And not even our ‘best & brightest’ can see outside the matrix.
Last week, I flew to NYC for corporate leadership training among 42 bright-eyed, overachievers handpicked across 10,000+ employees for our potential as future leaders of the business.
(Hey, if you’re going to live in the matrix, may as well do it in style).
From the USA, Europe, and Asia, we spent the first day in a simulation designed to illustrate human behavior in a society that stratifies us economically and politically.
Developed in 1969, the game is called “StarPower” (a.k.a. “star power game”).
Players are encouraged to advance through society by acquiring wealth through trading. The first round combines chance and skill, as we randomly draw chips of different value that can be combined to earn bonuses. We trade amongst ourselves to gain advantage before the round’s tally.
My initial draw is a dud – dang! – a mix of midrange and low-value chips.
My best trading strategy is to offer the midrange for more low-value chips. If I can accumulate four- or five-of-a-kind, I’ll get a respectable bonus.
Scurrying about, I have little trouble finding colleagues willing to make a deal. It’s a win-win.
After round #1 we are divided into three groups, upper, middle, and lower class. My score of 20 lands me among the elites. Vindicated.
At first, it feels good. Pins are passed out, prestigious red squares for the wealthy, blue circles for the middle class, and lowly green triangles for the poor.
The screws begin to turn
For round #2, the scales are quietly tipped, weighting the distributions in favor of the squares. The real experiment is now on, and the lab rats — us — are blissfully unaware.
My 2nd draw is stacked with gold chips. Wouldn’t you know it?
Feeling lucky, I see no profitable way to trade. Suspiciously, most of the other squares also sit tight, while the middle- and lower-class buzz around seeking betterment.
Scores are cumulated, and the groups are largely unchanged. The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. A few shuffle on the fringes, but mainly the gaps just widen.
The room is skeptical, but we’re assured the game is merit-based. Comforting words, they’re hard to swallow. Most of us squares know we didn’t use skill to grow our advantage.
Once a blossoming community alive with shared optimism, now that the wealth gap widens, each group conspires only with their own, like Star-Belly Sneetches.
A new twist
Next each group is offered “bonus points” to distribute to 1-3 members by majority rule. Various strategies are contemplated to protect our advantage over the circles.
It’s time to interject…
“Guys, the game’s only objective is to accumulate points individually through chance or trade, not to act as a group. The only ethical thing to do is to throw out the bonus points”, I declare, importantly.
Like squirrels arriving to a block party, my comments are easily ignored. Groupthink has set in.
We need to keep the squares on top, the group buzzes.
Our bonus points are split to the top and bottom earning squares, pushing the top further from reach, and bringing up the bottom to hold down the circles. The mob has spoken.
Meanwhile, the circles and triangles each elevate one player, dropping two squares from the upper echelon. There’s immediate pride to see one of their own anointed.
It — and the gratitude of the chosen one — fade quickly, soon replaced by resentment and guilt.
The final straw
For the last round, the squares – not the circles or triangles – are given authority to change the rules to our heart’s content. No holds barred.
This is where regulatory capture is supposed to set in; in most simulations, the squares tilt the rules more in their favor. And frankly, if the money was real, we probably would have.
Given the stakes are so low, we’re only slightly more altruistic.
A few proposals are discussed to level the playing field. We suspect the game is rigged, but aren’t sure. Some squares feel guilty enough to propose a reset to zero.
If the chips carried real worth, say $5,000, $50,000, or $500,000, I doubt they’d be so eager.
In the end, the squares cannot agree on changes. Enough of us are content to believe the game is fair, keep the same rules, and look the other way.
In most simulations, greed runs rampant among rule-makers like Kentucky bourbon in, well, Kentucky. The result? The game usually ends in rebellion.
Head’s roll from the guillotine, like 1793 France.
According to the distributor, StarPower teaches us that-
- Power is seductive; we are more vulnerable to the temptation to abuse it than we realize. It can make the world better or be terribly destructive.
- What seems fair to those in power is not likely to seem fair to others.
- Persons who are promoted rarely remember those they leave behind.
- In any system, there needs to be checks on power, or it will be abused.
- If rules do not have legitimacy, they will not be obeyed.
What followed was the corporate deep-dive, a window inside the minds of America’s ‘best & brightest’. What did we think?
Mostly, it was felt the simulation reflects the society we live in today. The truth is, the game was rigged from the start.
The group pointed to (a) the cost of college education, (b) discrimination in hiring, and (c) that it takes money to make money. People with means have built-in advantages, they concluded.
Sure, those are real, but I think they missed the better analogy.
Life today isn’t like the game. Life today is the game.
The real problem isn’t that people who have earned stacks of chips through chance or trade will use those chips to benefit themselves and their children.
The problem is the goddamn gold chips are tossed in a bag and handed exclusively to the squares.
Below is an illustration, friends.
The US Central Bank – the “Fed” – has a monopoly on creating chips (money). They do so from nothing, right out of thin air, like ancient wizard alchemists, and only because a society largely misdirected or pacified allows them this magic wand of authority.
Since 2008, these wizards have created more than $3 trillion, quintupling the supply of chips. In the last four months, they cooked up another $400 billion in new chips-
This is funny money – new chips that didn’t exist until they hit a keystroke. What do they do with all these new chips? They purchase treasury debt to drive up financial assets (bonds, stocks, and real estate).
Who owns these assets?
The squares do. The top 1% own 50% of financial assets, and the top 10% own 90%. All the new chips flow right onto their balance sheets, just like that.
They tell themselves (and you) that the economy needs this, even that they are heros to the common man – the courage to act – but it’s just a giant game of circle jerk.
The uber-squares get uber-wealthy blowing credit bubbles that end in bust, crippling Main Street with debt-defaults, layoffs, and bankruptcies, while driving up the cost of living for circles and triangles.
Your family runs faster just to stay in place, while they remind you it’s a game of merit. You’re just not doing it right.
Each year, the biggest squares flood more chips into campaign finance to prop up rule-makers, rigging the game even further.
You can call it cronyism, or you can call it StarPower.
Few, not even the ‘best & brightest’ I was privileged to spend the week with, really get the mechanics. They’re all too deep inside the matrix.
The answer isn’t more bonus points, so the plebes can promote a few do-gooders with scholarships. The answer is to make it a fair f—ing game, by taking the chips away from the Federal Reserve.
There’s a thing for that, and it’s in the Constitution. It’s called gold, and it can’t be conjured from nothing by a cabal of self-obsessed squares.
It’s either that, or rebellion.
Do we really expect a voluntary return to gold-backed money? We don’t (though the market will force it someday). So, are we just wasting our breath? Well, we’re not writing to Congress. We’re writing to you. No matter where the country goes, there is much to gain individually by seeing the world through this lens.
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