#Occupywallst and why the economy is like a game of Jenga

Like many that are tuned in to the stress in our environmental and economic systems, I’ve done some thinking about what the #occupy movement is all about… in fact, I did this thinking in 2009. Now though, my analogy for the instability of our economy is even more complete. I hope it helps you to understand it, and perhaps sheds light on a path forward.

Our global economic (capitalist) system is like a game of Jenga. My original post is here. This post is an updated version.

Our Economic System is like a game of Jenga.

Ever played Jenga? It’s a game with blocks you stack. Once you are out, you take blocks from somewhere in the stack to keep stacking higher and higher.taking from the bottom to stack on top It a visual representation I think of in relation to how sophisticated and orderly and built and unbalanced our globalized society is becoming.

The object is to get higher, and higher and don’t crash. That’s the only goal. Whoever screws up loses. I think analogy works for three reasons:

  • One, our society is predicated on growing. I.e. Gross Domestic Product. We’re not doing well unless it is getting bigger and like the game, there is inevitably a crash.
  • Secondly, we are so focused on competing with each other that we fail to realize that loosing the game means we all have to start from scratch again… and there is a mess to clean up (well, unless you play with a reward at the end, like looser cleans up… but that doesn’ fit the analogy, so forget I mentioned it).
  • Third: see all those holes in the middle of the stack that are causing the collapse? Those are the 99%.

Now that I revisit this analogy, the blocks may well represent wealth, which is being lifted to the top, leaving holes in the foundation. Arguably, the real working population – our (should be) valued human resources – are the foundation of economy.

Do you see the blocks at the top of the stack? Like Wall Street, they are well insulated by a steady stream of growth around them – afterall, that is the point of the game: “take one from the bottom and put it on top.”

Perhaps, until now, they haven’t realized the holes beneath them threatening their perch. I would argue the #occupywallstreet movement is changing that.

The rich have a long way to fall. A lot to lose. And if human behavior tells us anything:

In economics and decision theory, loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Some studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains. (Wikipedia)

In effect, it is going to take some strong political will, perhaps spurred by the #Occupy movement to make it happen. But even then, it is tricky.

You are playing the game.

This is critical to realize.

Our economic and social welfare systems are integrated in the structure of our Jenga tower. I’m fairly ignorant to stock market investments… I generally avoid getting involved in something I inherently disagree with. But my house insurance, car insurance, pension plan, savings account, mortgage company… all playing the game. And so too then am I.

Why does this game pervade all society? Answer: it get’s played according to rules. No one likes to play a game when the rules aren’t clear or they are changing. That generally makes people mad. So over time, society as accepted the rules of the game (making money is good, even when you haven’t really sweat enough to earn it), and built ever more complex financial systems, regulatory systems and social/cultural norms that all play to the rules.

Some people understand this, and are so afraid of the breadth of potential impacts from changing the rules… they will not support change. Even if the object of the game leads the Jenga pile to fall anyway.

How to survive the tip over

Okay, so no easy answers here. But I do have some observations and thoughts about how to mitigate the worst.

Of course, when the tower falls, it doesn’t just disturb the top pieces. However, notice the blocks near the bottom are nearly unaffected. There are few places on our planet like that now… but they do exist. See: “Secluded Indonesian Tribe Unaffected By Global Crisis”

How do we pull out of the system? How do we become more self reliant?

There are people and communities in North America that are trying to do this: 100 mile diet, cooperative ventures supported by people that live in the communities in which they operate, electric vehicles, waste recovery, barter system, sharing, recycling, having fun in the back yard or in a community space… there are unique and effective economies developing in pockets. A diversity of them that meet the needs of the people involved in the places where the people are. Economies that are in touch with real, everyday human values like health, leisure, nutrition, community… this is called the social economy.

As time and crises amount, I am becoming more and more convinced this is a winning strategy for those determined enough.

We short-sighted humans need a kick in the…

This pattern of rules not only siphons wealth, but material resources, impacts of pollution and more: we are also playing Jenga with the environment.

So what do you think? Is our global system engaged in a game of Jenga? Is this a good analogy? Do you agree with my assessment of the pending doom? Or do you still have hope that we can change the rules and objectives?

To a new world waiting,



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