I’ve been spending a lot of thought on zero-sum games.
The zero-sum game is a well-documented model in games theory, psychology and economics. The zero-sum game describes a system in which all resources are already allocated; whatever resources there are to own or use, somebody already owns or uses them. A pie or a cake is the best example. How do you divide a pie? How do you divide it if one person wants more than another? The only way to give one person more (pie) is by taking away (pie) from another. And now you know why the title mentions pie.
But this isn’t an article about pie. This is an article about conservatives. And that’s why I bring up the idea of the zero-sum game: conservatives are deeply wedded to zero-sum thinking.
Why don’t rich people want to share their wealth? Simple: because they believe there is a finite amount of money in the world, and if poor people have more of it then rich people have less of it. Why don’t conservatives want immigrants to have jobs? Because there’s a finite number of jobs in the world, and if the damn dirty immigrants take them then we won’t have them. (You know, the rapists and drug dealers who are coming to take your jobs. Which raises the question of what precisely you do for a living.) Why don’t conservatives want women to have rights? Because if women have them, men don’t have them! After all, a woman only has the right to remain unraped if men don’t have the right to rape her! You see it with MAGA redhats, you see it with Gamergaters, you see it with white supremacists and Nazis (“Blood and soil,” remember), you see it with gun worshippers, you see it with the religious right: “It is impossible for us to gain more power, and therefore we must jealously safeguard what little we have. And we can’t possibly let anyone else have anything, because it must come from our pockets. We can’t let anyone have our pie!!”
And yes, we have Trump. But Trump did not cause this. He is an extremely loud symptom of the disease, yes, a culmination of all those factors in one hateful toad of a man. He is America’s most naked expression of zero-sum thinking. But he is a product of the system, not its architect.
Nonetheless, we are going to focus on Trump, because he is a useful teaching example. If he is the apotheosis of this kind of thinking, then by examining him we can figure out who his antithesis is. Elections are on the brain in America right now, and as we move into the midterms and start the search for Trump’s horcruxes, we start asking ourselves the question: once his defenses are stripped away, who’s going to defeat him? Who, or what, is the Anti-Trump? It seems like this person would need to be of outstanding purity and character, rather similar to a unicorn. And, rather similar to a unicorn, we have yet to find proof that this person exists.
But if — or, rather, when — exist, they will certainly run on a fairly specific platform, a platform I’m going to describe to you now. And that platform, believe it or not, descends from zero-sum thinking.
The Source of the Unicorn
You’ll notice that I’ve been saying that conservatives are wedded to zero-sum thinking. I have not been saying that Republicans believe in it. This is because there is a second conservative party in America: the Democrats. While they are definitely America’s mainstream liberal party, they cannot be called liberal when compared to the politics of the planet as a whole; when put against a truly global scale, from the authoritarianism of Russia to the social-democratic liberalism of Norway or Sweden, the Democratic Party of America comes across as centrist, tepidly left-leaning. I mean, look what happened when Bernie Sanders showed up! His views would be considered centrist in Norway, but for Americans, he was too liberal!
What was Sanders’s platform? Well, believe it or not, it actually had a lot in common with Trump’s. Hillary, and that other flock of Republican sheep that all of us have forgotten already, ran on the idea that everything is okay and that they would change nothing. Both Trump and Sanders, on the other hand, were political outsiders, not a part of the established structure of the parties they ran for. Also, both of them acknowledged that systemic inequality is a thing in America; both of them acknowledged that the zero-sum pie was being sliced in a way that caused certain people to get the bulk of the pie; and both of them promised to do something about it. Bernie promised to slice it in a way that benefited everyone; Trump promise to slice it in a way that benefited… white people… and worse for everyone else. We know how that battle ended.
