Rules of the Game: 'Billions vs. Billionaires'

Programming the Virtual Globe

From the moment a player starts a new game, the evolution of the virtual planet is programmed in the following manner: year after year all the present trends of biosphere and society will continue to develop according to the parameters established by the most reliable statistics, regularly updated.

For example: Year after year on the virtual planet, pollution will continue to get worse

weapons of mass destruction to proliferate
forests to disappear,
temperature to climb,
glaciers to melt,
oceans to rise,
coastlines to submerge,
famines and epidemics to spread,
poverty to deepen,
global unemployment to rise
armed conflicts to proliferate,
refugees to multiply,
crime to flourish high and low,
real wages to decline
religious and nationalistic fanaticisms to flame,
women to be degraded
wars to drag on forever,
risk of atomic war or nuclear accident to increase,
governments to become more arbitrary and security minded,
prisons to boil over,
youth to despair,
useless wealth to accumulate
the rich to withdraw into gated communities,
storms, desertification to extend,
thirst and the struggle for water wars to worsen,
animals to disappear.

Disasters in each of these spheres occur more or less rapidly with each new game initiated by the players. The program randomly chooses between higher and lower estimates of the statistical likelihood. The program is periodically revised. The program thus imitates the uncertainty in which we live and the different predictions among specialists.

Example A:

A game begun in 2004 ends automatically on March 19 of the Virtual Year 2011. At 5:10 Greenwich time, a popup flashes on the screen: “Pakistan has launched a preemptive atomic strike against India.” At 5: 35 another popup indicates that India has counterattacked massively out of fear of losing her nuclear installations in the next strike. China, Pakistan’s ally, feels threatened. So does Russia, India’s ally. At 6:00 the United States announces its intervention. A nuclear world war breaks out in the panic and misunderstandings between governments. From 11:00 on, a thick cloud of nuclear waste covers the earth and begins to absorb all oxygen. By 21:00 all life has died out on the Virtual Planet. Game over. New Game.

Example B:

It’s already V.Y. 2069 and New York has not yet disappeared under the Atlantic waves. There will still be humans living in 2078 ! The Game continues…

Example C:

The interventions of various players on the side of conservation of forests, limits on industrial pollutants, nuclear treaties, have slowed down deterioration and pushed back disasters. The air is still be breathable in V.Y. 2050 and there will not have been a nuclear exchange. The Game continues…

Example D:

The Game is won in 2026 when the federated assemblies of the world share out the wealth of the big capitalist corporations, kick out their governments, dismantle their armies,and begin to reconstruct the planet.

Principal Opponents:
The Billionaires vs. the Billions

Two Principle Opponents face off on this Virtual Planet: the Billionaires and the Billions. The Game is a contest between Capital and Labor, Rich and Poor, Profits and People, Death and Life.

Each Principal Opponent is allotted certain strengths and certain weaknesss. Each will seek allies who will be more or less reliable.

Twenty-One Hundred can be played by a single player (the Program making the Billionaires’ moves) or by as many players as desired, each playing one of the principal Opponents or one of its Allies. The more players, the more complex and realistic the Game becomes. Examples:

Six players are needed to represent the Billionaires and the Billions of the First, Second and Third World of the Virtual Globe:

Rich countries (Billions and Billionaires)
Ex-Communist countries (Billions and Billionaires)
Underdeveloped countries. (Billions and Billionaires)

Twenty-six players can represent the different sub-divisions within the camps of each Opponent:

The Billionaires divided into:

Finance/Insurance/Stock Exchange
Extractive industries

The Billions divided into:

Traditional peoples
Hourly Workers
Salaried employees
Small business people

Nine Virtual Countries are represented on the Game Globe.

Rich developped countries:
United States
United Europe
Japan + Asian Tigers

Ex-Communist Countries

Cunderdeveloped Countries:
Arab World
Black Africa
Latin America

With 117 players connected to the Internet or present at a Twenty-One Hundred tournament or in a Political Science class, the interests of thirteen different sub-classes in nine countries can be represented.

Strengths of the Billionaires

The Rules provide every Virtual Billionaire with certain Privileges: ten mansions, a yacht, a private jet, bundles of money and a huge staff of people to help him get whatever he wants. However, the real strengths of the Virtual Billionaires in the Game are wealth, legal status, control of the media, global reach and political power.

