Tiny Death Star Shows That Capitalism Punishes Racism

December 26th, 2013   Submitted by Davi Barker

TinyDeathStarI’ve been playing this game called Tiny Death Star. It’s an 8 bit game published by LucasArts. In it you manage the Death Star from Star Wars, but you can’t just fulfill all your Imperial ambitions for free. You’ve got to earn “Imperial Bux.” It’s a market simulation game. It’s basically a simplified version of Sim Tower, but unlike most other market simulation games, all the races of the Star Wars universe are represented, and even though the game makers did not intend it, that fact teaches a powerful lesson about free markets and discriminatory hiring practices.

To run the Death Star economy you’ve got to hire “Bitizens” to work in the food, service, recreation, and retail establishments in the upper levels. Once you’ve earned enough you can start building Imperial sectors in the lower levels. The trick is to hire Bitizens who are skilled in the establishment you place them in. Every Bitizen’s skill level is ranked from 1 to 9 in each category. So, every time a new Bitizen moves in, you assess their skills and choose a position that suits them. Maybe you move the labor force around so your skilled labor is employed in the highest earning establishments. Maybe you build more residential levels if you don’t have enough workers. Maybe you build more business levels if you have too many workers. If you’re not happy with the arraignments you can have the Bitizens switch jobs. You can even evict them off the Death Star.

I was finding it frustrating to navigate into each Bitizen’s profile to assess their skill level every time I wanted to adjust my labor force. So I imposed a “look policy.” The game lets you dress each Bitizen in different clothes. I put them in shirt colors that reflected the category of their strongest skill (sort of like Star Trek). Green for food. Blue for service. Yellow for Recreation. Purple for Retail. Then I gave them glasses reflected the value of that skill. Green goggles for 9s. Orange sunglasses for 8s. Eye patches for 7s. If a Bitizen wasn’t offering me at least a 7 in some skill I evicted them. Thanks to my look policy I was able to see the skills of my labor force instantly from the homescreen without mucking around in the individual profiles.

There was just one problem. About 30% of Bitizens are aliens. There are Rebel aliens, like Ewoks and Gungans. There are outer rim aliens, like Toydarians and Jawas. There are even aliens from the Cantina and Jabba the Hutt’s henchmen. But non of the aliens wear glasses, so they couldn’t comply with my look policy. Simple solution, I imposed racist hiring practices. I evicted all aliens regardless of skill, or worse I sent them to interrogation room to learn their Rebel secrets.

What do you think happened?

It instantly meant that I had a 30% smaller labor force, which meant that I was less likely to find the skilled labor I was looking for. So, I was already at a statistical disadvantage, but then something happened. An Ewok moved in that had the 9 in food that I’d been looking for. So I had to choose, do I make an exception to my look policy or evict the Ewok? Then I noticed most Ewoks had higher food skills than humans. They’re just better than humans at that particular skill. If I let the Ewoks in it would confuse my whole system, but I stood to profit dramatically by having 9 skilled workers in all my restaurants. Refusing to take in skilled Ewoks was hurting my Imperial ambitions.

Then I started noticing other trends. All the races were specialized in particular skills. The Chiss and the Ugnaughts are good at service. The Arcona are good at recreation. The Toydarians are good at retail. Humans in the game have a pretty random spread of skills. Kind of average at everything. But aliens are more likely to excel in one particular skill.

So, I changed the look policy. I can put aliens in the correct color shirts, I just can’t give them the correct glasses. So, I decided to only hire aliens with at least one level 9 skill. That way being an alien itself was a visual queue that the Bitizen was a skilled worker.

Liberalizing my hiring practices immediately triggered an abundance of skilled labor. Aliens started taking jobs from humans in every sector. I had to start evicting humans just to make room. Now, instead of my labor pool being neatly uniformed humans with easily identifiable insignia, my labor pool is more than 60% alien. It’s gotten to where I’m surprised to see the odd pair of green goggles in a shop.

Even though aliens comprise only 30% of the Bitizens, selecting for skill rather than race, even my highly discriminatory practice of only hiring aliens with a skill level of 9, produces a labor force so diverse my look policy is hardly recognizable. But I’m raking in the Bux, so what do I care.

I abandon the look policy.

Discriminatory hiring practices harm the employer as well as the employee. They make businesses less competitive, and therefor less successful, than businesses that hire on the basis of skill, without reference to race. And although the game doesn’t reflect this, all those high skilled aliens I evicted in the beginning wouldn’t have just disappeared in the real world. They would have joined the Rebels.

