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Playing politics in Tropico 4 (I of II): Pinochet’s capitalist Tropico

Image credit: gamespot.com
Image credit: gamespot.com
Image credit: gamespot.com

Shortly after ending an article with the conclusion that Tropico 4 could not be played, I re-installed it on my laptop and started playing as a banana republic dictator once again. Determined to play out the challenge I had made to a friend, I played the game twice, under the same conditions and in the same ‘location’; once as a capitalist, the other as a socialist.

Commencing my investigation into the capitalism vs. socialism debate, I selected the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as my representative of capitalism. Pinochet famously called in top right-wing economists to solve his country’s economic problems, though it remains to be decided whether he did more harm than good in his giant privatisation binge.

Beginning my thirty-year tenure of Tropico, I had wages cut for the working classes at once. Unemployment went slowly from 1% to 30% by 1957. The economy was built on farming and mining exports, keeping expenditure low with poor housing and low wages.

The first election (I ensured that democracy would occur regardless) was won in 1959 with 111 votes in favour of the Chilean nutcase. By 1962, Pinochet’s Tropico was well-fed but working on an average pay lower than neighbouring Caribbean states. Despite tiny unemployment, Tropico was suffering from a shortage of skilled labour. Seventy-two positions remained vacant, the majority of them requiring candidates with a certain level of education. To fill the gaps, the government called in skilled labour from overseas. Alongside this, with a bulging budget, Pinochet made his first investment into the tourism industry.

In 1967 the budget was big enough for Pinochet to grant his people a tax cut, perhaps a factor in another election win. While investment banking and the stock exchange were reaping a six-digit surplus (that’s a great amount in the game!), strikes were affecting industry. By 1974, opposition was mounting against the Chilean – in 1967 he had won with 168 votes to 86, in contrast to the 196 votes to 129 this year – including a USSR trading embargo.

Trying to be a keen capitalist, strikers’ demands were ignored at all times – I wouldn’t give in and pay them to be quiet! But when the dockworkers went on strike, denying Tropico any income from exports, Pinochet’s government finally found the country in debt. Wages were cut and rents rose to cover the costs.

Income disparity reached its peak at 206% in 1978, with bankers and government ministers earning over five times’ the wage of the poorest three quintiles of the island. Ironically for a capitalist economy, private enterprises setting up shop on the island went bust on more than one occasion, due to a lack of appropriate labour. An airport was finished in 1979, funded by the $120,000 budget. Before Tropican emissaries could be sent abroad, the game ended. Pinochet’s government earned a score of 20899.

What was notable about this playthrough? I tried to incorporate as many elements of capitalism as I could, not necessarily a video game representation of the actual Chilean dictatorship.

  • wage inequality was rife from the start of the game, with the economy built on farming, mining and, later, industry.
  • concern for the environment was minimal, with no laws against littering and pollution made. Any thoughts about natural beauty were realised in order to maximise tourism profits, not out of a love for nature.
  • housing inequality existed from 1950 – Pinochet had been constructing cheap-and-cheerful housing throughout his time in Tropico, saving apartments for the richest.
  • despite capitalism’s emphasis on liberty and a free market, the liberty rating of Tropico’s people struggled to stay high; the capitalists of the island called for a strong police force to defend their capital, but this harmed the liberty of the people
  • most private investments resulted in bankruptcy for the enterprises due to a lack of labour
  • unemployment was at first a problem, but soon it became a shortage of labour rather than of jobs

Overall this simulated capitalist banana republic was a land of inequality, environmental damage and low job satisfaction; but the economy was barely ever in trouble, religious liberties were maintained and entertainment opportunities were plentiful.