Sunday, July 31, 2005

Off-site Essay: Wage Slaves

I am not, in general, an economics wonk. I have a general understand of the subject. I know about the principles of supply and demand, I've got a comparative understanding of the essential differences between Capitalism and Communism, and I am reasonably familiar with the work of Adam Smith. On the whole, however, outside of the intersection between economics and Game Theory, I find that I'm just not very interested in the subject.

There is one exception, however. I am absolutely fascinated by shadow economies. These are economies, black or grey markets, that operate outside of the context of legitimate economies. Since such economies are considered unethical, at best, if not criminal, there doesn't appear to have been a lot of study of them, which I think is a shame. I think that it would be useful to understand how economies arise in spite of the desires of the legitimate authorities. In a sense, these are feral economies and I think that an understand of how they work could help us better understanding the workings of "domesticated" economies.

One interesting recent permutation of shadow economics has been created by the existence of online roleplaying games. Such games have internal pseudo-economies based on such things as gold and equipment. Just like in real-world economies, demand is driven by scarcity. However, my interest isn't in the pseudo-economies of the game world but how those pseudo-economies are driving transactions in the real world. Some of the transactions are entirely legitimate. People diligently collect game items and sell them to other gamers for real world tender. Others are less legitimate. Today's essay, titled Wage Slaves, by James Lee is an expose on how online economies have lead to the existence of real world sweat shops. As the boundary between the real world and the various virtual worlds of gamers become more blurred, I expect that we'll see more of this sort of thing.

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