothing. It seems that the world has not yet reached a high-enough level of civilization yet where we can all be winners. Unless some dictator guy comes along and forces both people to settle for half. Game shows in China must be quite interesting indeed.

So leaving the restaurant tonight my friend made the offhand remark: you're a programmer, why don't you write your own simulation of capitalism versus socialism? Use some genetic algortihms and you'll be able to tell which way is better. It seemed like a difficult suggestion at first, but it's not impossible. The results should prove quite interesting, and might even provide enough content for a paper or two. It would only be interesting if the simulation would also show what happens if an already capitalist society suddenly switched to socialism, and vice versa. This could be simulated by having individuals who own 'secrets' that help improve their survival rate. For example, one 'secret' might be to see further, so that you can better select a potential mate, or find food particles. Another secret could be increased stamina, meaning you can survive longer without food. These secrets could then be shared by mating, or by encountering another individual. If these secrets were kept to themselves, some individuals would grow quite powerful, taking over all the good features of others, until no-one is able to challenge them. They will be the first to arrive at the best potential mates, and the first to eat all the food. The others will starve and cease to procreate. This is capitalism. In socialism, whenever individuals encounter each other, they share all their secrets, and learn new abilities (speed, stamina, sight) from their encounter. As the creatures travel around their world, everybody will benefit equally from new secrets (mutations). Eventually the gene pool will equalize, leaving 'perfect' creatures all with similar abilities. Granted, the analogy does not hold on a one-to-one basis, and in our society not every secret/patent/resource promotes survivability in such a plain way as the simulation does, but it does illustrate very well the difference between focusing on the individual or focusing on society.

Ironically, before writing this, the thought had occured to me to keep this to myself, and to develop a genetic simulation myself, based upon which I would then write a paper. I would then proceed to become rich and famous, until somebody steals my idea, and then I would spend the rest of my life in court trying to prove that I was the one who invented it, until I grew old and died a horrible unsatisfying death. Or, I will write a blogpost, share my idea with the world, find out one year later that somebody actually did write a paper about it, and did it much better than I ever could. I will then rest happily, knowing that my idea helped to improve our society in a way that I could never even have imagined if had I kept it to myself.

Posted in Thoughts