SourceCred Manifesto v1

Note: The next version of this manifesto can be found at SourceCred Manifesto v1.1.

Capitalism: A Coordination Game

Capitalism is a coordination game. Capitalism is built around a virtual environments, called Markets, and a quantifiable score, called Wealth. Within a Market, players can Transact, exchanging Wealth for Resources. Each Transaction has a Price, which determines how many Resources may be acquired for a given amount of Wealth.

A player’s Wealth determines their access to vital Resources like food, shelter, and healthcare. It also determines their social status. Thus, the main activities of the game revolve around participating in Markets to acquire Wealth.

There are two basic character classes in Capitalism: Owners and Workers.

Owners are players with excess Wealth. Using the excess Wealth, they acquire Resources, and marshall those Resources to produce more Wealth. This is called Investing. Since Investing turns Wealth into more Wealth, it creates a positive feedback cycle. Skilled and lucky Owners acquire spectacularly high Wealth, becoming billionaires.

Workers are players who do not have excess Wealth. However, they still consume Resources. Therefore, they have a perpetual survival need to acquire Wealth. They do this by selling themselves on the Market for Human Resources; such Transactions are called Employment. Skilled and lucky Workers may command a high Price, and negotiate favorable Transactions. These workers may acquire enough excess Wealth to transition into Owners.

Capitalism’s Success

Capitalism is an incredibly successful game, thanks to two key dynamics:

  • Markets and prices are very effective for rationing access to scarce resources
  • Investment leads to a positive, exponential feedback cycle, as wealth begets more wealth

Due to its spectacular strengths, Capitalism has outcompeted the other social games that humans play. In some cases it has subordinated the game, as when Elected Officials–the key character class in the game of Democracy–are purchased with the excess Wealth of the Capitalists, creating a Market for Policy. In other cases, Capitalism has simply crushed the competing game, as can be seen in the collapse of Small Town Farming.

Capitalism’s Flaws

It is generally agreed, however, that Capitalism is badly flawed. To start, the character classes are obviously unfair: no one, glimpsing past the veil of ignorance, would willingly choose to play as a Worker instead of an Owner.

Even more problematically, the Wealth being maximized by Capitalism is a narrow and limited metric. Since Wealth is manifested in Markets and through Transactions, it fails to include any value which is not Transactable, or any value for which there is no Market. For example, there is no market for friendship, community, natural diversity, or ecological health. Therefore, these values are treated as “externalities”. At best, they are ignored by Capitalism; at worst, they are plundered for Resources.

For several centuries, Capitalism has been accumulating power and scope in an exponential feedback cycle. It has now reached geological scale, and the actions of its players now imperil the Earth’s habitability. Since there is no Market in habitability, Capitalism is incapable of changing course, even to prevent its own self-destruction. Therefore, it has become necessary to change Capitalism.

Attempts to Change Capitalism

Many attempts have been made to improve or replace this game.

Attempts to improve Capitalism have met with some success. For example, players of Democratic Politics produced Environmental Regulatory Agencies, which constrained some of the worst externalities from Capitalism.

However, Capitalism superior ability to marhsall resources often leads it to stunning victories. For example, players of Capitalism achieved Neoliberal Economics, embedding Capitalist dogma into the adjacent games of Democratic Politics and Academic Consensus.

At present, adjacent games are failing to check Capitalism; as a result, attempts to improve Capitalism from the outside are stymied.

Attempts to Replace Capitalism

Unfortunately, attempts to replace Capitalism have been even less sucessful.

The most ambitious attempted replacement was Statist Communism. Statist Communism is best understood as a Capitalism variant, in which there is only a single Owner. This Uber-Owner is called The State, and is nominally subordinate to the Workers. As Markets are a two-sided multiplayer environment, it replaced them with Commitees, a one-sided environment.

In theory, the Uber-Owner would serve all Workers, leading to utopia. In practice, the Uber-Owner was a particularly powerful and rapacious Owner, whose behavior was unchecked by competition with other Owner. Fortunately, the switch from Markets to Committees greatly reduced the system’s information processing abilities, and Statist Communism was outcompeted by mainline Capitalism.

We believe it is time to create a new game to replace Capitalism. As a design requirement, it must be a better game than Capitalism. Its gameplay must not be so unfair and unbalanced. And it must be able to recognize values other than Wealth: values like community, or diversity, or ecological integrity.

