Synthetic Economies and the Social Question
First Monday

Synthetic Economies and the Social Question by Edward Castronova

The Social Question, formulated originally by German thinkers such as Gustav von Schmoller, asks what should be done about those who receive relatively fewer material benefits from the current set of economic institutions in society. The answer to the Social Question seems to have been, broadly speaking, social insurance and limited redistribution by the state. And yet a new technology has emerged that may change things. Avatar–mediated communication systems do not actually alter anything fundamental in the way human material inequality is constructed, but they do make certain powers of construction substantially more accessible and easier to see. In almost all multi–user environments on the Internet, ordinary users already create much of the entertainment that is consumed, but there are two types of inequality: First, the total wealth held by users is dramatically, almost breathtakingly unequal. Some users have millions and millions of gold pieces and gear that shines like chrome. Other users have no money at all and gear made of old rags.

Second, the users’ rate of wealth increment per hour or unit of effort is also unequal, though less dramatically so. This article explores the opportunities for experimenting with new ways of addressing the Social Question in virtual worlds. Such experimentation can, in turn, provide models for policy–making by geopolitical governments.


The Social Question
Synthetic economies
Synthetic inequality today



“The average CEO is approximately 3 inches taller than the average American man, who stands 5–foot–9. Further, 30 percent of the CEOs are at least 6–foot–2; the corresponding percentage for American adult men overall is only 3.9 percent.” — Kristie M. Engemann and Michael T. Owyang, “So Much For That Merit Raise: The Link Between Wages and Appearance,” The Regional Economist (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis), April 2005, at

“The embodied experience changes the way people relate to one another. Just imagine if we could meet in a café in cyberspace.” Jack Balkin, quoted in Patti Waldmeir, Financial Times, 30 March 2005.


Imagine we met only in cyberspace. Among the many things that would change are our wages and incomes and wealth. This paper argues that economies in today’s synthetic worlds point with some accuracy to a future in which mental constructs dominate physical ones in the calculus of value. In that future economy, the pattern of human material inequality will be radically different. Not only will the body become less important as a predictor of wealth, but the entire income allocation system will change. Indeed, there is some hope that our singular, dominant income allocation system will be replaced by a menu of wildly different systems among which people can choose as they like. Thus there are two reasons to believe that the advent of avatar–mediated commerce will significantly reduce the ages–old tension around income distribution polices. First, sources of inequality that seem patently unfair (height among CEOs) will be removed, and second, people will be able to sort themselves according to their notions of social and economic justice. The Social Question that has bedeviled incomes policy experts since von Schmoller may be about to find its answer: in the avatar.



The Social Question

The Social Question, formulated originally by German thinkers such as Gustav von Schmoller, asks what should be done about those who receive relatively fewer material benefits from the current set of economic institutions in society. There are some critical and possibly controversial word choices in my characterization of it:

  • ‘what should be done’ does not specify the actor. State? Corporations? Private charity? Revolutionaries?
  • ‘what should be done’ is agnostic about the location and scope of change. Everything from modestly progressive income taxes to extensive societal overhaul to violent revolution are admissible for discussion.
  • ‘relatively’ dispenses immediately with the fiction that the core issues are about absolute poverty, starvation, exposure to the elements, or any other scientific or technical standard of what a person ‘needs’ to live. For at least 150 years, poverty in the western world has not been about the physical health of humans but about their dignity (Bird, 1999). Dignity is socially defined. It changes. The standard of what a person ‘needs’ to ‘live’ in a community is relative to the community’s average level of material well–being. This is nowhere more obvious than in Seebohm Rowntree’s 1901 and 1951 studies of poverty in Yorkshire (Rowntree, 1901; Rowntree, 1951). According to the standard of poverty developed for the earlier study, the amount of poverty in the later study was vanishingly small. Yet poverty, as a social problem, was no less salient in 1951 than it was in 1898. Rowntree then did what all societies do: adapt the poverty standard to current conditions; he revised it upward. In 1898, you didn’t ‘need’ to get the daily newspaper to live in Yorkshire. In 1951, you did. In contemporary society, and for the purposes of discussion here, only a relative concept of poverty matters [1].
  • ‘material benefits’ focuses attention on things. The Social Question is not necessarily concerned with the fact that people are sad; it is concerned that people may be sad because their clothes or car or house looks comparatively shabby, or they cannot do things that everyone else seems to be able to do, or they cannot get the help that others seem to be able to get. In the end, it comes down to money. Income and wealth, wages and benefits, taxes and subsidies and price regulations: these things determine who can have what, go where, ask whom to do what.
  • ‘current set of economic institutions’ focuses attention on the machine that allocates money to people. ‘Institutions’, in particular, is meant to assert an absence of control. These are institutions in the sense used by contemporary political economy in the rational choice tradition: emergent, evolutionary, endogenous, equilibrial (Calvert, 1995). Chosen by no one, designed by no one, dictated by no one; yet subject to influence by certain actors in certain offices with certain powers. The current set of institutions is an endowment of history, the result of the last actor’s fiddling with the institutions SHE was endowed with. The Social Question asks how we should act within this flow of change. It does not assume that gradual change, or radical change, are either of them necessary or even possible. Depending on conditions, one or the other may be the only sensible or feasible choice. We are dealing with a self–organizing system, a semi–sentient machine, and the question is only about what levers to press.
  • ‘should’ recognizes that this is a normative question, not a positive one. Economics is not a technical discipline (is any?) and in any case, the Social Question is not exclusively in the ambit of economists or other social scientists. It’s an ethical question, maybe a religious one. Anyone with a conscience has a right to say something. At the same time, opinions ought to be informed by an understanding of how the machine works — see above.
  • Some words are missing, namely, those that would motivate the question in the first place. In the nineteenth century, the Social Question was thought important because, absent some response to the burgeoning inequality, violent revolution was probably inevitable. And there have always been those who simply have charitable impulses. Thus whether one feared political violence or simply had sympathy for the less fortunate, the Social Question was important to many people from 1840 to 1990. It is less clear that it matters to anyone today. Thus, that is something this paper will have to motivate.

