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Wealth Inequality - who feels it knows it

Adapted from The Ten Chairs ( this series of activities makes the distribution of wealth very tangible and gives participants a basis of shared experience from which to discuss economic and political questions about inequality.

Materials: decks of playing cards, enough for multiple teams of 5 to 7 players.
Number of players: 20 - 50

The flow:

Form groups of five to seven players. In each group, at least one person should know how to play the card game Daifugo (aka Poor Bastards, or President

Play several hands, so that everyone becomes familiar with the game dynamics. As people play, write the five categories on the board: Very Rich, Rich, Middle, Poor, Very Poor, with the figure 20% next to each.

Collect the cards and point out that the game divides players into quintiles, just like economists do when measuring national income, or wealth. Ask the groups to guesstimate the ACTUAL distribution of wealth in the USA. Write one set of percentages on the board, next to the quintiles. (E.g., they may say that the very rich have 40% of the wealth, the rich 20%, etc.)

Then ask the groups to discuss the IDEAL distribution of wealth. What proportion of the total wealth should belong to each quintile? Ask each group to write their answers on the board in columns. Discuss briefly.

Then divide the participants into quintiles, based on the results from the game, writing the number of people in each quintile on the board (they should be even, of course -- if the groups are larger than five, just divide the total number of participants by five).

Ask the people in the top 20% to sit together. Ask the remaining 80% to leave the room for a few minutes while you prepare the next part.

Explain to the 20% that in the real distribution of wealth in the US, the top 20% control 93% of the wealth. Now, lets use chairs to represent wealth. Calculate the number of chairs that makes up 93% of the chairs in the room. Those chairs belong to us. Place the remaining chairs in one part of the room, clearly divided from the rest. Those chairs belong to the 80%.

Call the 80% back into the room and kindly direct them to their chairs (7% of the chairs in the room). When the shock and dismay have subsided, explain the statistics and point out that actually the 1% -- the joker -- owns 40% of the chairs. Brief discussion.

Watch the video Wealth Inequality in America

Then watch the video Global Wealth Inequality

You can follow up with fact-checking -- what are the most current numbers? -- with writing or discussion.

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