However, it is not enough that this game be an ethically better game. It must also be able to outcompete Capitalism.

SourceCred is a prototype of the game that will outcompete Capitalism.


(to be continued… explaining how:

  • Open source is the birthplace of a postcapitalist paradigm
  • The transition from “Wealth” to “Cred” implies recognizing the multidimensionality of value
  • The transition from upfront “Transactions” to retroactive “Gratiflows” allows recognizing the value of things which cannot be priced)

Thanks to @flyingzumwalt, as my writing this manifesto was inspired by an offline chat with him.

2 Likes

As mentioned in our last community call, I’m hacking on SourceCred manifestos this week. This one is still (probably) incomplete, and I intend to keep on editing it, living document style, based on feedback posted here. Please let me know what you think of it! Also, I’m making it a wiki, feel free to make edits directly if you strongly believe in them.

1 Like

Reads great so far. Nice momentum building…curious to see the exploration of the solution.

A pseudononumous colleague of mine just released this treatise you might find interesting. Gives a nice overview of the evolution of open source, funding mechanisms, how cryptos introduce new dynamics, etc. https://cryptocommons.cc/

1 Like

I think there are numerous issues with the breakdown so far. But I’m quite happy with some of the more profound takeaways from this introduction and how they lead to the standpoint of needing a better game.

For me, these key points are:

This is a wonderful point to dig into. It’s very comprehensive as a blind spot. The value of solving this problem is also readily apparent as it’s high impact, high volume and high urgency.

Justice. Or lack thereof in an unbalanced system. And the morality of continuing it. Very interesting point. I like this chapter as a primer on this: https://sfosc.org/docs/book/institutions/

These two I think are closely related. Though I would say it’s not the main activity, but a winning strategy to participate in markets to acquire wealth. And the more you rely on employment, the worse you’re positioned to use this strategy. Arguably, the supermajority of the population don’t get to play the game and have incredibly limited options.

I think it’s worth emphasizing, just how strongly we rely on the adjacent game of Politics and enforcement through the Justice system to counteract the destructive properties of Capitalism.

With our recently exploding capability to pinpoint and abuse human weaknesses on a massive scale especially the game of Democratic Politics is under increased pressure now as well. Worse yet, this capability is put on the Markets so the winners of the Capitalism game are best positioned to use it for further compounding their interests. And I think we should all feel quite threatened by the idea of Capitalism going unchecked by a hollowed out Democracy.

Are the issues the points you bring up further in your post? Or are there other issues you can share?

This opening is abrupt, which can be off-putting in a number of ways. Providing more context and onramps for readers will make it easier for a broader range of people to engage with the ideas you’re presenting. The two main onramps you need here are:

1. Include a Preamble/Intro

Add a preamble for this section, which might provide the bulk of the preamble for the overall manifesto. In it, declare that you’re using the lens of game theory. Give adequate onroads for people to keep reading even if they aren’t familiar with game theory or are skeptical of game theory. Imagine someone responding “What do they mean capitalism is a game? Life isn’t a game.” or “Here we go again. Another game theory believer who’s been drinking the kool aid without looking critically at game theory, which is an analytical tool not a complete paradigm.” Give them enough to run with you a bit further.

Some other things you could consider mentioning in the preamble:

  • defend your approach: speak to the utility of analyzing things through the lens of game theory
  • acknowledge limitations of this approach and/or limitations of game theory as a whole – things that this analytical lens just can’t grapple with
  • explain why key terms are styled differently – Capitalism, Market, etc. Not all readers will be familiar with this shorthand, which plays a big role in understanding what you’re laying out in this manifesto.

The intro/preamble should also state the motivation of the overall project. These 3 paragraphs from the end of your current draft are a good start for that:

it is time to create a new game to replace Capitalism . As a design requirement, it must be a better game than Capitalism . Its gameplay must not be so unfair and unbalanced. And it must be able to recognize values other than Wealth : values like community, or diversity, or ecological integrity.

However, it is not enough that this game be an ethically better game. It must also be able to outcompete Capitalism .

SourceCred is a prototype of the game that will outcompete Capitalism .

With a bit of re-wording, this would be a nice, concise statement of the overall motivation.