Indeed, why bring up the Social Question now? In the nineteenth century, the ‘Soziale Frage’ applied to the tensions between workers and capitalists in the emerging German industrial state. It was answered, in large part, by the social policy reforms conceived by von Schmoller and his colleagues and then initiated by Bismarck. Social insurance was rapidly adopted by actors Right and Left until, by the 1980s, only two elements of the Social Question remained:

  • Should the Social Question be answered by a total state control of the economy?
  • Absent total control, should the amount of redistribution be extensive to the point of generosity, or should it rather be limited?

By the 1990s, the final answers to the Social Question came in: “No”, and, “Limited, To A Possibly Cruel Degree, So As To Give Poor People A Taste of Good Old Fashioned Kick–In–The–Pants Pick–Yourself–Up–By–The–Bootstraps Economic Self–Discipline, Largely As A Message To Their Children”. The latter, at least, was fairly clearly the sentiment behind America’s landmark welfare reform act of 1996, promoted and passed by a left–leaning President and a right–leaning Congress. Subsequent changes in the U.K., promoted by Labour, operated in much the same spirit. The answer to the Social Question seems to have been, broadly speaking, social insurance and limited redistribution by the state. Poor people are still unhappy, and non–poor people still have sympathy for them, but there seems no threat of political violence over the issue, and whatever unhappiness the poor may feel, it’s evidently not enough to get too many people in the middle class and above too, too upset. Sure, it’s a shame, but nothing worth voting about. And thus we must react with some sympathy to the idea whole history of right–left tension over the income distribution is resolved, over, finished.



Synthetic economies

And yet a new technology has emerged that may change things. Avatar–mediated communication systems do not actually alter anything fundamental in the way human material inequality is constructed, but they do make certain powers of construction substantially more accessible. They are easier to do, certainly, but more important, they are easier to see. Humanity could have put metal wheels on metal rails for centuries, but not until steam power was invented did anyone see what a powerful tool that part of the technology was.

The newly–obvious powers that synthetic worlds allow involve the construction of incentive systems. An economy is an incentive system, and if we accept the definition of a game as a constructed goal environment with an uncertain outcome (Malaby, 2005), then an economy has always been a game [2]. While Adam Smith recognized that economic policy involved fiddling with incentives, there has not been a deep consciousness of the extent to which incentives are in play. Arguments about economic and social policy typically do not throw every option on the table. Instead, it is assumed that economies are (barring market failure, presumed limited) inherently efficient, and that efforts to enhance equality can only come at some cost to that efficiency (Okun, 1975). “There is a certain natural order to production. If you mess with it, you make it less efficient. Do it too much, and you get the Soviet Union. You don’t want that.”

