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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Make It Rain

A hot new game gives players mixed messages about markets and cronyism

I recently returned from a school-related trip to Atlanta to discover that a new mobile app had claimed my students’ attention.

“Check it out, Mr. Bogle! I’m making it rain!”

They were excited to show me this new game, knowing full well that I would turn it into a lesson in economics.

And I have to admit that my opinion of this game is mixed. On the one hand, the Public Choice analysis of our current economic system as presented in the game is not too far from reality and it would be a great starting point for many classroom discussions.

On the other hand, this is what the company’s website says the game is about:

Make It Rain isn’t just a game. It’s a satire about wealth obsession and what it takes to become obscenely rich. Players manipulate business, political, and financial institutions to generate incredible fortunes. It’s striking a nerve in political discussions of wealth inequality and political corruption in the U.S.

If you have not seen it, “Make It Rain: The Love of Money” is played on a mobile device by swiping your finger across a stack of bills as though you are throwing them out one at a time. The faster you swipe, the more money you make. But don’t just work harder, work smarter! You can increase the value of each swipe by investing in different categories. You might invest in various business ventures such as paper routes and lemonade stands. If that isn’t sufficient, you can also make financial investments into savings accounts and stocks. There is even an option for a bitcoin investment account.

Those traditional routes to wealth creation may seem all well and good, but if you want to get really rich—I mean “one percenter” rich—you will need to start investing in your political cronies. Yes, there is an entire section for political investments, where you can hire lobbyists, form a super PAC, and even start building voting machines. The more “investments” you make, the greater your wealth-earning potential. That part sounds like an engaging way to discuss Public Choice analysis.

As you make business investments (which become progressively more “evil” the higher you advance), your ability to make money is still limited by your finger-swiping speed. However, both your financial investments and your political investments are passive income and require no effort on your part. That’s where the game’s message becomes mixed.

To add an element of risk to the game, The FBI might put you under investigation, whether you engage in illegal activities or not. The outcome of the investigation is determined by the spin of a wheel, not the facts of the manner in which you have played the game. Rule of law be damned! Besides, even if you lose the case, you can always bribe the judge.

Did I mention that the only way to bribe a judge is by using a special card, available only as an in-app purchase? Yes, the profitability of this game in the real world is actually determined by your willingness to spend real money to bribe a fake judge in order to keep your fake money.

Should I even be surprised that my students have already found a way to cheat in a game about cheating?

But don’t worry; if you do lose your shirt to a corrupt judge, you can always double your current cash holding by simply reading a news article. Click on that button in the game and you will be redirected to the website of The New York Times to read “For the Love of Money” by Sam Polk. In other words, a game structured entirely around you making as much money as possible, by whatever means possible, is now going to reward you with even more money for reading an article that tries to convince you that the pursuit of money is an illness and an addiction. How ironic.

So it seems that the underlying message of the game is that the very pursuit of money itself is evil. When the game is opened, a variety of biblical sayings decrying wealth are often splashed across the screen. The creators of the game seem oblivious to the fact that self-interested business and financial investments that create wealth in a free-market economy do so because they improve the quality of life of real people, including those who often seem far removed from the activity in question. The money that is made is simply a response to the value creation that precedes it.

The despicable aspect of money is not that it is made, but that it can be transferred—at the barrel of an agent’s gun if necessary—through backroom political deals. That is not the fault of money. It is the result of creating political institutions that wield the sword and are willing to sell that power to the highest bidder. But good luck finding anything about that in this game.

Young people, the world around you is a beautiful and fascinating place, thanks in large part to the entrepreneurs and innovators who develop new products and services—even mobile games with a political agenda. Please do not let the cynicism of others tear down your enthusiasm for making the world a better place. Improve the lives of those around you. Allow them to express their gratitude by returning the favor. The money you use is simply a means to those ends, not the end itself.

Instead of focusing on “making it rain,” I encourage you to try to make a difference. You just might be surprised at how the market responds, especially when political investments are taken off the table.

  • Thomas Bogle is a freelance educator, specializing in economics and entrepreneurship education. He is also the director of the Free Market Educators Association and a curriculum adviser for the Association for Teaching Kids Economics. He and his wife homeschool their six children and participate in several educational co-operatives.