2. Provide Setup for this descriptive section

This section describes capitalism in a way that will be comfortable for people who are familiar with the way game theory is used in certain intellectual spheres but risks sounding strangely strident and reductive to people who don’t actively participate in those worlds. With a few words of explanation you can provide an onroad for some of those other readers.

  1. Tweak the heading of this section to something like Describing Capitalism as a Coordination Game. Indicate that they can read it as a description rather than a declarative argument – you’re saying “try out this way of describing and thinking about capitalism” rather than “this is a complete, definitive assessment of capitalism and its nature”.
  2. Give hints about how to read this kind of description, like “Imagine you’re designing a video game that simulates capitalism with all of its strengths and weaknesses. The goal of this section is to provide a sufficiently complete and accurate description of the parts of Capitalism and the rules that bind them. It attempts to describe those parts and rules accurately, without judgement or criticism. All the analysis and criticism of Capitalism’s strengths and weaknesses are in the following sections, but first we must lay out a description of the thing itself.”
2 Likes

(Consolidating all of my comments into one)

Section Comments for Capitalism: A Coordination Game

Why “player” instead of participant, actor, etc? Using the term “player” makes this sentence read as cold and reductive. It basically invites readers to recoil, thinking “finding food, shelter and healthcare isn’t a game.”

This comment will be slightly less applicable if you preface this section with a bit of context, inviting people to read it as the description of a game that simulates capitalism rather than reading it as an actual description of capitalism in the real world. Even then, I would challenge your choice of the word “player” vs. actor, participant, etc.

What’s the difference between a player (term used in previous paragraph) and a character? What’s the significance of distinguishing between those two in a description of capitalism? Am I, as a player in Capitalism, distinct from the Worker character that has a job somewhere?

This phrasing implies that skill and luck are sufficient to become a billionaire. Some modifiers that would make it more accurate:

  • A fleetingly small number of skilled and/or lucky Owners acquire spectacularly high Wealth , becoming billionaires.
  • Less than 1% of all actors, through some combination of skill and/or luck, acquire spectacularly high Wealth to become billionaires who possess one hundred thousand times the assets of an average participant. [see Global Wealth Distribution by Net Worth 2019].

Do they sell themselves (which implies that an individual can be owned, which is slavery) or do they sell their labor (alla Marx)?

worth/)].

What you’re describing here is Wage Labor, which is only one form of Employment.

Section Comments for Capitalism’s Success

I’m not convinced that this section sufficiently describes the nature of capitalism’s success or the causes of that success, but that might not be necessary for this manifesto to work.

My first response on reading this was to ask: Why do you think Democracy or politics writ large is a separate game? The role of the state is an important factor in the definition of any economic system/“game”.

That said, it might be a good idea to dedicate a whole section to addressing the relationship between Capitalism and other “games”: Politics/Geopolitics, Democracy, Survival of Human Cultures, Survival of the Human Race, Survival of Life on Earth.

I’m also specifically curious how you see the Capitalism interacting with the Liberal Democratic project (egalitarianism, pursuit of happiness, reduction of suffering through incremental reforms - “That magical marriage of free individuals and fair laws; of the pursuit of happiness, each to her own joy, with the practice of disinterested justice – everyone treated the same” [Adam Gopnik in A Thousand Small Sanities]) and, by contrast, how you see SourceCred interacting with that project.

Section Comments for Capitalism’s Flaws

This section should do more to acknowledge and address the rapid explosion of income inequality, the wealth gap (alla Thomas Picketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century) and the mechanisms that have accelerated those things on a global scale since the 1970s.

Another flaw that most westerners often miss: Facism is a form of capitalism. Facism was the product of combining a capitalist economy with totalitarian states (Mussolini’s government in Italy, Hitler’s government in Germany) who took highly interventionist approaches to managing their economies. That’s not the definition of facism that you’ll find in dictionaries written by modern capitalists but it’s a historically accurate definition nonetheless.

You point here to the notion of social capital without using that term. Due to the nature of SourceCred and your overall vision for it, I think it would be good to provide a much fuller treatment of social capital, its meaning, and its role in the creation of healthy economies. This is especially important for you to grapple with because attempting to turn social capital into a quantified asset (ie. Cred) could actually be counterproductive, depending on how you formulate it and depending on the objectives you’re trying to achieve.