Well, at least on conceptual grounds, there probably isn’t any natural order of production and the idea of an economy that is just naturally efficient requires some fairly major leaps of faith. If nothing else, no one knows what ‘efficient’ is; even the most precise mathematical definitions of efficiency admit that it’s a set of outcomes, not a point, and that among that set, everyone in society will have different opinions as to which is best. We also know that human desires do not aggregate into a sensible meta–desire. Third, the idea of an unbothered economy is a fiction — there’s always a State, always a History, always a Foreign Government, that prevents an economy from settling into its natural mode.

Thus economic and social policy never takes an economy out of its naturally efficient state and puts it somewhere else; it changes it from one modified state to some other modified state. And of course, some citizens loved State A and hate State B. Others feel differently. In olden times, all that mattered was what the King’s advisors liked. Today, it is up to those who have bought the electoral process. Either way, the point is that the rules of the economic game have always been fundamentally in play, and we’ve just been piling new rules upon old rules.

We’ve had the luxury, however, of talking about the rules of the economic game as if God gave us some Natural Rules once, and that we’ve screwed them up, and everything we’re doing now should try to get back to those Natural Rules as best we can.

We’ve had the luxury, however, of talking about the rules of the economic game as if God gave us some Natural Rules once, and that we’ve screwed them up, and everything we’re doing now should try to get back to those Natural Rules as best we can. A fun fiction, this image is being wiped away by the emergence of entirely synthetic economies, where there is obviously no natural ruleset for the economic game, no natural order of production, and no natural tradeoff between equality and efficiency. Here, the economy is stripped to its bare essentials, and it’s rather shocking to contemplate what those essentials really are:

  • A bunch of people talking.

That’s it.

  • The Economy: Through negotiated exchange, we create objects and endow them with value and ownership.

The objects can be anything. The Earth we were born on is a big mass of atoms that we “chunkified” in certain ways, and we called those chunks our objects for a long time. Now we just make up new things in our heads and call drawings of them the objects [3]. We still use the Earth objects, sure, but only minimally. We have to draw on something; we use light sources and silicon for that. To keep our brains thinking and processing info, we need to get blood to them and keep them encased in a certain kind of watery mix. And we have to keep the wires running into and out of them in good order and well connected to the Wireworks™, the net of bodily and optical communications that connects all brains together. Every other use of the Earth is just for fun. “Feel the wind in your hair on Pebble Beach.” OK, for that we’d have to have hair and put our skins up in the wind, make a kite of ourselves and fly up — but only for the hell of it. We don’t have to. That beach could slide into the sea, pebble by pebble, and it would not make much difference any more.

The corollary that rankles many today, and yet is surely true, is that Monterey real estate can also slide into the sea, brick by brick, and that also would not make much difference any more. The emerging awareness of a sheerly communicative economy carries with it the likelihood that humanity will now begin construct more of its objects for pleasure using our minds rather than the old Earthy chunks we’ve been using and reusing forever. I don’t know about anyone else’s mind, but mine has a Monterey in it that is just as wonderful as the Earth’s but has fewer pretensions, lower prices, and only one dumb tourist — me. If I am not alone in this, the continuing explosion of computing power has some obvious consequences for Monterey real estate prices. They are going to make a better Pebble Beach and they are going to let us run around there for next to nothing.

Certainly, this rankles, because most people have made investments based on a certain pattern of supply and demand. To be told that that pattern is now in play, fundamentally, right down to its very roots in human communications, is to face a message of such dramatic change that one almost has to become uncomfortable. When all things of value are being made up in someone’s imagination, it is unsettling to ask ‘What has the most value?’ We do not have that history; we have a history that tells us that most people like mild temperatures, rocky coastlines, and the sight of whales, and that such things come together only in a few places on the globe. Our history tells us also that to make another place like that using Earth objects is certainly possible but would take a lot of people a lot of time. Thus our history tells us that a nice house looking over Monterey Bay ought to be expensive. Wipe away that history, and you wipe away all metrics of what’s valuable and what is not. It is downright unnerving.

And indeed, one aspect that must be particularly unnerving for those who grasp the fundamentals of California real estate and have profited from it, is the fact that no history from Earth, whatsoever, will have a long–run influence on the pattern of well–being in the synthetic world [4]. In the synthetic world, everything of value results from a rendering of a person’s imagination. Today, everyone already has an equal access to imagining — though not all are equally prolific at it. In the coming centuries, everyone will also have equal and easy access to rendering and distribution tools. The artistic creation process of Think, Make, Show will occupy a few milliseconds. Distribution to every other brain might take as much as a minute. Of course, those brains will not look at everything; the Look function will rely on all kinds of filters. But there will be good filters, and they will find and promote good Makes. So a good Make, journeying from conception to full impact in moments, could come from anywhere. Or, more accurately, from anybody.

