But when it first started up, lots of people were talking about it, including the students. And so I thought, “This is a teachable moment.” I took one of my eighth grade classes and we spent one class period talking about the “Circle of Gold” and how it worked. They were all really excited about it. (And junior high school students invariably mirror their parents’ opinions about matters such as this.)
We worked out together in class how long it would take for every person in the world to be sold one of these chain letters. I don’t remember the details, but it wasn’t a very long time. And then I asked them what would happen next.
I thought the argument was pretty convincing. But to my students, it wasn’t. They were perfectly able to perform the computation and draw the inevitable conclusion. But it had no effect whatever on what they thought. They were blinded by the idea that their parents were going to get immensely wealthy. The only critical comment I managed to elicit was toward the end of the class, when one student said, “Well, you know, someone could cheat and move their name up toward the top of the list.” And another student immediately said, “Yeah, that’s what my mother did.” (Seventh and eighth-graders are remarkable in this way; what comes in their head comes right out their mouth.)
For generations the Republicans have been bad-mouthing government and public employees, and saying that taxation is theft. And politicians have been spooked by this assault on taxes. So no one talks about where taxes come from, and where they are going. The fact that our Federal taxes, which should be used to build up this country, are being squandered and given to the bankers, the military, and Halliburton; that large corporations and people of great wealth now pay taxes at much lower rates than they used to—none of this can be discussed. I want state legislators and a governor who make an issue of this, who go to Washington and make a Federal case out of it.
But instead what we get is a proposal for casino gambling.
And we see people jumping on the casino bandwagon because of the cynical view that discussion of taxation is just off the table and there’s nothing we can do about it. The whole proposal reflects the notion that we can’t build a society that reflects our values, that brings us together and realizes our hopes. It’s a tremendously cynical proposal.
And if that cynical view is really so powerful, then what are we left with? One fairy tale or another, I guess. And so now some people are deciding that casinos are a source of wealth, rather than a drain on productive labor. Maybe they’ll get rich. Or maybe the state will get rich. Or maybe both. In any event, it’s free money.
That experience I had trying to teach about the “Circle of Gold” wasn’t a great moment for me as a teacher. But I did take something away from it. And I think I see some of the same psychology in play right now. And I don’t like it now any more than I did then.