The rich get richer and the poor get poorer - a catchphrase most of us have come across. But what are the reasons for this growing rich-poor gap? How does the current banking system enable this?
Imagine you want to buy a house, but you do not have the money to do so. What do you do? You go to a bank to take a loan. What a great invention banks are, right? Well, let’s look into that briefly. Instead of just paying back the sum you borrowed, you also pay back interest on that sum - which goes to both the bank and the lender. The lender is a person that put their money in the bank for safety reasons and among other things, to earn from lending to poor people like you through - yes, you are right - the miracle of interest! And this is how wealth accumulates in the hands of the few.
The alternative and is there any? It is no coincidence that historically usury (interest-based loans) was prohibited in different cultures, including the Roman empire, ancient China, ancient Greece etc and it was usually interconnected with the condemnation of charging interest at lent money by Christianity, Islam, Buddhism etc. In Islamic banking, all sorts of interest and exploitative, usury gains are prohibited. There are also the so called interest-free banks in Sweden, based on a similar principle of ethical banking, such as the JAK banks.
Money is associated with power and control as well as dependence or feeling of being taken care of. In this activity, we explore our relationship to money. In addition to that, we look into how the system, where most of the money in circulation is created out of thin air by commercial banks when they issue loans - meaning it has to be paid back with interest - affects us all.
Group / Experiential
Simple version: 30 min, complex version: 2 hours
To better understand the feelings and beliefs we have about money in our lives and in society
To gain a deeper insight into how the current banking system and interest work
Required Materials and Tools:
Real money, preferably in small coins and bills, the amount is up to you. It has been played with amounts varying from $1 to $200
A journal and pen or pencil
Step-by-Step Instructions for simple version:
Each person brings a certain amount of money, preferably small coins and bills. It should not be too big a sum so that you don’t lose all your money/go bankrupt, but it still has to be an amount that would cause you discomfort if you were to lose it. If some people don’t want to participate, that is fine as long as they don’t interfere with the others playing.
Split the participants in groups of 4, 5 or 6 people and ask them so sit on the floor or around tables so that they can clearly place their money in front of them and easily reach out for other people’s money.
Allow some time for people to prepare a piece of paper and a pen to write down their reflections later on.
Explain that there will be several 1-minute rounds. After each 1-minute round, ask the participants to stop the activity; you could signal this with a bell or such like. The whole activity should be happening in silence.
Round 1: explain to participants that they should take the money in front of them (their money) and give the entire sum to the other participants in their small group (it does not matter to whom they give it). Make sure it is clear whose money is where. After 1 minute, ring the bell and ask the participants to stop the activity. Then, ask the participants to shortly write down their personal observations. How did giving away their money make them feel?
Round 2: explain to participants that now they should take money from others and put it in their own pile. They should try to take as much as possible and only from the people in their group. Again, make the bell sound after a minute and let them write down how the second round make them feel.
Round 3: explain to participants that now they can take money from whomever and give to whomever. Again, make the bell sound after a minute and let them write down how they feel.
Round 4: first ask each participant to take away 20% of the money in front of them. The 20% from all the people playing in the small group is placed in a separate spot - “ the bank” and this money will not be included in this round. Explain to participants that now again they should take money from others and put it in their own pile. After a minute stop the process and ask them to check who is the person that has the most money in front of them. This person also gets the 20% from everybody else that was put in “the bank”. Explain the 20% interest-related money accumulation by making reference to the current banking system - the richer get richer and the poorer get poorer. Make sure to also introduce the concept of interest-free banking, as mentioned in the activity introduction above. Ask people to write down their reflections, by also reflecting on an interest-free banking system.
You can say that in the real world nobody cares how they feel about the money and that you also don’t want to know how they felt during the game. Each person keeps the money gained during the game. Of course other options are possible if people don’t feel comfortable with that, let people figure it out themselves. (ex: each person takes back the amount they brought; if somebody made extra money, she/he doesn’t give it back but buys some sweets and shares them with the group; all the money collected in each group is split up among all participants equally; all the money in each group is split up in a solidarity way, so the ones that are in a more precarious situation get more etc).
Do invite people to share in a group how they felt and what they observed during the entire process. Use the questions from the reflection section.
To play the a more complex version of the game look for instructions under “Support Files”!
What are the main lessons learned from this activity?
How is the last round and 20% given to the “richest” person connected to the current banking system with interest?
How did the participants share the money in the end - did each take back the money they invested or was some other solidarity-based model adopted?
What types of reflections did the participants write on the pieces of paper, what was their relationship to money?
Instructions for Submission
Upload your written reflection, so that your peers can give you feedback. Instructions on how to upload a picture in Moodle or submit your written reflection can be found here: Instructions on Submission&Uploading
Instructions for AssessmentProvide feedback to at least one participant that has done this activity. Instructions on providing feedback can be found here: Instructions on Feedback
AuthorCreative Commons - ySI4R Content Team - inspired by the exercise from Margrit Kennedy.
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