The Second Life Economy

Western civilization is dealing with a crisis over intellectual property. The fact that any digital medium can be easily copied with perfect fidelity ties our legal system into knots, leading some, like Cory Doctorow to call for the outright abolition of Copyright law. However, DMCA et al is a harbinger of what is likely to become a much more serious problem. Over time, as technology and production efficiency has increased, the “cost” of physical goods has become less and less based on the actual stuff it’s made of. Right now, for most products, the “cost” is mostly tied up in things such as production, marketing, and distribution. And as we move toward on-demand fabrication, and possibly on-site fabrication (a kiosk that burns you a brand new Metallica CD at the local Tower Records while you wait) both production and distribution trend toward zero. . .

What happens when everything has effectively zero cost to manufacture and distribute? When the only value an object has is the creative energy expended to design and market it? What happens when you can download a Rolls Royce from Napster? While this resembles some versions of Utopia, it does pose a rather important existential question: Can an economic system exist without scarcity? (aka “How does Starfleet get paid?”)

Interestingly, there is currently a model of this sort of “Replicator Economy” in existence. The designers of the “game” Second Life have created a laboratory in economics or intellectual property. In a nutshell, within the game the only resource of any scarcity is land, and to play, you really don’t “need” land; you can just dive in and walk around. Like any other RPG, there’s a currency, and you can buy stuff. Unlike most RPGs, everything for sale (except land) has been created by other players, (including financial services) and when you buy something (except land) you’re buying it from another player. i.e., almost all goods and services for sale in Second Life have a cost derived only from the “creative” input and marketing involved. There’s no material cost, and no distribution cost— in Second Life it “costs” as much to create one Naughty School Girl outfit as it does to create 1,000 of them. One of the consequences of this is the recognition that ALL products are intellectual property.

“But, Mr. Swann, it’s only a game— there’s no connection between this and the REAL world”

Actually, there’s an exchange rate between the in-game currency and the US dollar. It floats and, as of this writing, is hovering around 260 Linden dollars to the US Dollar. So those 1,000 Naughty School Girl outfits at $L1500 a pop represent about fifty-five hundred dollars. That’s pretty real.

So, despite what many inhabitants of this intellectual bubble called the internet have predicted, the first truly virtual economy is not only solidly capitalist, but extremely conscious of IP rights.

Off The Pink!

Ok, I decided “S Andrew Swann’s Blog” was kind of generic. So I changed the title of my blog to something more apt to pique curiosity. If you’re reading this, and your curiosity is piqued, I’ll direct you to my Moreau series of novels…

(Ok, if you’re lazy: “Off the Pink” is a political rallying cry for the non-human masses in those novels. “Pink” is a slang term for human being.)

Science <> Religion

Jose, over at Meme Therapy just quizzed me for one of their “Brain Parades”. One of the questions he asked me, and subsequent browsing of the site, ignited a pet peeve of mine:


“No, Mr. Swann,” you say, “I don’t treat science like religion, no-sir-ee. I understand that science is directly opposed to religion—”


(ok, deep breath, I’m better.)

Here is my point. When you, mister fundamentalist, and you mister scientist, set up science and religion as opposing poles on an intellectual continuum, you set both up as equivalent mutually-exclusive alternatives. Most of you with this problem get the “mutually-exclusive” part. What you don’t get is the “equivalent” part. By setting these things in opposition, you are maintaining that they are the same sort of thing. They aren’t. The only thing they have in common is that both provide some explanation of the nature of the physical world. This isn’t even the most important aspect of religion, as most religions can exist when scriptural definitions of the physical world are taken metaphorically. There is no metaphor in science; there is no philosophy in science. Science is observable fact. Period. End of sentence.

If you believe that science supports an atheist worldview, you are as badly and dangerously deluded as the poor evangelical Christian who doesn’t understand that Creation Science/Intelligent Design (or whatever you want to call it) is not a valid scientific theory.

If you still don’t get it, here it is in small words:

Science deals in observable facts. A scientific theory must provide an explanation of those facts that can be tested.

How does one going about testing for God? Please tell me. I’d like to know.

While you’re at it, perhaps you can ponder how one can produce any sort of meaning, ethics, or morality from the scientific method? (And those of you who started along the lines of “The greatest good for the greatest number,” or “treat people how you would wish to be treated”— You all better start over, since the only observable concrete facts in those two premises are “number,” “people,” and “you.” )