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Cyberpunk Economies? How do they work?

DisgruntleFairy

Active member
Validated User
Ok, I've been reading Shadowrun [1] recently and something about the setting troubles me. So how does the economy work? You have a setting that is strictly divided between the haves and the have not's. There seems to be nothing like healthcare for the masses. Nothing like education for the masses. Most of the masses (it seems) work crap jobs and make just enough to pay for housing and food if they are lucky. So who buy's the products the hypercorps produce? Do the hypercorps produce and consume enough to support the economies by themselves? Is there a large middle class that the games just don't cover?

What about kids? Where do the kids get trained to do hypercorp work? Where does the next generation of skilled workers come from? How do they get the money to consume goods that the hypercorps produce?

Seems like the hypercorp model that most cyberpunk settings use would collapse under its own excesses inside 60 ish years. In all fairness that was kinda what Cybergeneration was all about, I think.

How can we make the economy of the setting more believable? How would that play out in game play? Could you use that to enrich the game?

It seems to me that there needs to be a large group of people living a decent middle class-ish life in the cyberpunk world. They would of course most likely work for a corp but not all. They would have some sort of access to healthcare and education. So maybe you start running operations to steal the exam questions for the college entrance exams. Or you would be helping the kid to cheat on exams in some other way. Running opts to get healthcare access for middle class kids that went over their maximum lifetime healthcare limits. You could also be running cheap opts to sabotage the competitors for the middle classes family mans promotion. Stuff like that. So what else could you do?

[1] Its not alone in this its just the example that made me think of this.
 

Skycroft

Space Wizard
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Validated User
Magnets!

In all seriousness, I believe there is a substantial middle class that the games don't cover. It's just that you live in the underbelly, so you see the system at it's worst.

From what I remember of Shadowrun, anyway. I'll see if I can dig out page references.
 
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Professor Phobos

Sweeper of Arcane Lore
Validated User
The "have-nots" are a relative minority of the population in Shadowrun. The bulk of the population has a SIN and lives in arcologies, suburbs, etc, and probably works for one megacorp or another. These people are what we would consider the middle class and do a lot of the consumption. Depending on the country, the hypercorps probably passed a lot of basic services off to the government; if you have a SIN, the UCAS is providing you healthcare, that sort of thing. The middle-class in Shadowrun and most cyberpunk settings has less security and less political influence than would be healthy or desirable for a modern country, and the poor are significantly worse-off in Shadowrun due to the whole SIN thing. The megacorps basically share the middle-class as a sort of captive population of consumers and recruits; kids go to schools run by hypercorp A, buy food from vending machines run by megacorp A's subsidiary, etc. Where there aren't megacorps, there's a bloated and inefficient government.

Then there are the very rich, who act as hyper-consumers.

But Shadowrun is all about the fringe, the people who walk away from the system and have been abandoned by it, so that's where the focus is. The megacorps don't trawl nice middle-class neighborhoods for desperately poor people to trick into medical testing, they do that in poor communities. The government doesn't hire adequate police services for ghettos, but they'll contract out for the taxpaying suburbs. That sort of stuff.
 
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DisgruntleFairy

Active member
Validated User
Magnets!

In all seriousness, I believe there is a substantial middle class that the games don't cover. It's just that you live in the underbelly, so you see the system at it's worst.

From what I remember of Shadowrun, anyway. I'll see if I can dig out page references.
Ok, In the interests of honesty I've only really read Shadowrun 5th edition and Cybergeneration 2nd edition. So that may color my view.
 

DisgruntleFairy

Active member
Validated User
Magnets!

In all seriousness, I believe there is a substantial middle class that the games don't cover. It's just that you live in the underbelly, so you see the system at it's worst.

From what I remember of Shadowrun, anyway. I'll see if I can dig out page references.
Ahhh! Ok. I kinda figured that. But doesn't that mean that there are some fun options for roleplay and games?

The "have-nots" are a relative minority of the population in Shadowrun. The bulk of the population has a SIN and lives in arcologies, suburbs, etc, and probably works for one megacorp or another. These people are what we would consider the middle class and do a lot of the consumption. Depending on the country, the hypercorps probably passed a lot of basic services off to the government; if you have a SIN, the UCAS is providing you healthcare, that sort of thing. The middle-class in Shadowrun and most cyberpunk settings has less security and less political influence than would be healthy or desirable for a modern country, and the poor are significantly worse-off in Shadowrun due to the whole SIN thing. The megacorps basically share the middle-class as a sort of captive population of consumers and recruits; kids go to schools run by hypercorp A, buy food from vending machines run by megacorp A's subsidiary, etc. Where there aren't megacorps, there's a bloated and inefficient government.

Then there are the very rich, who act as hyper-consumers.

But Shadowrun is all about the fringe, the people who walk away from the system and have been abandoned by it, so that's where the focus is. The megacorps don't trawl nice middle-class neighborhoods for desperately poor people to trick into medical testing, they do that in poor communities. The government doesn't hire adequate police services for ghettos, but they'll contract out for the taxpaying suburbs. That sort of stuff.
I see... So its really a social pyramid. There are a huge number of poor people. A large number of middle class people and a surprisingly large number of elites. With a few hyper elites at the top of the pyramid.

Still doesn't that mean there are lots of options for fun with that middle class group of people? I never see that discussed. It seems like it would be a fun place to do some things.
 

Wakshaani

Cheesey Goodness
RPGnet Member
Validated User
You're all up in my wheelhouse, here, but before I start, let me ask you a question:

At what point do you feel that wealth distribution inequality breaks down so much that society can't function? That is to say, how tiny does the middle class have to be before things stop?

