On Money and Social Credit

Table of Contents

Social credit

"Social credit score" is typically described as a number associated with a person that describes their effect on society. More specifically, it attempts to quantify what good they have done for society, usually balanced against what harm they have caused society. Typically a higher social credit score indicates a more "good" effect on society than a lower one.

While social credit itself is a descriptive term, it is usually described in concert with a set of policies that attempt to prescribe social status on the basis of it. The foremost example of this set of policies is in China, where those with higher social credit scores are usually afforded more freedoms and privileges than those with lower ones, but conceptually it isn't limited only to determining such things.

In the case of China (which I suppose one could call the "leader" of experimenting with social credit systems), the decision of what a person's social credit score is is made by the government. I haven't looked into it in detail, but presumably there is some system of more-or-less centralized bureaucracy that makes this determination.

Decentralized social credit?

But now suppose that the determination of social credit was decentralized. That is, everyone can assign a social credit score to everyone else. For example, you might do something good for your neighbor, and they raise the score they assign to you. You might burden your neighbor in some way, and they lower the score they assign to you. In a sense, the score you assign your neighbor compared to the score they assign you indicates how much you "owe" them or they "owe" you (assuming you are both being honest).

Now we have, for N people, N*(N-1) social credit scores. It might be useful to get some "combined" score for an individual. One way to do this is to add up the credit score they assign to everyone else ("what they owe") and subtract it from the sum of the credit scores everyone has assigned to them ("what they are owed"). This produces a "balance" of sorts, with a positive value indicating that they are owed more than they owe ("net good") and a negative value indicating that they owe more than they are owed ("net harm").

If this balance were universally visible at all times, and a significant portion of the population came to view it as meaningful, how might social behavior change?

There might be an understanding that social credit is expected whenever something good is done for someone else, but there would definitely be the understanding that social credit is expected when someone else asks you to do something for them. It would in most cases take the form of an exchange, wherein a social credit "price" is agreed upon. It would also be necessary that people do not go back on these agreements after the fact, "taking back" the social credit afterward. One way to achieve this is to only allow someone to increase the social credit score assigned to others.

It would also be necessary that some measure of accuracy - or at least proportionality - be ensured in the assigning of scores. Suppose a son assigns an absurdly high credit score to his father. The son would have a very low negative balance, but the father would suddenly become an absolute paragon. With a high enough score, he could easily support the son for his entire life and have plenty to spare. One way to prevent this is to limit how low a person's balance can drop; once it drops to a certain point, they cannot raise the score assigned to anyone else.

Once it's understood that a person cannot assign social credit to anyone else, people would be less likely to humor his requests, as they could likely fulfill a similar request of someone who can assign social credit. Indeed, with the way this social credit system works, they would be better people for doing that, as it would raise their social credit more.

You probably saw this coming

What, exactly, is the difference between this social credit score and money? Paper money, in its original form, is a statement of debt: an IOU. You have a positive balance when what you are owed exceeds what you owe. Goods and services are exchanged for the ownership of these IOUs. If you write too many IOUs that you cannot repay, people no longer accept them.

In a sense, then, money is a decentralized social credit score. If we accept the scores people assign as accurate, then,

  • the most virtuous people must be those with the most money (they've done much more for others than others have done for them, after all),
  • those who help the poor - working without pay or acknowledgement - are less virtuous than those who help the wealthy, and are rewarded accordingly,

and so on. I'm sure many more fascinating conclusions could be derived, but these illustrate the point well enough.

In any case, it is clear that to care about money is to care what others think of you, and a decentralized social credit score is what others think about you.

When people describe capitalism and communism as two sides of the same coin, this is the kind of thing they are talking about, though they might not express it this way (and those with highly specific definitions of either may disagree with this assessment). The behavior of people aggregated en masse is often confusing, arbitrary, callous, volatile, and nonsensical. Derive your behavior from what the masses think of you, and your behavior will follow the same patterns. Make survival dependent on what the masses think of you, and everyone's behavior will follow those patterns.

This is what motivates the dream of independence. Some dream of gaining it through acquiring enough property, self-sufficiency, and close friends and relations to be independent of the masses, and others dream of gaining it through changing the way everyone behaves top-down to make survival guaranteed, but they both have the same goal.


This is a first-take analysis, and it wouldn't surprise me if exploring alternative mechanisms would yield different conclusions.

It's worth noting that "real" money (here referring to the US dollar) is slightly different, as it can be minted only by a central authority and its supply is (in theory) carefully controlled. This keeps people (aside from the central authority) from bringing their balance below 0, as the IOUs they would create would not, in general, be accepted except by those directly dealing with them. Instead of a cyclic sea of churning waves of money, this creates a hurricane with an eye: you may be able to not care what some people think about you, but as long as you care about money, directly or indirectly, you must care what the money printers think.

In case it wasn't obvious, I do not believe the conclusions regarding virtue implied by the "social credit" interpretation of money in this thought experiment. Easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

Author: unmush

Created: 2022-08-31 Wed 04:27