Wealth: The Rules entitle Virtual Capital to legally appropriate the labor of workers, the savings of employees, the inventions of inventors, the land, the sea, and the sub-soil, even the genetic code of plants and animals. Virtual Billionaires are entitled to dominate domestic and international marketplaces, to manipulate financial empires, to buy access to politicians, to share in the quasi-monopoly of the virtual media, and if needed to call in the Virtual Police to break strikes among its employees as well as to send the Virtual Army to repress natives in the way of its global interests.

Legal Status : According to the Rules, Virtual Capital is legally entitled to dominate national and international economic institutions. Virtual Billionaires may also dictate legal contracts, regulations, laws, and international treaties in their interests. They are entitled to virtual lawyers, judges and eventually the Virtual Police and the armed forces to enforce these rules in their favor. International trade organizations must give them the legal right to take over the land and the water that virtual people and animals need to survive. According to the Rules, everything the Virtual Millionaires do to win the Game is legal. Everything the Virtual Millions do to win the Game is illegal.

Media: The Virtual Billionaires are entitled to monopolise the media by buying up all the radio, TV and print outlets in an area and eliminating competition. They are then entitled to impose the following guidelines:

• Media must be attractive, seductive, invasive. The line between information and entertainment, truth and fiction must be blurred. Media must occupy the Millions’ inner space replacing both thought and communication with neighbors.

• Violent crime, sports, and celebrity stories must dominate both news and entertainment. These must stimulate insecurity, aggression and envy. Increasing personal consumption must be presented as the solution to these problems.

• Ideas must be trivialized. The audience attention span must be reduced to the length of a commercial.

• Media must promote the universal religion of Commodities, Money, Fame and Success. Wealth must be represented as merited. Poverty and suffering must be represented as either inevitable or the result of immorality and sloth.

• The lies and distortions of those in power must not be questioned. Critics of the system must be ignored, marginalised, ridiculed or slandered.

In the Game, this power over the mind of the Millions is a powerful trump card in the hands of the Virtual Billionaires.

Global Reach: The Rules entitle Virtual Capital to penetrate into every corner of the Virtual Planet, seeking out raw materials and labor where it costs least, imposing its logic of profitability, transforming all life into Commodities and Merchandise. Virtual Capital is global, ignoring international borders while creating legal barriers against the migration of workers seeking better wages.

Political Power: According to the Rules, the domination of Virtual Capital is compatible with every known type of political regime. The Virtual Billionaires are entitled to rule through feudal monarchies, military dictatorships, or multi-party elective governments. Whatever the regime, the Virtual Police are specifically prohibited from coming to the aid of strikers in any labor dispute.

Economic Systems: According to the Rules, as long as the system of wage-labor is maintained, Virtual Capital can dominate, whatever the economic system. This Rule applies whether there is state property (the so-called “Communism” of privileged Party bureaucrats), a classic free market economy or a mixed economy with nationalized industries and a welfare state. Whether the economy is liberal or state-run, Virtual Capital is entitled to live off the labor of the Billions and to have Virtual Government defend its Privileges. The Government must grant the Billionaires favorable loans, contracts, tax loop-holes, handouts and bailouts while taxing the wages and purchases of the Millions.

Allies on the Right: the Billionaires have the right to lean on certain Virtual Allies. These include nationalists, religious fanatics, racists, and totalitarian ideologues. The Rules allow these Allies to divide the Billions by misleading them, fanaticising them, terrorizing them, regimenting them, arming them and getting them to fight among themselves over religion and ethnicity, instead of uniting against their true Opponents—the Virtual Billionaires. But these Virtual Allies can prove to be dangerous watchdogs who sometimes turn around and bite their masters. The Rules even allow them to take power and dominate the Billionaires.

Allies on the Left: The Rules grant the Virtual Billionaires the right to other, more docile allies on the Left: union leaders, Socialists, Communists, Laborites, Liberals and Democrats. In times of crisis the Billionaires can depend on these false friends of the Millions to take over and demobilize popular movements that question its domination. Their job is to divert the outraged Millions into harmless channels like elections and labor-contract negotiations. Thanks to the democratic multiparty system, when the Right in power becomes truly unpopular, the Billionaires have the right to put the Left into power, the better to make the Virtual Millions swallow the “reforms” that Virtual Capital needs to promote its interests.