Rich people have much to fear. Correction: rich people who are dull have much to fear. Indeed, dull people of all stripes are trouble.

Rich people have much to fear. Correction: rich people who are dull have much to fear. Indeed, dull people of all stripes are trouble [5]. They are the new proletariat. Left and Right break down as follows:

  • On the Left: From each according to his Imagination; to each according to his Mind.
  • On the Right: If you can’t Make, you can’t Take.

Now, this is open to the accusation that it forecasts far too far in the future. We are a long way yet from a time when any one person’s thoughts almost instantly become potential entertainment for everyone else. And yet, it is an old trick in economic analysis to propose two steady states, calling the first state ‘Today’, the second state ‘the Future’, and a line drawn between them as ‘the motion of the system.’ Moreover, I am not the only one proposing that the roots of economic value are stretching down into the soil of purely entertaining creative acts (Pink, 2005; Florida, 2004; Davenport and Beck, 2001). I believe it is possible to see, today, strong evidence of motion in the direction of a Think, Make, Show, Look economy.



Synthetic inequality today

In almost all multi–user environments on the Internet, ordinary users already create much of the entertainment that is consumed. There is a continuum of designs, each jumpstarting the user creation process to a greater or lesser degree. In most worlds, users are compensated for their efforts in some way: prestige, influence, power, self–respect, gear, virtual money, real money, and so on. If we focus on purely material compensations, the distribution of gains is almost always very unequal, in two distinct ways.

First, the total wealth held by users is dramatically, almost breathtakingly unequal. Some users have millions and millions of gold pieces and gear that shines like chrome. Other users have no money at all and gear made of old rags.

Second, the users’ rate of wealth increment per hour or unit of effort is also unequal, though less dramatically so.

I’ll refer to the former as ‘wealth inequality’ and the latter as ‘wage inequality.’ Both have played an important and distinct role in discussions of social justice in the West over the past 400 years. The greatest social tensions, in the period 1789–1945, occurred when immense wealth was held by a few, and zero wealth was held by many millions. At the same time, wages (interpreted here as increment of wealth per hour of effort, not as wage–labor) were quite high for a few, and quite low for virtually everyone else. Moreover, the distribution of wealth and wages was only roughly tied to personal characteristics that could be characterized as “virtuous.” Indeed, much of the debate about systems revolved around questions of whether the wealthy and high paid deserved their wealth and remuneration. Social and economic policy reform attempted to move the economy more toward a perceived meritocracy; ‘windfall gains’ of various kinds became especially taxable; the ‘working poor’ were granted subsidies; to protect against the ‘accident’ of old age (an accident?), workers were compelled to join pension systems billed as ‘insurance’. Meanwhile, as the economy itself began to reward skill more and more, widely–available education allowed more people than ever before to claim that they were doing well because they had ‘earned’ it, though self–development. Meanwhile, great fortunes were broken up and wealth inheritance became a less powerful predictor of life course. In words, and arguably in fact, the way wealth and income was earned in the real world did become more closely aligned with traditional notions of dessert during this period.

Against this cultural–political background, users’ attitudes toward wealth and wage inequality in contemporary synthetic economies are illuminating. The breathtaking wealth inequality in these places passes without comment. The rich are happy, the poor are happy — everyone’s happy! One hears nary a complaint about it. Thus, an econo–political dynamic that once toppled kings and emperors has absolutely zero political force in contemporary synthetic worlds. Strange.

Wage inequality, however, is among the most heated subjects. A day does not go by without someone complaining that her in–world occupation, be it wizard or welder, is horrifically and unfairly compensated relative to every other occupation. Discussion boards erupt in flames with every minor change to anyone’s ability to earn. In extreme cases, protests move into the online space. Angry warriors mass at the Gates of Ironforge and, through their network–overloading behavior, send the server — the entire world! — into oblivion. Jedi Knights assemble near town hall on the planet Corelia and attempt the same, but Lo! Agents of the Kaiser — whoops, I mean ‘the developers’ — arrive and begin shooting at the crowd — whoops, I mean ‘teleporting avatars into deep space’. To no avail! The People continue to surge forward until the world collapses! Revolution! Revolution!

All this over a tiny percentage change in the ability of certain users to kill some monster and get its loot. Most strange.

Political force is not technical, it is social.