Trump won because he invoked the disease he is an incarnation of, the disease of zero-sum thinking. He fully endorsed the idea that everything on the planet is already owned, and the only way for you to get more pie is to take it from somebody else. He reinforced the idea that, if you are going to win more of the zero-sum pie, somebody else has to lose. And he promoted the philosophy that violence against others is justified, because if we don’t do unto others, they will do unto us. Someone has to lose, after all! As such, it’s moral (or at least not immoral) to make sure that the loser is not us.
At some point the idea left the arena of sober political discourse and became something akin to a religion: “Trump will make us win! Finally, someone who is on our side! Trump will make us win!” (You can practically hear the cheerleaders now: “Donald T-R-U-M-P, all of us believe in he!”) It’s this incandescent fervor that carries the Republican Party today, and which Democrats, tarnished and downtrodden, are attempting to fight back against. Without much success, I might add, because they have no such beacon to guide them. Democrats are fighting to not lose, but they aren’t fighting to win, because they have nothing to win.
Which, again, brings us to the question: where is the liberal unicorn? Presumably, this person will have a plan, one that will unite liberals and light a fire under their asses. Presumably, they will be a candidate people actually want to vote for; presumably, they will offer a new paradigm of generosity and prosperity, as opposed to the scrabbling-over-scraps mentality that guides current political philosophy. Who is this person?
Well, I’m going to tell you something shocking: it’s not Bernie Sanders. It was Bernie Sanders in 2016, but that ship has sailed. Why? Because his ideas are outdated. Bernie ran on the platform of reallocating the slices of the zero-sum pie in such a way that poor people would have more. That’s good, but it’s not good enough; not anymore, not with Trump so flagrantly abusing his power to slice the pie in ways that please him. Trump has set new thresholds of corruption for the presidency, and everyone who comes after him will take advantage of the space he carved out. (Hell, they’re already doing it now. Just two days after Trump announced a plan to defy the Constitution and end birthright citizenship, a Washington state lawmaker announced a plan to defy the Constitution and force Christianity on the nation via mass murder.) Even if Bernie did win in 2020, whoever came after him would simply reverse whatever changes he made, and so on and so forth until the endless oscillations simply tore the nation apart. Trump has turned the slicing of the zero-sum pie into a weapon that can destroy America. So changing how we slice it is not, cannot be, the solution.
So what do we need? We need our unicorn, the person who understands one simple fact: THE ZERO-SUM GAME IS BULLSHIT. I don’t want someone who will find me more scraps of the one pie we’re all fighting over; I want someone who understands we can make more pie.
What am I talking about? I’m talking about ending poverty. I’m talking about sustainable wages. I’m talking about affordable healthcare. I’m talking about the kind of utopia that Gene Roddenberry envisioned when he put together Star Trek, a show in which — famously — nobody has money. I’m talking about a post-scarcity economy, an America in which nobody lacks for anything. They may not have everything they want, but they will certainly have everything they need. And while that idea may seem like a (no pun intended) pie-in-the-sky promise, the truth is that we are closer to it than it seems. In fact, the consensus amongst futurists is that we will have achieved a post-scarcity economy by 2050 or 2075 — meaning that, if you’re reading this, you could see it in your lifetime. And the unicorn I’m talking about will spearhead the shift in our culture, teaching us to believe in a better way of life than capitalism and showing us how to create it.
The Platform Of The Unicorn
Now, there are obviously logistical issues to consider. if everyone in America is going to have everything they need, well… That’s a lot of stuff! Do we have enough? Zero-sum thinkers are constantly telling us that such a generous future is impossible, and while they may have a political agenda to push, that doesn’t mean they can’t still be right. Can our existing infrastructure even create enough for us? How much expansion of industry, how much new technology, are we going to need?
Well, dear reader, I was expecting to have to do a lot of legwork on this subject. I, like you, figured that there was still a long way to go. So imagine my astonishment when I discovered that the answer is, Absolutely nothing. Logistically speaking, America already has everything it needs to create a post-scarcity economy. We could be living in one this very second. It’s not a thing of the future; it’s a thing of the now.
