The search for solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems such as poverty, environmental sustainability and agricultural conflicts in developing regions can be mind-boggling. There are many factors to bear in mind that sheer scale is confusing, and perhaps that is the reason why these types of problems can be difficult to solve. Sometimes it is best to simplify things as much as possible and come up with a model that is applicable to both small and large problems.
New paper Written by Andrew Bell, associate professor at Boston University’s School of Arts and Sciences and Economics Research, argues that perhaps a video game has some of the answers we desperately need. the game? Mario Kart. I know what you’re thinking, but it’s actually not as silly as it sounds.
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One of the things that makes Mario Kart so attractive to players of all skill levels is its accessibility. You don’t have to get fast reflexes or spend hundreds of hours in the game to figure out how to play. It’s a simple racing experience, but the power-up system is what really makes it shine, and that’s the part that Bell thinks could be a good model for tackling major economic problems.
In the game, the power-ups you receive are random, but only to a point. If you were in first place during the race, your strength would be limited. You might get a banana peel to trap behind or a green shell that must be carefully aimed in order to hit the opponent, but these are lower-level power-ups that don’t give you a dramatic advantage.
However, if you are in the back of the pack, you get more powerful boosts to keep you in the race. It could be a golden mushroom that significantly speeds up your kart for a limited time or red projectiles that automatically track their targets so you don’t have to worry about shooting. It’s a system known in the gaming world as “rubber bands” that helps keep races tight and fun for everyone, even if they’re up against tough times.
This principle can be applied to economics, with the idea that those who suffer the most also get the most help. In agriculture, for example, family farms that struggle to keep up with businesses can be matched in a way that benefits both. An example was given in which an energy company could collaborate with local farmers in places like Cambodia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh and reach an agreement where farmers would modify the way they grow to reduce soil erosion, giving the company the opportunity to build a dam that would generate electricity in an environmentally friendly way.
Farmers will be compensated, the land will benefit from less destructive agricultural practices, and the company will produce green energy for the area. It is a system that raises everyone up, rather than “strengthening” one group at the expense of the rest. It is a real rubber band.
Of course, the concept of helping people in need has been there … well, pretty much forever, and as Bill says, it’s increasingly difficult to identify the individuals or groups that are most in need of help. However, it is an interesting paper and provides a really simple way to understand why we need to raise each other when times are tough.
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