Are incentives more asymmetrical than they used to be?

I was thinking of writing a science fiction story.  In this world human capital is incredibly valuable.  Even if you lose all your wealth you can earn back lots very quickly, at least if you are talented and well-educated.  In fact, even if you stay poor, wealthy friends or a spouse will take care of you and you can have fun watching cable TV or playing Second Life.  The only way to get above this baseline level of happiness is to succeed at "winning" and gaining relative status among your peers by superior earnings.

The level of risk-taking is very high and capitalist enterprise starts to collapse.  (Credit markets disappeared in 2081.)  Every manager plays metaphorical or perhaps even literal roulette with the money of the shareholders.  The move toward unlimited liability for corporations only postpones the dissolution of cooperation. 

Production resumes only when a) managers precommit to costly drug addictions, so that they again fear pecuniary losses, and b) shareholders find altruistic managers and also initiate charitable contributions to India.  They threaten to cut off those contributions if managers perform poorly.

Managers are addicts and blackmailable altruists.  The Indian poor flourish.  Most Americans remain unemployed.  At some point the world becomes poor enough to sustain cooperation once again.


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