Drugs: The Rules entitle the Virtual Billionaires to profit from the manufacture and sale of drugs to the Billions as medical treatment and as an escape from their stress, their poverty, their despair. They may also profit from alcohol, nicotine, Valium, Prozac (all sold legally) as well as contraband drugs like cocaine and heroin – the new “opium of the people.” Addicted workers skimp on food to pay for cigarettes, alcohol, hard drugs. The lucrative profits from illegal drugs, suitably laundered, enter the banking system as new capital to buoy up sagging capital markets. The War on Drugs also serves as pretext for police and military repression in producer countries. In the virtual cities, drug trafficking introduces the war of all against all into oppressed communities, breaking ties of solidarity and collective resistance. This do-it-yourself genocide in the ghettos turns out to be more economical than either social reform or riot control.

Patriarchy. The Rule of Patriarchy entitles capitalists to purchase female wage labor at lower cost and to intimidate women workers. Patriarchy also gives the Billionaires the right to benefit from women’s unpaid labor (subsistance farming, food preparation, childrearing) providing the ever-new surplusses of cheap labor power for the Billionaires. The Rules also entitle the Billionaires to dominate poor, energy-rich lands cheaply via the violence of patriarchal tyrants and thugs, whether feudal, nationalistic, or religious. (See ‘Allies, dangerous’ above).

Weaknesses of the Billionaires

The Rules of the Market give the Virtual Billionaires most of the advantages in the Game. But they also impose limits which the Billionaires must respect. The principal weakness of the Billionaires stems from contradictions in the Rules that keep them running as fast as they can to stay in the same place. First among these Rules is Competition.

The Rules say that to conserve his individual capital each Virtual Billionaire must at each moment maximize his profits. By every means. Otherwise, his capital declines and may collapse or be eaten up by a competitor. To grow, he is obliged to accumulate frantically. The Virtual Market obliges him to speculate, borrow, take over other virtual capitalists, create huge debts, invent ficticious profits to hide them, lay off his employees and cut costs to maximize his returns. All this is necessary to protect the value of his stock on the Virtual Stock Exchange. For him, the future does not exist, only the daily numbers; only the quarterly bottom line.

The Rules of the Virtual Market oblige the Billionaire to pay his employees the minimum and extract from them the maximum amount of work. If he breaks these Rules, another more ruthlessly efficient Billionaire will undersell him. He must therefore automate his plant, speed up and rationalize his production process, downsize his labor force and move overseas in order to cut labor costs. These obligatory cuts lead inevitably to 1) increasing virtual unemployment and 2) virtual markets glutted with an excess of unsold merchandise. With Competition, prices inevitably decline over time. The Virtual Billionaire must sell as fast as possible, for his investment and inventory lose value from month to month as Competition makes Merchandise cheaper. His economic life is one of permanent crisis.

The Rules prohibit the Billionaires from wasting money on non-productive activities like preventing industrial pollution, cleaning up industrial waste, replenishing forest and fish stocks, as well as providing job safety, healthy working conditions, and economic security to their workers and sub-contractors. All these items would cost serious money and drag down the bottom line. Fortunately, Billionaires are entitled to use generous amounts of the money thus saved as fees to big law firms to defend suits by consumers, employees and environmental groups. They are also entitled to expensive “green” and “corporate responsibility” advertisements and puff stories in the media.

According to the Rules, the ultimate market is made up of consumers among the Virtual Billions. But the Rules prohibit the Virtual Billionnaire’s low-wage employees and unemployed former employees from accumulating enough money to buy all the wonderful new products being produced and advertised. The result is an oversupply of merchandise and an undersupply of Virtual Consumers.

According to the Rules, a young Asian worker must sell her labor at 14 cents an hour and work 14 hours a day seven days a week to make enough survive and feed her child (See Weaknesses of the Billions). As a moneyless “consumer,” she cannot buy back the equivalent of what she produces. Unfortunately (from the Billionaire’s point of view) her lack of money prohibits her from helping him realise his profits. Yet the Rules of the Virtual Market oblige the Billionaires to increase production, to sell, to compete or die. This vicious cycle is a major weakness for the Billionaires.