For example, let's use Shadowrun and let's say that the UCAS econmy genertiosn 100 trillion Nuyen a year in wealth. This is a fraction of today's US, but considering how much of teh nation has been lost, I'm being generous.

Now, let's break the population into five groups: The top 20%, the bottom 20%, and three 20% groups in between the poles, like so:

A (Poorest 20%) - B (20%) - C (The true middle class 20%) D (20%) - E (Wealthiest 20%)

So, let's give 'em numbers. Lets say group A has 10% of teh wealth, group B has 15% of the wealth, C has 20%, D has 25%, and E has 30%

Is this a functioning society? Does this give the proper distopian feel? Would this economy work?

Now, let's twist the nobs a bit.

Let's give the poorest people only 4% of the wealth, group B 6%, group C 15%, group D 25%, and group E fully 50% of the wealth.

Is *this* a functioning society? Is it properly distopian? Is there enough money flowing around to make a country do what it's supposed to do?

(More in a bit, but I'd like to see the OP take a stab at it, first. Those who know the anwers, try to avoid spoilers. Those who don't know, feel free to plug your own numbers into the 5 groups.)
 

Solarn

Registered User
Validated User
I'd say that there is a middle class, but they live in corporate districts and most of their lives are spent within the confines of one corporation or another. They work for a corporation, they rent housing from the same corporation, the education their kids receive is sponsored by the corporation, their health is looked after by... you guessed, the corporation. If they go up the corporate ladder and get a job that actually requires skill and creativity, they might get headhunted by another corporation, but it juast means a move to another district/city, everything else stays the same. After all, in a cyberpunk world, there are very few legitimate small businesses left. You either work for a corp, or you work underground.

And yeah, the idea of desperate middle-class workers turning to illegal or semi-legal means for whatever reason is appealing from a story standpoint.

Maybe a paper-pushing accountant realises that he has no chances of promotion on account of being a dull little twit, and turns to gambling to support the lavish lifestyle he's always dreamed of. But when a string of bad luck hits and he's left with barely enough money to pay the rent, he has no choice but to help his acquaintances from the poker table run a heist, using his skill with numbers to plan and coordinate their actions.

Or maybe a coordinator for an unimportant production facility notices discrepancies in productivity and when she investigates, she discovers that the place is actually used as a distributor for dangerous untested products by its less-than-honest parent corp. Now she is on the run and has to survive until she can get this information to someone who knows what to do with it, not to mention that her family remains in danger.

Or a secretary enters his boss's office at the worst possible time, finding her in a conference call (with video feeds, naturally) with several underworld bosses and gets drafted into a war of sabotage and industrial espionage with a rival corporation if he wants to continue breathing.
 
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Professor Phobos

Sweeper of Arcane Lore
Validated User
Still doesn't that mean there are lots of options for fun with that middle class group of people? I never see that discussed. It seems like it would be a fun place to do some things.
Yep, plenty of options. Some Shadowrunners probably come from middle-class corporate communities who just got so bored they decided to reject the life, or parents got screwed by some hypercorp policy and were forced out. Raid a planned suburban corporate community to kidnap a scientist...and so on.

I imagine the life of a middle-class corporate drone in Shadowrun is one that has plenty of amenities and stability but not a lot of room to express oneself outside the corporate culture and influence. Nice apartments for the lower tier, McMansions for the middle tier, penthouse apartments for the top tier and then super mansions for the elite.
 

DisgruntleFairy

Active member
Validated User
You're all up in my wheelhouse, here, but before I start, let me ask you a question:

At what point do you feel that wealth distribution inequality breaks down so much that society can't function? That is to say, how tiny does the middle class have to be before things stop?

For example, let's use Shadowrun and let's say that the UCAS econmy genertiosn 100 trillion Nuyen a year in wealth. This is a fraction of today's US, but considering how much of teh nation has been lost, I'm being generous.

Now, let's break the population into five groups: The top 20%, the bottom 20%, and three 20% groups in between the poles, like so:

A (Poorest 20%) - B (20%) - C (The true middle class 20%) D (20%) - E (Wealthiest 20%)

So, let's give 'em numbers. Lets say group A has 10% of teh wealth, group B has 15% of the wealth, C has 20%, D has 25%, and E has 30%

Is this a functioning society? Does this give the proper distopian feel? Would this economy work?

Now, let's twist the nobs a bit.

Let's give the poorest people only 4% of the wealth, group B 6%, group C 15%, group D 25%, and group E fully 50% of the wealth.

Is *this* a functioning society? Is it properly distopian? Is there enough money flowing around to make a country do what it's supposed to do?

(More in a bit, but I'd like to see the OP take a stab at it, first. Those who know the anwers, try to avoid spoilers. Those who don't know, feel free to plug your own numbers into the 5 groups.)
I know that at the moment in the US the top 10% of earners control something like 75% of the wealth. Amazingly our economy sorta works and is only modestly distopian. But opinions on that may vary.
Which means that by even your extreme example the US is currently worse, I think. :eek: Which is horrifying all on its own.

I'm guessing the point your pushing here. Is the question of how much wealth can you accumulate at the top before the economy/society stops functioning? The answer is a lot, apparently.
 
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DoctorDogGirl

New member
Banned
I think it's best viewed as a hyper-stylized version of today's society crossed with a Anti-Marxist dystopia.

The ultra-elite control everything in society as Feudal Overlords while 99.99 of the population live in abject misery toiling away in post-industrial wastelands and BELOW EVEN THEM exist the people without jobs.

I find the best "Cyberpunk" illustration isn't Bladerunner for social economics but, oddly, Land of the Dead.
 
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