Saturday, July 31, 2004

For those who believe that the commercial playing field is level and all it takes is hard work, talent, and determination to make a lot of money and become a big success, here is a test of your hypothesis using a research version of the popular game Monopoly. I will presume everyone knows how to play this game of chance and skill that is based on some of the principles of our economic life. Enlist four players who only need to be reasonably literate, be able to do simple math like add and subtract, and who have the patience to play hundreds of rounds of Monopoly. Play 100 games with the same four players under the established rules wherein all players begin with the same bank of money. Under these rules the outcome of the game is a function of skill and chance. With 100 games and 4 players the outcome should be approximately 25 games won by each player. Now do it again. Another 100 games but this time randomly determine one player to begin with a bank twice the size of that of the other three players. Repeat with one player beginning with a bank 4 times that of the other players. Again with one having 8 times the bank of the others. If you have the patience, you can go to the 16 times condition and so on. It is not even important that the same person have this start-up edge each time. Just be sure to keep the start-up edge condition recorded separately. When the patience of the players is thoroughly exhausted, it will be instructive to plot the win results on a graph. Put the percentage of wins value on the ordinate (vertical) and the blocks of 100 games on the abscissa (horizontal). Then plot a separate line for each player. For those who have played Monopoly, I think you can easily envision the results. The percentage of wins for the privileged player will increase proportional to his start-up entitlement. There will be a decrease in the collective wins of the other three players although the percentage wins of each will be roughly equivalent. If you are so inclined and equipped, you can easily evaluate these results with statistical analysis. This demonstration might be instructive for those who enjoy the fantasy of "level playing field". I think it might also offer some support for the use of an estate tax as a very small facilitator of a possible level playing field.
Of course the time consuming nature of this experiment is a downside, depending on how much you love playing Monopoly and also depending on whether the New York Times shows an interest in publishing your conclusions. Maybe it makes more sense to just work your tail end off for progressive candidates instead.
Jeannette Ward


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