This paragraph finishes with a bold conclusion - " Therefore, it has become necessary to change Capitalism ." - but the preceding statements don’t logically add up to that conclusion (though the following paragraphs say more to back it up).

  • Why change Capitalism vs. replace Capitalism with something else? How does your argument lead to one rather than the other?
  • I want a stronger backing for the claim that "Capitalism is incapable of changing course, even to prevent its own self-destruction"

Section Comments for Attempts to Change Capitalism

This section is actually two topics:

  1. Attempts that have been made to remedy essential flaws in Capitalism
  2. Ways capitalism has become more entrenched over the past 50 years

This belongs in the section on the Success of Capitalism rather than Attempts to Replace Capitalism:

Should touch on these other remedies, the flaws they aim to address in the capitalist system, and their shortcomings:

  • B-Corps
  • Carbon Markets

Section Comments on Attempts to Replace Capitalism

As I said in another comment, you should put these 3 paragraphs into the preamble/intro and then restate them here.

2 Likes

Nice schematic, my main feedback is that Investing is not guaranteed to have a positive return – it is a random process which can in fact result in Wealth being transferred to Workers (i.e. “lost”).

Yes please :smiley: This discussion is of course ongoing and major choices are related to this. Covering it in the manifesto sounds like a great idea.

My take is that there’s something to be said for both ways of carving up the boundaries. But which way you’d like to carve it up isn’t too important. The fact that you could also argue that Democracy / Politics is inseparable from Capitalism, just goes to show how incapable Capitalism is as a system to self-regulate towards a healthy outcome.

Thanks @flyingzumwalt for this feedback, it makes a lot of sense. Based on your feedback, I “forked” over to a different manifesto draft (v1.1). Please take a look over there and let me know what you think of it from an overall structure perspective.

Meanwhile, I’ll engage with some of the other questions/points you raised here.

I think the simplest answer is that I was writing for myself, i.e. attempting to find a framing I could pull on to get the ideas out of my head and into a text editor, rather than writing with any audience in mind. The way I think about SourceCred is influenced a lot by my many years playing MMOs (meme), providing framing for people who don’t already see the world this way will make the writing a lot more accessible.

I’d say they sell their time, e.g. if I am employed by a company I agree to spend ~40 hours a week in a place of their choosing, and do what they tell me to during that time.

What other forms of employment do you have in mind?

An ongoing question for me: how should the manifesto balance between persuasiveness, epistemic completeness, and brevity?

This is an interesting question, and not one that I’ve thought about explicitly. It would be a cool chat to have during a community call.

I’m quite interested in how the major political/ideological systems of the 20th century interacted with and related to capitalism. Can you recommend any reading materials on this point?

Yes, this definitely merits further thought and discussion. Would you be willing to help kick that discussion off? Perhaps with a post exploring how attempting to turn social capital into a quantified score can be counterproductive.

I will, however, push back on the claim that SourceCred is trying to “turn social capital into a quantified asset”. Cred is not an asset; it is not owned and is not transferrable. (Grain is an asset, but it does not attempt to approximate social capital.)

This is a weaker section of the thesis. The issue is that (in the interest of brevity) I’m actually condensing a broader and more systemic critique of capitalism to focus on a single issue, i.e. climate change. In principle we could get things like carbon taxes to work well enough (or empower external regulators enough) to mitigate climate change while keeping capitalism mostly unchanged.

However, I think that when you look at the constellation of different, seemingly related vital problems that society is facing, you can see how they are all shared symptoms of fundamental flaws in the capitalist paradigm. Stuff like B-corps and Carbon-markets are lower leverage ways of accommodating for paradigmatic issues. We’re adding more epicycles to a system that puts transactional wealth in the center of the universe, when we should be re-orienting to a paradigm where value (as measured by retroactive credit attribution) is in the center, and transactional wealth orbits it.

I basically need to write a separate essay on this subject. I actually already gave it in presentation form at a Protocol Labs event a few weeks ago.

1 Like

There weren’t issues in my previous post. Just highlighting imo strong points. I’ll get around to the issues one at a time.

Wealth => Wealth positive feedback loop

I think this is a bit too much on the reductionist side. As you’re eluding to, there’s at least investing, somehow differentiated from wealth “Resources” term, luck and skill involved in this feedback loop. Wealth creates more wealth, sounds like it could be a runaway chemical reaction.

