Griffiths / Promise of pies in the real world

“Wages in this country have been stagnant since the Accord years of the Hawke government. So neither party is giving us more pie,” bemoans Lowbrow columnist JOHN GRIFFITHS

AS resentment against the political order bubbles and explodes around the world, most notably in Britain where the Brexit vote has left the country almost completely devoid of political leadership at a crucial time, a lot of people are turning their thoughts to the Ultimatum Game.

John Griffiths.

John Griffiths.

Wikipedia describes it like this: “The first player (the proposer) receives a sum of money and proposes how to divide the sum between the proposer and the other player.

“The second player (the responder) chooses to either accept or reject this proposal. If the second player accepts, the money is split according to the proposal. If the second player rejects, neither player receives any money. The game is typically played only once so that reciprocation is not an issue.”

Game theory suggests that it is always better for the responder to take a bad deal than to get no deal at all.

In the real world there comes a point where the responder says: “If you’re going to make me such a crappy offer you can miss out, too”.

In Australian politics the game has a twist in that we the public have a choice of ultimatums.

The Liberals offer us a smaller percentage of the pie, but promise to make the pie bigger so that overall we’ll get more pie in the future.

Labor promises us a slightly bigger slice of the pie today, with a lingering fear in our minds that there will be less pie tomorrow.

The reality is that wages in this country have been stagnant since the Accord years of the Hawke government. So neither party is giving us more pie.

At the same time the economy has grown enormously, so someone else is definitely hoeing into our pies. The generally obese nature of this nation’s public billionaires certainly underlines this metaphor.

The reality is that most Australians already get a lot more pie than other people around the world, so our masters can probably get away with taking a lot more away from us before we start flipping tables, which is a sobering thought.

How desperate do we need to get before we stop playing the game?

One can roughly get a sense of this by looking through the lens of the cold war.

Just how bad did conditions need to get for people to take a chance on Communism?

The answer is that things have to get exceptionally grim even in countries far more prone to revolution than our own.

Starvation wages and crippling intergenerational debt seem to be the flashpoint.

The hope here in Australia is that our political classes will, if only out of a sense of their own self-preservation, not take things down to the wire.

Maybe they’ll be able to tame the demons of their real constituencies, make the deal a bit sweeter and leave something more on the table for the rest of us.

Or maybe the sooner we stop playing the game and start flipping the tables over, the sooner we’ll be offered a better ultimatum.

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