Now Random House offers a computer program to be used in college-level introductory sociology courses. Social Indicators Game, written by Robert K. Leik, et al., is both a learning drill and a game, but not the arcade variety with joystick controller and sound effects.
Insert the diskette in the Apple II disk drive, turn the power on, and you are told that you have been appointed ruler of Cosmic Colony. But before you can assume the post, you must take a little course in social indicators. You are then led through some brief lessons(10-20 minutes) which show with excellent moving graphics how correlations work and how tech no logical development leads to employment, productivity, better health care, and life satisfaction. After you pass the simple test at the end, you are in charge of Cosmic Colony.
The year is 2084. You watch a screen with eight social indicators: technological development, productivity, health, life expectancy, unem ployment, poverty, cultural level, and social unrest. About every four seconds the screen changes, reflecting a new year, then showing with arrows how a change in one variable affects the others. Things continue in a relatively orderly sequence unless you are attacked by space invaders, or suffer a meteor shower or an epidemic of space spores (apparently random occurrenc es). As head of Cosmic Colony, you can adjust both expenditures and the tax rate. Then you watch the gradual changes brought about by your policy. The first time I played the game, I was Ronald Reagan. I beefed up defense, cut social welfare programs and the tax rate. Then I sat back to watch the social indicators change: technological development went down; so did productivity, life expectancy, health, and cultural well-being. The only things to go up were poverty, unemployment, and social unrest. The game stopped in about two minutes, with the screen reporting that Cosmic Colony could not go on because technological development was too low. Why did Reaganomics fail? The authors of the program have not heard of deficit spending or the Laffer curve. You cut taxes and all expenditures are automatically reduced proportionately. Also, the authors assume that the only way to get technological development is for the government to fund it. Then I played Walter Mondale. I cut defense, boosted social welfare projects and education, and jacked up business taxes from 20 percent to 40 percent. Everything looked good for a while: progress economically, socially, medically. But then space invaders hit, and because of the underfunding of defense, technological capacity was largely destroyed, and we had to start all over again.
Then I played Joseph Stalin. I set the business tax rate at 100 percent, the personal tax rate at 50 percent, put everything into defense, fuel procure ment, and technological development. The technology and productivi ty were at 99 percent in a few years. Poverty and unemployment were way down, along with social unrest. Health and culture flourished. The space in vaders feared to attack, but if they had, the Red Army would have pushed them out faster than you can say “Siege of Leningrad.”
The instructor’s manual explains the equations by which the variables change, and it was no mistake that my three different policies achieved three different results.
The computer is an excellent teacher: always patient, always accurate, frequently fun. The format of this software is appealing and designed to be an effective learning resource, but whose concepts are being taught? cc
T. L. Brink’s most recent book is The Middle Class Credo: 1,000 All American Beliefs (R & E Publishers)