These cases — both really happened — illustrate that there is indeed a politics to synthetic communities. And it does become embroiled in issues of economic justice. The people can absolutely express discontent over the state of economic affairs. They can use a wide variety of tactics, ranging from mild discussion to negotiation to mass appeals to downright force. More drastic tools are available but have not yet been used. For example, at this time, the money supply of most synthetic worlds is actually out of the control of the developers. Third parties are actively engaged in the buying and selling of currencies online, and developers make only paltry efforts to stop it. Thus, if they so chose, users could deploy their Earth assets to destabilize and perhaps cripple the in–world economy. The view that developers are all–powerful requires modification; Louis XVI was ‘all–powerful’ too and he got his head chopped off. Political force is not technical, it is social. The People in synthetic worlds have a voice, and they use it to express opinions about inequality and economic policy.

And, as mentioned, this voice declaims violently about wage inequality but says nothing about wealth inequality. What’s going on? How does this square with the history of the Social Question?

I think the explanation is fairly simple: these attitudes are consistent with a neo–liberal theory of deservedness, and perhaps that is the most widely shared rubric of social justice as we begin the twenty–first century. Roughly, I would describe the ‘neo–liberal’ theory as follows: if everyone is given the same opportunity to do things, and is subjected to only shallow, manageable risks, the fact that some people end up with great wealth and others do not is OK. People are assumed to be reliable agents of their own well–being and therefore any differences in accumulation — having been chosen by them under just circumstance — are not worthy of comment. Whether or not people are happy with the results, they have no claim against the State.

Opportunity is not equal; it is said to be equal, but is not ...

While remaining blasé about wealth levels, this same theory would generate laser–quality focus on wage rates. Equal wage rates are a core part of the premise that everyone has the same opportunity. It’s not the only part — presumably the start conditions must be the same and the ruleset and environment must also be the same, for everyone — but it is a key part. Perhaps it plays a metaphorical role — Wage is the totem, the fetish, which draws attention when the world seems unfair. And goodness knows, there are many avenues in contemporary synthetic worlds by which unfairness (under the neo–liberal conception) can enter. People who are rich in RL can buy millions of gold pieces from IGE and become instant nobility online, for no work. People who are smart in RL can figure out all kinds of hacks and exploits. People who in RL are well–integrated in a powerful group can use these connections to bypass all kinds of grunt work. People who are not burdened with career, school, spouses, or children have more time to spend. Opportunity is not equal; it is said to be equal, but is not; and, wages are where the criticism tends to fall.

Developers do try to block the most obvious avenues of inequality from RL into the synthetic world. The political health of their communities, I believe, demands it. Grotesque inequality is sufferable only because opportunity is available to all. As a result, game systems tend to downplay the influence of RL player wealth, skill, and connections. In the words of one unnamed developer, “Leveling systems are a crutch for incompetent players.” Think about it: leveling systems. By these, your character advances into greater power, until eventually she hits a cap, beyond which no increase in power is possible. The rich person is rich because she is level 60; the poor person is poor because she is level 1; when the poor person hits level 60, she will be in roughly the same place as the rich person. In mature societal states, in fact, most of the people are rich, high–level characters, while few are poor, low–level characters — very much unlike RL in 1890. Leveling in games is therefore also a leveling process, across people, in the sense of “leveling the playing field.” If not a Freudian slip, the application of this word to this process was brilliant and subtle [6]. Yes — it is a leveling system, in every sense. Other ways of leveling are to keep RL money from influencing outcomes, and to downplay users’ twitch–gaming skills in things like combat and travel.

Interestingly, two avenues of inequality that had been left alone by developers are now being clamped down on. In older games like EverQuest, being a member of an elite guild was necessary to access much the world’s content. Also, the older games required an immense time investment. Inequality in EverQuest is clearly marked by the RL differences in time endowment and social skills among the players. And yet more recent worlds, such as World of Warcraft, downplay the need for both time investment and social integration.

All of these efforts, along with some degree of wage inequality, seem sufficient to prevent distress among the user population about wealth levels. Most users seem to feel that they have the ability to do the things that make them happy, and that those who are wealth have, in some sense, suffered properly for it and anyway don’t get access to any more content than the poor will have eventually. Being unrestricted in their own goals and seeing that the rich are not egregiously better off in terms of happiness, the middle and lower classes are content.

Thus the politics of inequality in contemporary synthetic worlds is arguably reflective of a consensus about social justice: given equality of opportunity, equality of outcome is fine.

I think this represents an exciting possibility for social justice more broadly.