Fortunately, the Rules allow the Virtual Billionaires to maintain the level of their gross profits by privatizating whatever wealth remains outside the market system. (See “Legal Status” above.) The Rules give the Billionaires the legal right to take by force or fraud whatever remains of common holdings in rural areas (like forests), public services in urban areas (like hospitals and transportation), common intellectual property (like medicinal plants) and collective property in the former Communist countries (like oilfields and industries). Billionaires are entitled to go around the world and legally take over everything public, including the sources of drinking water the Billions need to live. (See “Global Reach” above). The Rules also allow them to transform all of this legally stolen property into Merchandise and Commodities and sell it for money in order to counteract the decline in profitability caused by the Rules of the Virtual Market.

Competition weakens the Virtual Billionaires by dividing them in other ways. The Rules of the Market engender conflicts between branches of Capital (agriculture, industry, petroleum extraction) as well as conflicts between different national capitals for market share and access to primary materials. Each national group is forced to battle for the expansion of its Capital on pain of seeing it shrink.

In this frantic competition no industry, no national capital has the right to waste money diminishing pollution or making life more bearable for Workers. Whenever such reforms lower profit margins, even when profits are substantial, virtual investors are obliged to withdraw their capital to find a better investment at a higher rate elsewhere. This is the sorry fate that awaits “good” or “green” capitalists and welfare states. The Rules allow the Billionaires to take out expensive ads to prove how humane and “green” they are but not to cut into profits by increasing production costs. Green capitalists can no more survive in a realistic Game than vegetarian sharks in an ocean.

Virtual capitalism is programmed to move from economic crisis to war and from war to economic crisis, because of these insoluble hardwired internal conflicts. This is the principal weakness of the Billionaires.

Weaknesses of the Billions

Hunger. The Billions, the poor working masses of the planet, are limited by the urgent need to find enough to eat and feed their family each and every day.

A goodly number of working people—the skilled and the fortunate in advanced countries—are still eating well, even very well (in France for example). But their survival depends on their salaries. So the threat of hunger is only deferred from month to month while awaiting down-sizing, privatization, rationalization, sell-off or the bankruptcy of “their” company. While waiting, the pressure to produce more never stops rising and the working conditions get worse and worse. So even relatively privileged salaried employees and hourly workers are spurred on by hunger. As for the rest of virtual humanity, half the Billions barely manage to get enough to eat, and this struggle uses up all their energy; a quarter are more or less starving. This is a gross handicap for the Billions in the Game.

Immobility. The Virtual Billions are riveted in place by their poverty, by frontiers closed to immigration, by ties of family and culture. By contrast, Virtual Capital can cross borders without obstacles, pull out when conditions are bad, invest wherever they are more favorable leaving employees without recourse. Virtual Capital can also open national borders to immigration when domestic labor, in short supply, becomes too costly. This creates competition among national groups of workers. The Billionaires’ Allies, racism and xenophobia, further divide them.

Ignorance. The Virtual Billions, pushed by the compelling need to find enough to eat every day, don’t have the time to educate themselves, to inform themselves, to reflect. Isolation, prejudice and superstition prevent them from seeing the big picture of their situation. So do the media. Invasive forms of religious, nationalist, racist and commercial propaganda deflect the Billions from thinking clearly about their collective self-interest. A very serious handicap.

Patriarchy. Since the majority of the Virtual Planet’s productive workers are female, the repression of women deprives the Virtual Billions of more than half of their forces of resistance – a huge advantage for the Billionaires. Players in the role of Virtual Working Women must accept low wages, long hours and brutal conditions – undermining the male workers. The Rules also hold women responsible for all the unpaid work on the Virtual Globe, including subsistence agriculture, bringing up children, preparing meals, tending the sick and home-making. Under the Rule of Patriarchy, Virtual males are entitled to abuse and exploit Virtual females, who are thus reduced to the status of “slaves of slaves.”

According to the Rules, the Billions forfeit their principle Strength (Number), if they fail to unite by neutralising Patriarchy. As long as the male Millions cling to their Patriarchal right to dominate their females, the Billionaires are entitled to dominate and exploit them in turn. All winning strategies involve the free and active participation of the female Billions — united as equals with the male Billions. Even if the Billions manage to win a revolutionary victory over the Billionaires, the Program stipulates that the new Revolution automatically degenerates into an oppressive, exploitative, class society unless its women remain free and equal.

