Play the Game

Play the game.

You and a stranger are paired in a class. You will never see each other again. The leader gives you $1,000. You get to keep some of the money if you can come to an agreement with your partner on how it is to be divided. You can make only one offer; your partner makes only one response: “deal” or “no deal.” If the answer is “no deal”, neither of you gets any money.

You write your offer on a piece of paper. How much do you offer?

(pause while you decide)

What was your number? How do you think your partner responded?

deal or no deal



Robert Reich uses this game in his “Wealth and Poverty” class. He says you’d think a partner would say “deal” even if she were offered as little as $1. After all, one dollar is better than nothing. What he’s discovered is that most people say “no deal” to any offer under $250.


Because it doesn’t feel fair and we are sensitive to perceived unfairness. Losers are willing to sacrifice some gain in order to prevent winners from walking away with far more.


Reich uses the game to draw conclusions about the larger society. Americans are waking up to the fact that CEOs make 300 times as much as workers and tax cuts benefit the rich. Last year, they saw top hedge fund managers bring home a billion dollars, while wage earners barely held on. Ninety-five percent of the gains from our economy’s growth since 2009 went to the top 1%.

Money equals power and the game feels rigged.



4 responses »

  1. First thing that entered my mind was to offer 50% of my take. Seemed fair. And why would anyone take less than that if they had the power to take it away from both of us? (Besides they would need to listen to my bad jokes while in that room.) Why settle for less? I think that is the point to all of this – eventually, over time, a settling for less eats away at our dignity. It’s demeaning and devaluing and creates a separatist society where those that have rule and those that don’t serve. I would love to have an inclusive community, where all children learn the same things at the same level, where all work doing what they can give and get the same, where we don’t have us and them mentality. (Communism?) Where ALL have and serve. Where ALL are valued and important without being judged by what they have or have not. (Sounds like a movie with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall) May those who have the most develop generosity to share the most and may the servers be served. And may restitution be implemented for all those imprisoned unjustly because of the ways our system has failed them.

    • Communalism is a good word. Social democracy? Democratic socialism? Part of the problem here is that the oligarchs have intentionally tainted all those words, and in doing so, the systems they describe.

      The Amish and many Amazonian Indian tribes teach their children, from birth, to cooperate and share, rather than to compete and win. As long as we bring our children up to believe that they need to have “more” of everything in order to succeed, we will suffer the plutocrats and their ways. After all, the system tells us (despite the fact that it is essentially false in the vast majority of instances) that, if we work hard, we can have it all. The planet tells us that isn’t true. Who will we believe?

  2. I read a book where this exercise, and others like it, are used to explore the issues of TRUST. “The Truth About Trust,” by David DeSteno, PhD. It was a most illustrative book, and explores so much more about why we continue to be patsies to the Koch Bros., et alii. Plus, the biology of our frustrations in more intimate relationships. I liked Reich’s application very much, and thank you for sharing it with us all.

  3. Reich’s drawing conclusions about the larger society points to national disgrace, not only the power the wealthy have, but the consensus that America is too stupid for a democracy.


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