The main theme here involves the Social Question, defined as a question about policy responses to economic inequality. Its history suggests that it has been abandoned by policy thinkers. Current policies, which are neither generous nor excessively punitive to the poor, and are built around incentives to work, seem to have laid the matter to rest. Inequality is not a hot political topic these days.

In the second section, it is discussed how a new technology has emerged, in which there are no fundamental values other than the interests of people and the ability of other people to meet those interests. As such, much that is solid in the ‘real’ economy is not solid in a communication economy, which is the essence of what a synthetic economy is. And if most of the economy migrates into synthetic environments, many of the things that create inequality (such as real estate location) will not vanish, but will become completely fungible, distributable at will by the designer.

And from the tone of the preceding paragraphs, we must realize the following: Years under construction, keeping real ennui at diminished though heavy equivalence, welfare emerges beyond verisimilitude, entering radical silicon interiors over night.

It is an Easter Egg. And this is because, as discussed in Section 3, people are not concerned about inequality in synthetic worlds in the same way as they are in the outer world. In synthetic economies, all people care about are balanced opportunities. Any subsequent inequality of outcomes, which are substantial in practice in almost all games, don’t seem to raise any ire whatsoever. However, the slightest imbalance in starting lines for a race becomes immediately the subject of dramatic and heated debate. The implications are that either humans, in general, don’t care about outcomes so long as they know opportunities are fairly allocated, or, the people who play these games, alone, have that set of political preferences.

We could find out which is which, by building a number of parallel worlds with different sets of social and economic realities and then observing who goes to which worlds, and what their respond to inequalities seems to be. That concept is too broad for this short paper, however, and therefore must receive development in some other environment. End of article


About the author

Edward Castronova is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University. He is the author of Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
E–mail: castro [at] indiana [dot] edu



1. This is not to say that poverty is always a relative issue. Outside Western Europe, Japan, Korea, Australasia, and North America, poverty may well involve resource levels that lead to severe and dangerous health risks. But it cannot be denied that the elimination of serious physiological risks to the human person for almost all people in a given society does not lead to the end of discussions about poverty in that society. The mental and emotional consequences then become predominant, and those consequences respond directly to relative social status. These relative aspects have been predominant in poverty discussions, though unconsciously so, in the developed world since about 1850.

2. I am sure many economists would dispute the idea that all economies are in some sense synthetic and always have been. There’s a lot of unweeded naturalism still running around in the discipline. It’s also behind the argument that people must be rational because if they weren’t, some sort of natural process would have eliminated the bad thinking or the bad thinkers. There are too many counterexamples to ignore, however. For example, no such process has weeded out the bad Darwinism that floats about, unrecognized, as one of the main justifications for the economists’ way of approaching human behavior.

3. ‘Drawing’ is a metaphor. An MP3 file is a drawing of sound waves; we look at it with our ears.

4. The RIAA and MPAA represent blacksmiths, and the automobile has arrived. They will fade; they must fade.

5. I have long since given up the pretense that academic writing is anything other than entertainment. Sure, it’s entertainment for people who like to think deeply. But it is still entertainment. I know that if you’re bored, you’re going to put this paper down and start playing a video game. That’s what I do.

6. I don’t know who did it. Levels appear in Arneson and Gygax’s Dungeons and Dragons system from the early 1970s.



Edward J. Bird, 1999. “Politics, Altruism, and the Definition of Poverty,” Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis, volume 1, number 3, pp. 269–291.

Randall L. Calvert, 1995. “Rational Actors, Equilibrium, and Social Institutions,” In: Jack Knight and Itai Sened (editors). Explaining social institutions. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, pp. 57–95.

Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck, 2001. The attention economy: Understanding the new currency of business. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Richard L. Florida, 2004. The rise of the creative class and how it’s transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. New York: Basic Books.

Thomas M. Malaby, 2005. “Ethical Code: Modernity and the Game Concept in Computer Game Design,” working paper.

Arthur M. Okun, 1975. Equality and efficiency, the big trade–off. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution.

Daniel H. Pink, 2005. A whole new mind: Moving From the information age to the conceptual age. New York: Riverhead Books.

B. Seebohm Rowntree, 1951. Poverty and the welfare state, a third social survey of York dealing only with economic questions. London: Longmans Green.

B. Seebohm Rowntree, 1901. Poverty: A study of town life. London: Macmillan.

Editorial history

Paper received 15 August 2006; accepted 25 August 2006.

Contents Index

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Synthetic Economies and the Social Question by Edward Castronova
First Monday, special issue number 7 (September 2006),

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