Cookie Clicker Capitalism
Cookie Clicker is an interesting experience. Effectively it’s a number sheet just like other similar games, but this game presents a narrative that I wanted to touch on. You start humbly enough as a baker with nobody to help you. Each time you click on the giant floating cookie you “bake” 1 cookie. After a bit of clicking you can hire some extra hands to click on the cookie automatically.
A few more hands and you’ve got yourself a bakery business going. These hands are crucial and you value each and every one of them. Over time you’ll have enough cookies stored up to hire some grandmothers to bake for you. They work faster than your basic hands and quickly outshine the hands. You are now one level disconnected from the hands and will find yourself much more concerned with the grandmothers.
Over time your bakery chain of grandmothers and helping hands will not be enough and you’ll start some cookie farms. These farms are more efficient than your grandmothers and your helping hands. Over time you’ll find yourself devoting your resources to more and more farms and ignoring your grandmothers and hands all together. They are providing you with income but they could vanish tomorrow and you probably wouldn’t mind.
More time passes and your farms are churning out enough profit that you’ll buy factories. These factories outshine the farms, grandmothers, and hands without question. A few factories in and you will be producing more from the factories than all your lower tier manufacturers. You could sell them but you opt not to because of achievements, those achievements are really the only thing keeping them employed though.
Soon the factories lead into mines. The mines outshine the former four, and then after the mines you are traveling in space to harvest more cookies. Your cookie income is daunting and it grows by factors of 10. Eventually you learn how to turn gold to cookies with alchemy labs and your generating tens of thousands of cookies. Further still your massive empire allows you to invest in portals to pull cookies from the great cookieverse.
Finally you grow to such power that you begin traveling through time to maximize your cookie output to levels never before scene by mankind. You are a god among men, the controller of all that is and every will be. You have become the greatest cookie producer to ever exist and your rule shall be eternal. Your time machines are so grand in their potency and time paradox haberdashery that you could cleanse the world of every hand, grandmother, farm, factory, mine, shipment, alchemy lab, and portal and not be any worse for it.
Their existence means nothing to you.
Your time machines produce 217,282 cookies per second which is more than one of each of the previous buildings combined. They render all that lead you to this point null and you lose any sort of connection to those lesser constructs. Buying another granny is like picking up a grain of sand. In the end it changes nothing.
In this first half I saw in a game about cookies the evolution of the wealthy. My brain just couldn’t connect with the lower tiers of production the moment they were outshined. My time machines are all that have value to me, they are like the highest tier of management at a company. Each tier represents a different tier in the production line until you get down to the minimum wage cursors (which I call helping hands).
You can afford to buy many times more helping hands than time machines but they are so worthless in comparison that you do not.
The next half I came across while doing a little research. Because in the beginning I was making only a few fractions of a cookie per second. Over time I was producing 1 cookie, then 2, then ten, and so on. But with increased wealth and improved supply chains the cost increases as well. I quickly noticed that the combined increased income of my newer production options and the cost of expansion had depreciated the value of lower lines exponentially.
A granny was not merely worth her fraction of a farm but that on top of the increased cost of more farms and eventually factories (etc). I could spend a fortune and bankrupt myself producing helping hands before they’d even come close to mimicking the income production of a time machine.
But am I ever truly becoming more wealthy? It’s a bit like the real world economy now. My income has gone from fractions of a cookie per second to 24.3 million. 24.3 million cookies per second is an immense increase over my start and yet it feels like I am making even less progress than before. And in relativity to expanding production I am. It took only 4 minutes in the beginning for me to buy a new top tier building. Twelve or so hours later it actually decreased to 3.61 minutes (likely because I could finally afford time machines thus they were not skewing the data anymore). Twelve hours from that it took 7.62 minutes. Another 12 hours and it took 11.64 minutes. Finally just before writing this I checked and now it takes 29.66 minutes to expand production.
I am now producing more cookies than my original operation could have ever dreamed. Millennia would have passed before my beginning venture could reach what I have now. Yet it feels worse now. This is the dilemma of the rich person in a global economy. As your wealth grows the venue you compete in grows and that growth is not necessarily (and unlikely I suspect) to be even to your income. You may get richer at ever accelerating rates but it won’t feel like you are.
This probably plays a part in why companies try so hard to make everything cheaper. The more things they reduce the cost of along the chain the faster their wealth feels. It might literally be growing quicker but the more important thing is that it feels like it is.
The big difference between cookie clicker and the real world is that in the real world we have an upper limit to wealth. The greater the disparity the greater the despair. Costs rise to the overall increase of wealth but if wealth is concentrated to a small percentile of the population that inflation will grossly and disproportionately impact those without the new wealth. Imagine living in a world where the future me producing 24.3 million cookies per second was competing with the original me that was producing .3 cookies per second. Heck that first time I checked I was making 255 thousand cookies. That’s a difference of 94 times per second. My future self is growing at a rate 94 times quicker than my past.
It is a daunting separation that only becomes more pronounced as time passes on. If we existed in this kind of reality inflation would race ahead at such a rate that eventually that smaller company would just collapse in upon its debt. In many ways we are living in that reality.
Cookie Clicker is to me a lesson in the psychology of economics. It shows you that no amount of great wealth can ever stave off the hedonic treadmill. As your grow wealthier your goals become costlier and your feeling of wealth depreciates. I suspect if we were to study the psychology of millionaires and billionaires we would find a downward curve of happiness to wealth. I imagine a man with a trillion dollars is not a thousand times happier than a man with a billion and that billionaire is not a thousand times happier than the millionaire. But the difference between the millionaire and the billionaire is likely greater than the billionaire and the trillionaire.
Each time you go down by a factor of 10 the difference is likely greater. A person with a million dollars is likely experiencing a larger growth in happiness over a person with a hundred thousand dollars than the million to billion. So on and so forth.
Most certainly the person with a dollar is considerably less happy than the person with a hundred dollars.
This is probably because (at least in part) the ability to live and the impact of each individual dollar on living depreciates as the overall sum increases. Once you hit a certain point the danger of starvation, homelessness, or other poverty related problems slip off. The first great jump in happiness would be being certain of eating and drinking. Next would be housing. I suspect the reason a person with a hundred thousand dollars would be very happy is they would (likely) pass the mark for certainty of health services (being a US citizen this is a big problem).
But once you’ve covered food, housing, and health, what is left to overcome? At that point you are just increasing wealth and decreasing the weight of purchases on your wealth. Everything becomes relatively less valuable. Again I’m speaking mostly out of my own experience in games and this might all be hogwash.