Let’s talk about things that poor people don’t have, the things that a post-scarcity economy would need to provide for everyone.
- Medicine, health and health care. Poor people have trouble obtaining this in America… Mostly because they’re expected to pay for it. Well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but there are working systems in Canada and Norway where health is the responsibility of the state, and is freely accessible to all citizens. Their systems are not perfect, obviously, but they also don’t create societies where medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy.
- Shelter. A homeless person does not have shelter, and a poor person may not be sure they’ll have a roof over head tomorrow. Which is a shame, because there are five times as many empty houses in America as there are homeless people. Now, nobody wants to give them away, which I totally get, so the government would have to subsidize housing. But that is something that happens, to very limited extents, in America already, so there is obviously no reason the scope of the program could not be expanded.
- Food and water. Typically, poor people are hungry. But here’s the thing: Every day, America throws away enough food to feed another 100,000,000 people. Every three of us “consumes” enough food for four of us. It is therefore obvious that we have more food than we need here. Again, no one wants to give their food away, and to be frank I’m not trying to make a philosophical argument for whether you should do that or not. What I’m trying to attack is the foundation of the zero-sum game itself. Conservatives would have you believe that it is right for Americans to pay for these things because they are scarce resources, because there isn’t enough of them to go around. That is empirically false. There is enough food, enough housing, enough health for everyone in America. Conservatives just don’t want to share it, because they could sell it instead, and money is power.
- Speaking of money, all of this will cost money. I mean, it won’t once all the changes are done, but the changes will definitely cost money. Does enough money exist on the planet to fund all of it? The answer to that is yes. The world’s billionaires made enough money in 2017 to end world poverty. Seven times over. Once every fifty-two days. Obviously, the government does not have this money, and obtaining it from those billionaires would be problematic from the standpoint of property rights, but I repeat: the question is not whether we can execute the plan, the question is whether we have enough resources for the plan to even be feasible. And, again, the answer is Yes. Enough money does, factually, exist to just hand it out and fix problems. In fact, at least seven times that much money exists. And if they could do it every 52 days for the entire world, they could certainly do it once for America.
So now — just for the sake of the thought experiment — let’s say we’ve surmounted all these problems. We’re producing enough food for everyone in America; we’ve reallocated the housing; we’re producing enough medicine and doctors for everyone in America. Every single person here has more than they need. We have created the post-scarcity economy. What happens?
Well, Trump will tell you: the damn dirty immigrants will show up. And, for about the second time since being elected, he’d be right! But the thing is, no one would care. Because there are some really cool side effects to the post-scarcity economy.
- We don’t have to build that stupid wall. We don’t care if people flood in because we have enough for them and for us. So there’s a whole bunch of money saved! (How’s that for fiscal responsibility.)
- Pro-life types start getting their way a lot more. “I can’t afford a baby” is a reason cited by 73% of abortion-havers. Creating a world where everyone can afford to have babies would cut down abortion rates by significant margins.
- Racism itself starts dying down. While there will always be genuine fruitloops who believe that certain genes make you a god amongst men, the truth is that the majority of racism is driven by fear: fear of losing what little you have, fear of someone else taking away some of your pie. With that fear alleviated, most of Trump’s base would evaporate overnight.
- Likewise, the incidence of gun violence would go down, because the incidence of gun ownership would go down, because a lot of gun ownership is a symptom of racism.
- Crime itself would go down. Again, there will always be bad people; but those will be the only criminals left, while the Jean Valjean types who must choose between crime or starvation would now have a third option. And when the bad types strike, well, we won’t care as much. If you’re walking home from the store carrying the loaf of bread that is all you’ll get to eat for this whole week, and somebody takes it from you, this is obviously a disaster. But if you know you can just go back and get another loaf… What’s the big deal? And the state of affairs where everyone always has a loaf of bread waiting for them is the state of affairs our unicorn is going to try to create.
