Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Voiceless Ones

When I was a grad student in Social Work we played a simulation the professor called The Capitalism Simulation, in which all of the class members were given different amounts of Monopoly money and salaries—except for four, of which I was one. We four had no money and further more we had duck tape across our mouths. Our goal, which was not shared with the rest of the players of the simulation, was to obtain a paltry $20.00. Then and only then could the tape be removed from our mouths and we could speak.

Most of the players of the simulation spent their time around a Monopoly board playing with their money. The exception was, beside us four voiceless ones, the players who were to deal with the four of us who had the tape over our mouths. T heir roles/jobs were as police, welfare workers, food stamp workers, etc. There were many more workers dealing with us than four!

It was extremely difficult for us to get $20.00! We could not answer the questions asked us by the food stamp and welfare workers because we could not speak. Likewise, we could not get jobs because he couldn't respond to interview questions. Every time we approached the Monopoly board where most of the players who had money were, the police blocked us and took us to jail. It was frustrating! As a voiceless one I felt anger, fear, and great frustration!

Finally, in desperation, the four of us voiceless ones literally rushed the Monopoly board, pushed past the police, and fell on our knees with our arms outstretched toward the Monopoly players, some of whom figured out our need and gave up money! With the $20.00 needed we were able to take the tape off our mouths and tell everyone what we had had to go through to be able to speak.

The end result was the Monopoly players all shared their money with us and everyone, including the police and welfare workers, stood around the board playing Monopoly.

That’s when the professor, the Game Overall Director (G.O.D.), called an end to the simulation and we reviewed what had happened. The G.O.D. summed up the experience by praising us four voiceless ones for getting to speak—it seems that in this simulation the voiceless ones seldom get the tape off their mouths. Then he said something like this:

Only a class of social workers would create a society in which there is sharing all of the wealth with everyone so that all can equally play the game.

That simulation and the feelings it invoked in me has colored my view of capitalism, its players and its voiceless ones, for more than thirty years.

BTW, the earliest Christians created a society in which all of the wealth was shared with everyone long before us social workers (or Karl Marx) came up with the idea. (See Acts 2: 44-47).


  1. Now there's a game to get all school children (especially at wealthier schools), all university students, all politicians and business people to play, actually pretty much everyone should play this game!!!! I thik it sounds fascinating.

  2. excellent idea! very interesting post to read Nick :)

  3. Wow! Very powerful and thought provoking game, indeed!

  4. What a powerful teaching! I could feel the frustration you four experienced as I read this. So many feel that frustration every day. And then we wonder why they do what they do in order to get THEIR $20.

    I agree with shivz that this game should be done in all schools.

    Thanks, Nick!

  5. Over the past few years, my company donated (for us) a significant number of dollars each year to a local FoodBank that makes each dollar given = 5 meals.

    This year we don't have the funds to donate; so, I instead donated my time and efforts in making fundraising phone calls for them.

    Contrary to (I think?) some of the conclusions one might gather from your game story; people I called, who discovered I was both a volunteer AND a supporter, were more willing upon receiving a call, to take pause, listen to my message/request, bear with my apparent 'newbie' stature as a phone canvasser and actually donate funds (matching funds by the way) to the cause.

    I played a little part (I think), along with these patient/generous donors, in taking a few more pieces of tape off of people's mouths who were having difficulty doing it themselves...

    I think this example shows it isn't so much about striving to play the game of the 'haves' in order to get a voice (Get $20). Those people were absent from the game altogether; instead, it's about people's willingness, by example, to just do the 'right' thing for someone else...

  6. I think the free market works, but only on the family-owned level.

    Once you get a parasite class of stockholders who take the profits without doing any work, corruption soon follows. The Western world has a situation now where wealth and work are completely divorced from each other, and if that doesn't change, then the current financial unrest is just the opening bell of for the troubles that will follow.

  7. I likely shouldn't post this comment, but will ...

    This country has been as successful as it is *because* of capitalism, not in spite of it.

    It is one thing to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves, and yet another to breed mediocrity - most people will not work as hard if they know the benefits they reap for doing so will do nothing more than benefit someone else.

  8. Thanks for posting this thoughtful response, Nick. What a great lesson in the human repercussions of capitalism and the greed and anger that it provokes.

  9. Shivz: Thanks for the comment. There are many simulations that can be used as teaching tools as long as the teacher is willing to risk the results. I have had some really interesting experiences using simulations, including the time when, during a simulation on world hunger, I informed the table representing Africa that they had to select one of their number to “die” from starvation.