To get to an alternative I want to revisit the definitions.

Wealth - I find this one slightly contentious, as there’s initiatives to redefine this to mean things like. Having your basic needs taken care of and having the freedom to strive for self-actualization instead of survival. Alternatively we could use Capital. But let’s not complicate things and simply use Money.

Money - Needs no introduction. Means what it means.

For some easy terms, borrowing from Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad).

Assets - Things that put money into your pocket.
Liabilities - Things that take money out of your pocket.

These let us define Investing more clearly.

Investing - Spending Money to try and obtain Assets.

The thing you bought as an investment, doesn’t always turn out to be an Asset. It might well be a Liability. Assets can turn into Liabilities over time, and vice versa. Which way this swings is where the skill and luck come into play. You could develop investing skill to have a better discernment of what is, or is going to be an Asset. Or find ways to convert a Liability now, into an Asset. There’s a lot of predicting the future involved in this, so there’s probabilities, risk mitigations, luck, etc. too. For example “diversifying your portfolio” is an example of something that’s not necessarily a skill, but a risk mitigation.

Worth noting as well. Investing is a conscious act! The details could be delegated through managers or financial products, and your awareness and influence might be really limited (think retirement fund for example), but it starts at the choice to use Money to try and obtain Assets.

With those terms in hand, Money actually has a negative feedback loop. With inflation and wealth taxes, excess money costs you money. The more you have, the more it costs.

But through Investing, you might obtain Assets. Having a lot of Assets is where potential for a positive feedback loop starts. Having either Assets, or Money is very conducive to Investing. You don’t always need Money as an in-between step before Investing though. Assets could be collateral for a loan for example, to go from Assets, directly to Investing with debt.

So I would argue, the positive feedback loop is: Assets => Investing => Assets
Where the “long way around” would be: Assets => Money => Investing => Assets

There’s a few ways this loop might be broken.

  • The Investing doesn’t produce Assets. If what you’re buying turn out “bad investments” / Liabilities.
  • The Assets convert to Liabilities. Change in the market for example.
  • When the choice to Invest isn’t being made.

That last point is important to take into account when suggesting you can go from being in the Worker group, to the Owner group. Imagine you win the lottery for $10M. You get a yacht, luxury cars and go on lavish trips around the world. 5 years later you’re back where you started, if not worse, because these were Liabilities and expenses. You invest that $10M and manage a 5% year over year return, 5 years later you’ve made ~$276.000 in compounded interest.

I think, this says something about what the Owner category should mean. Instead of having excess Money.

Workers - People who’s primary income comes from labor.
Owners - People who’s primary income comes from Assets.

2 Likes

This is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing :slight_smile:


@flyingzumwalt Your analysis and suggestions are rather insightful. Really good stuff. Thank you so much for sharing!


This really needs to be clarified. No matter how many times you say it, no matter how many times I read it, it doesn’t click. For some reason I keep mixing up Cred and Grain in my mind. Maybe it’s because I think of “things” as things that be moved around (numbers, chairs, etc…), but intangible things like “reputation” seem more… different. So when we talk about measuring Cred and having Cred I think about it like a thing. Like my shirt or something. It’s not at all like that, however, so a mental model needs to be created to make this stick.

Since “Cred” is really a force of the network and all the interactions in it, maybe it would make sense to use the metaphor of something like the weather. You experience the weather, but you are not the weather. Just like you breathe air, that air is part of the larger system even if it’s temporarily “yours.” That might also fit with the “Grain” metaphor since plants need air to grow and stuff. I dunno… just throwing ideas out there.

Was this recorded?


@Beanow Great points on money stuff! :slight_smile:


I appreciate your drawing attention to the fact that we still need to find a better way to explain this… I like your metaphors of thinking of it as weather, or temporary force on a graph.

Can kind of think of Cred as like sunlight (can come and go depending on cloud cover, seasonality, whether someone build a giant skyscraper next to you) whereas the grain you grow in that sunlight sticks around.

Sadly, I think the recording only turned on halfway through. I do plan to give a more polished version of this talk in the future though, and will ensure it’s recorded.

