October 30, 2003 (Ira Pilgrim)

The Global Economics Game

I lost my job, I'm out of money and I'm on food stamps. But Bush says I can help boost THE ECONOMY by buying a new car and a new house.

Summers cartoon caption Nov.1991

When John von Neumann wrote about the mathematics of "game theory" (1944), he wasn't thinking of anything trivial. Neither was Eric Berne trivializing human relationships when he wrote Games People Play. If you think that the subject is too serious to use the word "game," think about what the word "game" means to a professional golfer or football player. Even the little leaguers take it seriously. And they should, since it is a rehearsal for what a rare few of them might be doing as adults. Games are what much of life consists of and they are far from trivial. Like the game of Russian roulette, games are almost a matter of life and death for many of us. Russian roulette is a game in which you put a single bullet in the chamber of a revolver, spin the cylinder, put the gun to your head and pull the trigger. If you lose, you die.

The difference between real monopoly, as played by big financeers with real money, and the Monopoly game which is played with phony money is like the difference between the casino game of roulette and Russian roulette, which is played with a real gun and a real bullet.

The objective of the Monopoly game is to win it all. In contrast, another objective of global monopoly is to keep the game going, because when the game ends, the money either gets redistributed, or all of the players die. After the Russian revolution, the financial game ended in Russia. The money was redistributed and property went to the bank; which was called the Soviet government. Now things in what used to be the Soviet Union are moving toward a market economy, which means that they will be playing the Monopoly game again. I assume that they will at least try to make sure that there is enough money circulating so that the game can be played. If they do, the pawns in the game, the people, will have jobs, food and housing. I know that there aren't any pawns in Monopoly; pawns are in chess. If I want to put pawns into a Monopoly game, I can do it because I have a literary license.

After World War I, the same thing happened in the western world. A few people accumulated much of the wealth and sat on it. That ended the game and we had what was called The Great Depression. The people who had all of the money had to put much of it back into circulation so that the game could continue. In the mean time a lot of suffering resulted, while the financial gods were taking a break from the global monopoly game.

These two objectives, winning and keeping the game going is what the game of life is all about. If you get to be so good that you win all the money, the game ends. In short, you have to continually keep some of the money flowing to the little people, to give them some incentive to keep on playing. Since the little people are the ones who produce the products and services that the money can buy, you don't want to deal them out. Savvy big dealers are aware of that. The damn fools who play in banana republics aren't aware of this, so one day they will not wake up because their throats will have been cut. Then there will be a new game and a new set of players.

In contrast, the players who understand the game and its objectives, can play for the rest of their lives and turn their money over to their kids; who may or may not understand the game.

Another aspect that novice "big dealers" may not be aware of is that if you get to be too good at a game, nobody will play with you. Even the perception that you're too good will keep players away. That was what happened to the top guns of the old west. They got shot in the back.

What actually happens is similar to what happens in Vegas. There are nickel games, dollar games, hundred dollar games, and so on. In economics , there are players who play for thousands, millions and billions; and a few who play with nations and the world.

So what? Just because you understand something, doesn't mean that you can change it. Like the weather, earthquakes and volcanoes; you just have to live with it. If you're smart you'll hedge your bets against the eventuality that there will be a very big player or players who doesn't know what it's all about and will screw up the world.

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