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8 Responses to “Tiny Death Star Shows That Capitalism Punishes Racism”

  1. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    This is econ 101, but the funny thing is that it’s targeted towards liberals and conservatives.

    Neither of those camps really understand this truism. Conservatives often favor protectionism over increased efficiency and production.

    And liberals are always worried that without affirmative action minorities would always get the shaft, instead of recognizing that less competition over the skilled workers from other businesses means an easier job of getting skilled workers for yourself.

    • Davi BarkerNo Gravatar says:

      It is intuitively obvious once you’re used to thinking economically, but I think placing the thought experiment in a familiar universe like Star Wars will probably help bypass some of the standard prejudices borne from people’s patriotism that prevent them from thinking clearly when they’re afraid of aliens taking their jobs.

  2. Don DuncanNo Gravatar says:

    Undocumented workers make less but pay no taxes. Is that a net benefit? I would bet it is considering they are learning how to survive in the black/grey markets. But do they appreciate the lack of govt.? Or do they yearn to become citizens? Coming from the south did they have more or less civil liberties? And how do they view govt. in general? Will they tend to be liberal or conservative? Has anyone done any surveys or studies?

  3. Michael AndersenNo Gravatar says:

    Great little piece and I agree there’s truth to it — in the long long run the Rebels would win in a discriminatory system. Sadly, I don’t think people’s work skills are actually reducible to low-digit numbers and I think the evidence shows their ability to collaborate effectively is way more important than their individual performance anyway.

    We can argue about the factors influencing effective collaboration, but race and culture are two of them. That’s just one reason this argument doesn’t change this liberal’s thinking about the need for anti-discrimination laws.

    • Davi BarkerNo Gravatar says:

      Well obviously people’s work skills are not accurately measured in a simple 1-9 score. In addition, the near infinite nuance of the economy is not accurately described as food, recreation, service, residential and retail. Also we don’t have an Emperor centrally planning the entire society… or Ewoks. That doesn’t mean that this experiment doesn’t express a real statistical consequence of discriminatory hiring practices in this limited simulation.

      If you think evidence shows something I’d really appreciate you providing that evidence rather than just making the assertion, although in this case I wouldn’t dispute the assertion. The ability to collaborate effectively is an intensely important part of an effective team, and that variable is not at all expressed in this simulation.

      I’m not sure how you get from there to anti-discrimination laws, because anti-discrimination laws are also not expressed in this simulation. Also, building a team based on their effective collaboration, without reference to race, is not a discriminatory hiring practice. And, if someone imposed a race based hiring practice, under the assumption that race influences effective collaboration, they would still suffer from the statistical disadvantage that this simulation demonstrated. Because they would be selecting for race, rather than the desired skill set, meaning they would lose access to individuals with the desired skill set who are of the wrong race, and be at a competitive disadvantage against a team that didn’t.

  4. johnNo Gravatar says:

    While discrimination may not pay off in a game, there’s copious evidence of various forms of racism in operation in the real market.

    Not all businesses are this idealized market of commodity goods. You have unique products protected by patents or other laws, or trade secret, and while that monopoly exists, the profit margins are large. The company may not care about hiring the best worker, but the one who they know or someone in the family.

    Not all life is about business. If you are filling a “fun” or “easy” position, a lot of people will want it, especially people you may know. If you go against the community expectation, and hire from the wider labor pool, especially someone considered of an “inferior race”, you may lose business. I don’t think race is a really good example. Let’s say you decide to hire a Satanist in a Christian community – the local Christians may stop shopping at your store.

    Finally, assigning different characteristics to NPCs so they are skewed by race is racism. I used to play D&D and just accepted those rules, but when I went back to the rulebooks, all I could think was, “that’s racist.”

  5. 格MNo Gravatar says:

    I laughed when I saw this article, as I was doing the exact same thing!

    For me though my racist hiring practices stemmed from the fact that alien races refused to wear the uniforms I provided (dress up). E.g. Scoop of Hoth workers would wear snowtrooper uniforms, etc. But I still valued skill over conformity and based my hiring decisions on this.

    But as soon as 2 workers (Alien & human) had the same skill level for the floor I needed, guess who got the boot?

    Which brings me to my point. I might have justified the firing as a compliance issue, but to the external observer, it was 100% racial, as with all things equal the alien always got the pink slip. I think you can draw the same real world connections… who would have thought a freemium game could end up with such a social commentary?

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