Scope and format of system and world data sheets


Well, the point of my comment about “fairness” was supposed to be that it depends on one’s ethical premises, which makes it unlikely that we shall reach agreement on it.

On the other hand, with “burden,” I think it’s a matter of our using the words with different meanings.

I pay rent every month. This is a substantial expense, taking up, I think, the second largest percentage of C’s and my combined income. I would not hesitate to call it a “burden.” It’s a financial load I carry, and one that diminishes my ability to assume other loads, and freedom to dispose of funds.

On the other hand, the alternative is not to have a roof over our heads, and that would be worse. It would not in itself be a burden, but it would occasion other expenses that would be a greater burden, or hardships that would be a burden of a different sort. Paying rent is surely a lesser burden. (Though I see people regularly on the streets who clearly feel otherwise.) But to say that B weighs less than A is not to say that B is weightless.

The “tax” part of the GURPS CR scheme sets CR0 as having no coercive powers of the state, and therefore no ability to collect taxes, and therefore no funds with which to establish a state. “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” That really seems to me to be a natural limiting case. I don’t think that GURPS actually uses the word “burden.”


Perhaps I am reading too much into GURPS use of “heavy” and “light” instead of “high” and “low” when describing tax rates.


No, that’s certainly a relevant point. There definitely seems to be a latent “burden” metaphor there.


It’s at least a reasonable working assumption that the political views of whoever wrote that section - probably Steve, I think the wording goes back some way though I don’t have my 3e books here for reference - were closer to those of Bill than to those of Brett and me.


The wording is from the pre-4e versions of GURPS Space and didn’t appear in the Basic Set until 3e Revised, as part of the appendix. I only have the final version of pre-4e Space, which was revised by David Pulver from the earlier versions by Steve and William A. Barton. The wording doesn’t read like David, and I think I remember it from the first version of Space, which I no longer have. Barton wrote a lot for The Space Gamer, and also contributed to Steam-Tech - do you know him, Bill?


No. He was mostly active before my time. I came in with GURPS 3/e, and the current definitions were around, I think, when I first started looking at CR.

The CR scheme seems to me to be about how much power the state has to coerce people. Taxation is a fundamental exercise of that power; a state with no power to coerce can’t collect taxes at all, and if it exists, it must do so off of voluntary donations, private estates dedicated to its support, or the like. A state with unlimited power to coerce can confiscate money and material property without limit. I agree that the rhetoric about “fair” requires ethical assumptions, but whatever your standard of fairness, a state with fewer restrictions does not have to pay as much attention to it. So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suppose that all those things will be somewhat correlated.

But all of this assumes some form of market economy to be taxed, or the equivalent in a tribal economy without monetary exchange (which might rely more, for example, on conscripted labor). In that model, taxes are a way for the state to impose the costs of its actions on the market economy.

I don’t think that model works for a socialist economic system. At least, it doesn’t work for one where the means of production are owned by the state itself, and controlled by a central planning agency that makes all the economic decisions; and that is what “socialism” meant to most of its classical theorists from Marx on. If such a system can be made to work—and if we’re talking about socialist utopias, it probably must be assumed that it can—there really won’t be an economy separate from the state, and there won’t be anything to be taxed, because the state can’t “tax” itself. There may be resources diverted from direct production to what might be called social overhead, but there are no private owners to be involved, and it makes no sense for the labor force to be “taxed,” because they aren’t participants in a market economy.

On the other hand, if we’re talking about a market economy with extensive redistribution, or provision of large-scale services such as health care, I don’t think that’s properly called “socialism.” I’ve read that the Scandinavian countries don’t consider themselves socialist, and they tend to get high ratings on indices of economic freedom, sometimes higher than the “capitalist” United States. So that sort of setup probably fits fairly straightforwardly at CR3, or at worst edging toward CR4. It doesn’t appear that the tax system is massively coercive. I’ve looked at figures on Scandinavian tax rates, and if they’re accurate, they’re more than I would want to pay, but I’d call them “moderate”; the top rates were slightly lower than US top rates!

How you would represent a true socialist system is trickier, as GURPS doesn’t seem to provide any rules for one. But I think you would have to simply disregard the concept of “taxes” entirely and look at other dimensions of coercion.


Don’t forget that in the USA you have to pay those tax rates and additionally pay for health care or health insurance. The cost of health care and insurance in the USA that is not paid for by way of taxes is roughly 9% of GDP: 20% of the wage share of GDP.


Well, actually, that’s not true in my case. I’m of an age where my health care expenses, such as they are, are largely paid for by Medicare. And for the large share of my working life when I was self-employed, I paid 2.3% of my net income as Medicare taxes. In fact I’m still doing so, since I’m self-employed still. I’m not quite sure how to make that comparison, and it would be tedious and off topic, but I can’t do it by percentages of GDP.


So let’s consider how you would do a socialist society in terms of GURPS CRs.

First off, you can disregard all of the things that assume a market economy, or even a simple barter economy. Since taxes are normally assessed on stocks or flows of market goods, you can ignore everything about taxes. All of that language tacitly assumes that exchange, or quid pro quo, is basic.

