Sunday, December 20, 2009

Guilty pleasures and the market

I have quite a few guilty pleasures that I indulge in....  Probably the guiltiest of them all is that I love Survivor.  I can't help it.... I find the show terribly intriguing in terms of the game itself.  I would love to play it someday, but I doubt I ever will get the chance to. 

Tonight is the finale for this fall season's Samoa show, and its definitely been one of the most entertaining series, with Russell stealing the show from episode 1.  For those of you not watching, Russell is owns an oil business and is a self-proclaimed millionaire.  In the first episode, he burned his teammates socks and emptied out their water canteens to make their life at camp as miserable as possible, so that they would become easier to manipulate.....  And its worked.  Entering the tribal merge (where the two opposing teams combine and the game becomes an individual game)  Russell's team was down in numbers but through some wiley manipulation and hardwork, his team overcame an incredible numbers deficit to come out on top.

Russell was labeled the most evil player in Survivor history as a selling point for the season.  In the past there have been some pretty incredible lies and broken promises, from a player literally giving another player a car and subsequently having that player voted off (the car giver), to a faked death in the family to garner sympathy favor from the tribe.  I'm not sure if Russell has done anything particularly nasty to really earn the moniker of the most evil player...  And to top it off, I'm not sure if evil really applies in the game of Survivor.

Gaming ethics is when participants in a "game" (widely defined... some will call business a game) can do anything they want within the rules of the game.  So as long as big bankers on Wall Street don't do anything illegal, they can do anything to make money.  Now in a game like Survivor, it's easy to apply gaming ethics.  Do anything within the rules to win the million dollars.  Lying, promise breaking, and sock burning is all fair game.  Of course this only works, so long as all the participants of the game know what they are getting into.  (There are rules in Survivor beyond basic rules of immunity and voting players out... Players can't physically attack each other, unless its in a defined challenge, players can't collude to win the million and then split the winnings after the game, etc.)

However, when it comes to Wall Street, there are people who will be affected by the game that don't know that they are playing.  401Ks and people's retirement funds are at stake.  Now, one can argue that these people are in fact part the game players, and if they don't know the rules, tough cookie.  But, there are very clear examples of people who do not participate in any way in the stock market game, but still get affected by it, and the current economy is a prime example of it. 

So how do we stop the exploitation of the "game" of Wall Street at the risk of harm to those who don't want to play the game?  Regulations.  We build it in to the rules of the game, that one can't do this.  Of course this is met with massive resistance, since the free market is what, in many ways, made America so incredibly successful. 

But in reality, our markets today have not been free for a long time.  In fact, many economists point to the relaxation of regulations on the market that led to the real estate crisis which led to the credit crisis.  President Obama's call for Wall Street to be more responsible (and I'm not talking about bonuses here), is a hopeless call into the void, like asking the players of Survivor not to lie.  If we really want to avoid another financial crisis with the same root causes of this one's, we must regulate the market more heavily. 


  1. Russell should have won!! He played a very deliberate game. He hasn't been the worst or the meanest or the sneakiest, but he has been possibly the most interesting player. Do you remember that he lied and said he was a Katrina victim? That was pretty low down dirty.

  2. I agree.... Russell was robbed!
    Although, Jeff made a good point that there wasn't a "correct" way of playing Survivor, and that lots of different strategies could win out.

    If I were Natalie, in making my closing speech, I would have said something like, If you see a freight train of a player like Russell coming, you can get out of the way, or get on board.... I got on board. And the train doesn't work for itself, it works for its passengers.

    But then again... she won the game, so not saying much at all, won her the game. And I have to admit, Eric's speech at the end, was pretty great!

    In all likelihood, we'll see Russell in Heroes Vs. Villains.