Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Personal Responsibility: THE GAME

I kept thinking, and I came up with an idea to illustrate why I don't see the conservative ideal of Individual Personal Responsibility to be a plausible source of positive social change.

Let's play a game:
There are four colors of chip: Blue, Red, Yellow, and Black.

At the beginning of the first round each player receives an envelope.

At the beginning of the first round each player receives a random number of chips ranging from 4-14 (2d6+2)

The color of each chip received at the beginning of each round is randomly determined.

Players take turns trading chips by placing them into their envelopes and exchanging them.

Players may decline to trade on their turn and instead say 'Pass'

Players are not obligated to show what is in their envelopes before trading.

Players are not obligated to honor verbal agreements.

The round ends when all players pass on their turn.

At the end of the round, the number of chips each player receives is reduced by one.

At the end of the round, players may spend completed sets of one of each color chip (Blue, Red, Yellow, and Black) to purchase advantages the following round:

  • (1 set) +1 to the number of chips the player receives next round.
  • (1 set) The player may retain any unspent chips for the next round.
  • (5 sets) The player may alter a single rule or advantage.
  • (5 sets) The player may block the alteration of a rule or advantage.
We start with a distribution of resources that has a few people who are low on chips (4-6), a robust middle class (7-11), and an elite group of High-Rollers (12-14). Everybody has the number of chips they'll need to maintain their number of chips indefinitely, though some will have to work harder than others to do it.

Mathematically speaking, the rules are a strong engine of growth over time, with the middle class being able to preserve their chipcount and extend it with successful 1:1 trading most of the time, and the high-rollers aren't in any real danger of seeing their fortunes fail.

It's still possible for someone starting with a low chipcount to become a high-roller, but you'll need luck and skill to do it. Get a lot of black chips on a turn that they're scarce and trade well with them, and you're a self-made man!

You could argue that all that's needed to keep things going great for everyone is Individual Personal Responsibility. As long as everyone trades fairly on a 1:1 color basis, we all get rich!

But then,  at 1:1 our by-your-bootstraps scenario becomes a myth, and low-chip players will only break even at best. And low-chip players are just as likely to get a bunch of red chips when everyone has them and they're worthless as they are to corner the market on something valuable. Their only hope would be charity or GASP co-operation with a large group of other players to make sure everyone was taken care of.

You could even argue that the invisible hand of the market will protect people in trades. Since someone who lies about their chip trades can be exposed and then no one will want to trade with them. Though, the damage that does to a low-chip player is MUCH more than what a high-roller faces, since they're likely to be able to maintain their fortunes without trading at all.

No one player can really change the system early on, though people might be able to do it if they band together. And only then they'd need to do it when a high-roller couldn't block the change. Or a benevolent High-Roller could back a change, but that's a HUGE outlay for something that doesn't really benefit them much.

If we embrace the ideology of self-reliance and Personal Responsibility, over time more and more players become destitute and completely dependent on charity to get by at all, while the wealthy enjoy ever greater wealth and influence.  'Personal Responsibility' turns out to not be an engine of positive change, but instead a preservation of an unfair status quo in a rigged game.


DeepShadow said...

Reminds me of a speech from the Book of Mormon that I like to bring up when some of the rhetoric in our church meetings becomes more political than scriptural. Verse 17 I find especially indicting:

Mosiah 4
16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

DeepShadow said...

DeepShadow said...

Sorry, can't embed that here, but it's a good clip. One of my favorites.