Now, the question of all these immigrants flooding into our land of opportunity does raise some additional logistical issues. We’ve confirmed that America has enough for America, but not necessarily for the entire world… And obviously, if we’re just giving shit away for free on every corner, everyone on the planet is going to want to come here. This is where I stop being able to tell you what the Unicorn will be like, because that unicorn has done more research into this topic than I have. What kind of technologies and scientific advances are we going to need to create a post-scarcity economy for the entire world? And, even worse, could we run this planet in the to the ground trying to create prosperity for everyone? Quite frankly, the answer is yes. Carbon emissions are obviously a big deal… But it’s also a known fact that if you covered California’s Mojave Desert in solar panels, you’d be able to run the country — period. It’s not that we don’t have solutions to global warming, it’s that nobody wants to implement them because they’re bad for business. I think the bigger question will be the environmental impacts from producing even more food. A cursory Google search on “How much more food do we need to produce to alleviate world hunger” indicates that we would need 11.8 million additional tons of grain, which is not a big increase when we already produce 244 times that much annually, but also raises the question of how to get all that food to the (often) geographically-isolated locations where hunger reigns. There are, again, logistical problems to solve here. But my point is that the information does exist, and could be determined if it is not listed somewhere convenient; and if the information exists, the problem can be solved. Because, again, none of this really requires anything new; it just requires extension of things we already have.
The Rarity of the Unicorn
There’s one more thing that I have yet to address: political obstructionism. You will not find a single legislator, Republican, Democrat or otherwise, who would be willing to sign off on the unicorn’s plan. The way our democracy shaped up, it’s elected officials who get to decide how to slice the pie. It gives them power; it’s their raison d’être. They’re not going to sign off on a plan that would lead to their own obsolescence. This is the other reason I say Democrats are a conservative party: they’re devoted to the power structure that keeps them relevant. They may disagree with how Republicans slice the pie, but they don’t — at least, not fundamentally — disagree with the idea that there should be a pie-slicer. Our unicorn does disagree. And if this person gets elected as President, it will be a victory by the people, for the people, and despite the resistance of the entire American political system.
And yet I maintain that this unicorn, this precious little cinnamon roll, is what we must seek. He or she (or they!) is the only person who can challenge Trump. They are the only person who can match Trump’s ideology, and the fanaticism it inspires, with that ideology’s exact opposite. Trump, fundamentally, is a nationalist, a tribalist: “We’re going to make life better, but only for certain people. We’re going to slice the zero-sum pie in a way that benefits us, and not give a damn about anyone who isn’t us.” And, when you get down to it, that the exact same platform Bernie ran on; he simply had a different definition of the word “us”. Now, his definition was better, more moral, more egalitarian, and I’m not saying it wasn’t; I’m just saying that his answer wasn’t different from Trump’s in content, only in specifics. His definition still depended on how you slice one pie.
The unicorn we’re looking for isn’t going to slice the pie differently. They will have technological and scientific solutions to this problem, not political ones. They will create an era of almost obscene abundance. They will counter Trump’s “we need more of the pie” mindset by simply creating more fucking pie, so that Trump and his cronies and the Democrats and the immigrants and everyone on the fucking planet can have as much pie as they want, no matter how much that is. Our unicorn understands that we can create a world where there is always, always, more pie.
That’s what we’re looking for. The liberal unicorn. The perfect cinnamon roll. The person who understands that the answers to the social ills of racism, xenophobia and zero-sum thinking can be solved with social education, sure, but can much more easily be solved with technology and policy. The Anti-Trump, someone who personifies the liberal values of generosity and liberty for all. The person who, frankly, is almost Christ-like in their approach to politics. (Which, yes, does imply that Trump is the Anti-Christ.) It’s who we’re looking for, and who we’ll need. Someone who wants liberty and justice for all.
Let’s find this person. Fast.