So how does the economy work? There are at least two nonmarket models: communal and bureaucratic. In the former, decisions are made informally, on a basis of everybody knows everybody. In the latter, they’re made formally, according to rules. In principle, you could envision voting as a third organizational mode, but it’s really costly to have everybody vote on everything; you’re going to end up electing administrators to make most of the decisions, I think.

Now, let’s ignore all the economic calculation arguments about the limits of a planned economy. They’re a side issue, and we’re free to make optimistic technological assumptions, or even utopian ones. Let’s just look at how nonmarket economies might fit the different CRs.

CR0: A purely communal economy, perhaps like the Bushmen who share kills out with everyone in their band. This could be a utopian band of noble savages, or it could have everyone under the constant threat of mob violence for not sharing. There’s no separate organization that can compel people on behalf of the group—or restrain the group from compelling people.

CR1: Along similar lines, but you have some people (big men or chieftains) who take the lead in getting people to produce stuff, store it up, and then give it away, without having a monopoly of force; they can only keep their followers by being generous. A constant round of hobbit birthdays.

CR2: A formal hierarchy that ensures that common basic rules are followed and information is exchanged. Perhaps nominally anarchistic, but like the Production and Distribution Committee on Le Guin’s Anarres. Probably has law enforcement and emergency services to keep people from dying by accident or violence.

CR3: Somewhat of a Scandinavian feel, but with all production done by cooperatives, and with all goods allocated by a planning agency rather than sold or bartered.

CR4: A similar system, but with more of the Iron Law of Oligarchy in effect. The central planners have strong powers of regulation and can use them to pressure local organizations and to cover up their own self-benefiting strategies.

CR5: A collective economy with a ruling party that has lots of privileges and doesn’t tolerate dissent. Probably has a lot of corvée labor or the equivalent.

CR6: Likewise, but with active demands for displays of enthusiasm and a need for “enemies” to fear and attack. Basically a militarized society under total mobilization. It might have a king or prophet or emperor, but it may also have the state as a collective entity repressing the individuals who make up that collective entity. Kampuchea under Pol Pot could be an example.

One could also do a hierarchy of societies that are intermediate between market and nonmarket, I suppose. But this is a thought exercise in how purely nonmarket systems could range from no coercion to total coercion.


CR (or whatever) needs to describe society as a whole, not to wander off into the weeds of which categories of people are privileged. Take “you” as a plural.


I was aware that you were using the collective “you,” but I had been talking about my own personal preferences: “they’re more than I would want to pay.” So jumping into my preferences on behalf of society, if that even means anything, would have been a change of topic. And I think it’s one I’d rather not make, because it leads us into the dark forests of the Just Society and the Nature of the Good and all that, which have to be off topic here.

For what I think about CR in the abstract, see my long comment about how to apply CR to a nonmarket economy.


I saw it. Even there I think you are extending CR way beyond what is useful as a game mechanic while also blunting its descriptive power by confounding multiple dimensions of government power together. A few minutes’ consideration of various lists of countries by civil liberties, economic freedom, total tax rate, and average household income per household member after taxes and transfers ought to convince anyone that there are multiple dimensions of liberty, poorly correlated with each other and the ability of PC types to get guns.


Well, actually, Steve Jackson Games seems to have done that, though I’m not persuaded they’re wrong; I do think there is an underlying factor emergent from all those variables, though it doesn’t necessarily capture all the variation. But my exercise was to suggest how, if you want to envision a nonmarket economy, you might apply the CR scale to the nonmarket transactions that constitute it, without translating it into things like “prices” and “cost of living” and “monthly pay” and all the other stuff that GURPS normally uses. I don’t consider this conclusive; it’s intended as a rough sketch.


I understand, but I continue to think that you are misguided. CR is useful when it describes what weapons and armour PC-types can get, but GURPS makes such a pig’s breakfast of wealth, income, independent income, status, rank, cost of living, and prices that it is hopeless to say where tax rates fit into that.

Furthermore, the exclusive focus on coercion by the government, to the exclusion of coercion by kinfolk, bandits, priests, nosy neighbours, taboos, gods, or pixies further betrays the political obsession of the authors.


Well, “within the confines of the CR system” was one of the things I was curious about.

I don’t think we can get a politically neutral set if descriptors, but how about practical ones? If you don’t choose where you work, that could mean off the top of my head:

  • the state tells you what your job is
  • the company tells you what your job is
  • jobs are only for the right sort of people, shut up and watch your tv
  • only weirdos still work, and the robots are better at everything; have another basket of stuff

This is obviously not a complete list, but it’s already describing four quite different environments with a common factor that you can’t easily change job. Then there are other parameters such as freedom of association, movement and so on.

Does this seem like a promising model? It’s necessarily more descriptive than numeric, but in a structured way.


In Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, one of the women characters is faced with her husband, heir to an American fortune, being likely to be cut off because his father doesn’t approve of her as a wife. He proposes to go out and earn his own living, and she is deeply outraged at the mere suggestion that he should work.


I sympathise with his father.