  10. Sweets: Thank you. I had a course in grad school on using simulations with groups. I also had two professors who used simulations as teaching tools, one of whom I just wrote about as the G.O.D.

    Celebration of Life : Yes, it was thought provoking—at least for me. Using simulations as a teaching tool and also being a participant is quite a few have raised what I consider to be some crucial questions that have challenged by views about many things.

  11. Carol: It is an excellent simulation, although I rather suspect that the four of us “voiceless ones” gained more from it that the other players. Another powerful simulation is based on who will be approved for kidney dialysis and who will not and thus die. I have played/used that one more than a dozen times and I still cannot understand why the Native American who fathered 28 children is always refused dialysis and life.

    John Torcello : I suppose that our life experiences teach each of was different things. That is partly what I have found to be the power of simulations.

    I commend you for your work telephoning folks. It isn’t an easy thing to do. Doing the “'right' thing” for others is critically important in our world. Each time I have officiated a Eucharist over the past several years, I have included this line from the UCC Book of Worship in the Eucharistic prayer: “We look toward the day when sharing by all will mean scarcity for none.” Economic justice has become a very important part of my ecclesiastical theology.

  12. A very interesting post Nick and an even more interesting simulation!

  13. Thomas: You may be right, Thomas. One element that the Capitalism Simulation lacked as the element of greed, which I believe is the primary evil of the 21st Century version of capitalism.

    Dana: Darlin’, you need not be concerned about posting your opinion. I have known for a very long time that you and I are on opposite sides of the eco-political spectrum.

    That said, I am not sure that capitalism has had that much to do with the success of the United States. It had nothing to do with the country for the first hundred or so years of its existence. I rather believe that freedom and democracy are the reasons for our success thus far and they have no relationship to capitalism.

    Peter-at-Large: Thank you. Of course, had it not been my reading your blog this morning, the idea of this post would not have come to my mind!

  14. Akelamalu: Thank you. I believe that I shall make additional future posts describing the simulations I have experienced!

  15. Your description of the simulation experience was quite interesting. I can't imagine that greedy money-mongers would ever take anything away from such exercises, though, and would counter with some sort of socio-economic Darwinist crap.

    Thanks for the thoughtful provocation.

  16. I have always found it most significant that Christ chose to spend most of his time with the voiceless ones. I think when we speak of success, we need to better define it. True success in this life has little to do with money.

  17. Mama: Simulations can be an excellent tool for changes a person’s frame of reference. But to achieve that change on must be fully engaged in the “game.” I believe that the “money-mongers” you speak of are too engaged in the game of Greed to allow themselves the freedom to risk changing their frame of reference.

    Pamela Terry and Edward: Well said! I’ll even add amen! Truly!

  18. How accurate: Your voice is not heard until you have money. Perfect simulation.

  19. One of the problems I have with capitalists is that they seem to think that capitalism and democracy are the same.

  20. That sounds like a really interesting experiment. I wonder how the professor came up with it?

  21. It's been a year already.... but still

    Interesting experiment.

    ThomasLB said:
    "Once you get a parasite class of stockholders who take the profits without doing any work, corruption soon follows. The Western world has a situation now where wealth and work are completely divorced from each other, and if that doesn't change, then the current financial unrest is just the opening bell of for the troubles that will follow."

    Agreed. However, I believe the current system is good enough. The only reason there can be a class of 'stockholders' who doesn't work is because not everyone is a stock holder. It is ridiculous THE most essential aspect of the economics of our society are not taught to students in high schools.

    People these days, after they graduate from high school, learn to invest in stocks after watching TV shows, listening to Oprah programs, internet Ads, and friends gossip. But usually when the subject of stocks pop up in those places it means the market is about to crash... And then they get burnt and not invest anymore.

    Whilst the lucky ones who stumbled on stocks in opportune times get richer and richer and take all the money off the table.

    If everyone had been given equal knowledge of stocks to begin with the separation between wealth and work wouldn't even have appeared.

  22. Free market works as long as no individual knows more things the market as a whole do.

  23. Thanks for posting again. I have just reread it from a new perspective.

  24. It's interesting that once they got past the cops they went supplicant and asked for the money. It didn't occur to anyone to just take it?

  25. Thomas, we 4 with tape over our mouths, like well trained social workers, went through the system first. When that failed, we turned to the capitalists.