Strengths of the Billions

Number. The Virtual Billions have the advantage of number. Six billion against a few thousand Billionaires. “We are many; they are few” (Shelley). This is a decisive advantage if the Billions can establish a modicum of unity.

Know-how. The Billions have another natural advantage. They know how to do things. They are the folks who plant, harvest, weave, spin, dig for ore, operate machinery, transport people and goods, build and maintain infrastructures, provide personal services. Whenever they become conscious of their power and unite, the Rules give them the right to block economic activity, whether in a single plant, a single locality, a single industry, a single country or around the whole world in an international general strike.

The Right to Revolution. According to the Rules, if the Virtual Millions, after gathering strength by beating the Billionaires in various local contests, achieve the stage of the international general strike, the Program automatically multiplies their strength on the Game-Globe by a factor of ten. This new strength gives the Billions the Right to Revolution. This factor of multiplied strength continues as long as the Billions remain united. If the Billionaires succeed in dividing them, the multiplication factor declines.

The Right to Rule the Game-Globe. After shutting down the productive forces by an international general strike, the Virtual Billions must, in order to win the Game before 2100, start them up again and begin supplying each other with food, clothing, and everything else necessary for life. Knowledge of the techniques and processes of agriculture, transportation, manufacture and energy production entitles the Billions to reorganise the economy on the basis of cooperation. According to the Rules, once workers are rid of the intrusive interference of nit-picking supervisors and the inertia of bloated management, the power of their cooperative labor multiplies ten-fold. For the first time in the Game, the Rules entitle the Virtual Millions to fulfill their own needs for food, clothing and shelter by their own labor. This new power entitles the Virtual Billions the Right to Rule the Game-Globe.

End Game

The Revolution may be more or less violent and destructive. If the Virtual Billions have enough strengths the induce the Billionaires’ relatively privileged middle-class Allies to join them on the winning side, their combined strength becomes overwhelming. The final struggle is shorter and there is less violence. But if the Billions lack strength to attract Allies and the Billionaires are able to mobilise massive violence against the Billions, the process may degenerate into prolonged civil war. The fundamental Rule is: “Every revolution is doomed to fail – except the final one.”

The Virtual Billionaires have so many advantages in the Game that to win they have only not to lose. Short of a successful Revolution, they keep their Privileges. Every day is a winning day for them. On the other hand, the day when the Virtual Millions decide to unite globally, the balance of forces swings in favor of their “invisible international.” At this point the Game simplifies: Billions of virtual humans who know how to do all the world’s work are united against a small number of Billionaires who really possess nothing except the fiction of pieces of paper giving them legal title to everything.

According to the Rules, whenever the Virtual Billions refuse to submit to this elaborate paper fraud, they are entitled to take over the Virtual Planet. Corporate ownership is abolished, the value of the Billionaires’ stocks, bonds, and property titles vanish into the air like smoke. The fetishistic worship of money and commodities collapses along with wage-labor and the profit system. The race for profit is replaced by mutual aid; elite corporate management gives way to self-organised communities of producer-consumer-citizens. The Viritual Billions are now entitled to begin cleaning up and healing the wounded Game-Globe.

Having eliminated their Virtual Opponents the Billionaires, the Billions task is again simplified. To win the game and survive until 2100, they need now save the dying planet by reversing the effects of pollution and depletion of the land, the sea and the atmosphere before the Predictable Catastrophes Program flashes “Game over. New Game”. Time may run out. The difference between “2100” and real life is that here the players are entitled to start a new game.

“Twenty-one hundred” combines luck and skill. With luck, the converging destructive trends leading to social and ecological catastrophe develop slowly enough to give the Virtual Millions time to develop their strategy before the Program flashes “Game Over.” With practice, players get more and more skilled at uniting the Millions, at winning Allies, and at outmanoeuvering the Virtual Millionaires, whose moves are limited by their own contradictions. With each game, new strategies and scenarios are discovered by means of which players can reach the year 2100.

This is the challenge of “Billions vs. Billionaires” If the players can imagine winning scenarios in a virtual game that strives for maximum realism, it means that such scenarios may be possible, realistic enough to give the Billions hope and courage.

Good gaming!

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