Thinking it through a bit more, we already talk about Cred as “flowing” right? In that case, sunlight does not “flow” in a tangible sense that humans intuitively feel. Air, however, definitely flows around. Even more “flowey” than air, however, is water! Water is very flowey. In face, when I think of Cred I kind of think of it flowing from a mountain downstream to all the places it goes. Then it can even go up into the atmosphere to then be redistributed as rain. Maybe we should think of Cred as water and Grain as grain?

Advantages to this approach:

  • both water and grain are part of the same metaphor
  • both are tangible things we already have pre-existing mental models for
  • both fit into the systems view that you’re part of a larger system and the system determines how water flows to you and then you can use that to cultivate/harvest grain

Disadvantages to this approach:

  • would need to go through all the old posts and rename everything lol (if we actually feel like Cred needs to be renamed, however, then the sooner we do this the better)
  • not sure what to call Cred…
  • thinking about it more, maybe it makes more sense to rename Grain since Cred fits so nicely with SourceCred, then that brings about a complicated scenario where you have to educate people about this intangible thing called Cred that then determines tangible rewards.

Just started riffing on ideas here to try to sketch out the metaphor. Does this brain dump make sense and does the Cred/Grain Water/Fruit metaphor click?


SourceCred is a protocol that allows you to meritocraticly reward and recognize contributions.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, did it make a sound? If an act of kindness warms a heart, but no one was able to measure it’s impact did it really have value? These are the questions that keep us up at night. These are also not questions that can be answered using our current tools and methodologies. There are many things that our society misprices or simply fails to price. Furthermore, there are many things who’s value is revealed over time, but often goes unrecognized. SourceCred aims to fix all this and more.

To quantify, measure, and reward value that is being created SourceCred creates a living graph that represents the value shared and created in a social network. Every time value is created or exchanged a connection is made. Then as more (or less) value flows through those connections the weight of those connections is adjusted accordingly. Just like planting seeds may lead to trees in the future, some things take time to mature. Furthermore, some things may seem like great ideas at first, but turn out to be less than ideal over time. SourceCred, as a living graph, takes all this into consideration.

Unlike with a traditional transaction where the value is exchanged up front, with SourceCred value is exchanged on a continuous basis over the lifetime of an event or thing. This incentivizes true value creation vs gimmicks and deception to close a quick sale. This also values contributions that might be hard to measure over time, such as writing an influential blog post. Currently great writing is subsidized with ads. With SourceCred it can be rewarded directly based on how many people read, discuss, and link to the post. This is especially applicable to open source software development where many people contribute, very few are recognized, and even fewer are rewarded. SourceCred would flow value to all participants in a community or endeavor.

When you plant a seed, if enough water and nutrients are directed towards that seed it will grow into a tree. That tree will, sometimes, produce fruit. This is good. We are rewarded for our efforts with sweet delicious fruit. If we keep watering and nurturing the tree more fruit will come. SourceCred also rewards value creators. Unlike trees, however, SourceCred’s rewards are financial. These are called Grain. When you receive Cred for value creation, you can eventually harvest that Cred to earn Grain. Just like real grain, you can buy and sell it like a commodity. Also, just like how eating fruit distributes seeds to plan more fruit trees, harvesting and exchanging Grain allows more people to interact with SourceCred communities and networks. This increases the likelihood of value creation, Cred flow, and more Grain harvesting. Yay. Everyone wins :slight_smile:

1 Like

I think “cred-as-water” is a good metaphor. @mzargham and @wchargin both have good intuitions for PageRank properties so I’ll be curious to see what they think. I’m also definitely not interested in renaming SourceCred, or “cred”, but using water as a metaphor for explaining cred could be a big win. I also still like the name Grain.

2 Likes

Yeah agreed. I like the name SourceCred and I like the Cred name and idea. Still on the fence about Grain, but it relates to the idea of a harvest and that’s positive and good. Also the water metaphor blends nicely into the Grain/ecosystem idea (grain is a thing in the world that arises as a result of the environment). Also kind of nicely ties into the concept of karma, although there’s many interpretations of that word so that might be confusing. Overall, having a clear narrative around SourceCred (water flowing through an ecosystem, and then getting recycled throughout the ecosystem) feels quite satisfying. Also curious to hear how other people feel about it :slight_smile:

1 Like