Scene 39: Ramesh spars with cousin Anil


In which Ramesh and his cousin in India, Anil, discuss their grandfather’s business machinations, and then Anil finds a way to one-up his smartypants cousin.

Simulations will also make it possible to understand taxation and its drivers, a subject that today is negotiated via crude partisan slogans.

It was Friday, and Ramesh was voice-messaging with his cousin in India. That is to say, Ramesh was at his American college dorm and Anil was in a study at home in Mumbai.

Anil: So the private sector is a necessary evil.

Ramesh: Indeed. An evil that feeds our family well.

Anil came back from the bathroom, then listened and laughed. He thought a moment, and then recorded the next point.

Anil: Though, our stock price dropped.

Ramesh: Yes, I know.

Ramesh often felt disconnected from the family, away from the action, and thus strived to keep up with news about the business.

Ramesh: But, doesn't matter. Only matters what the price is when Dada's ready.

Anil: Yeah, well, what do you mean?

This was about their illustrious grandfather's terminal illness. Ramesh had a feeling of satisfaction at Anil's puzzlement. It meant that Ramesh was in a position to one-up his cousin in their nonstop competition to be the smartest.

Ramesh: Come on, they've explained to you, no? About the inheritance?

Anil: Not really. Can you explain it to me?

Ramesh thought several hours before responding. He switched-on "private" to disable forwarding of subsequent messages.  A half-measure, of course, but an implicit request to his cousin.

Ramesh: Okay, well. This is confidential. Dada is trying to get the inheritance law changed. He thinks he'll change how charitable-exemption works, and we'll all get giant funds to dole out. You follow?

Anil: Definitely. I know vaguely about this, about Dada's friend Sonkar. The part I don't know is, why is the prime minister against it?

Ramesh: Okay, it's like this. 16% of the fortune will go to Dada's kids, and you and I pretty much will never get anything because of the needs-ratings, except to cover education. Anyway, Dada wants to protect more of the fortune from the government. He doesn't want a stream of court battles after he passes, and so he wants to convince the Parliament of his policy ideas.

Ramesh and Anil

Anil: Okay, I guess I knew a lot of that. I thought maybe you had an insight about the policy. I don't get how protecting our stash is in the public interest.

Ramesh's head nearly exploded. This is exactly what he and Carl had talked about! He rehearsed his response once, and then recorded.

Ramesh: Here, I'm sending you a link. Yes, it is indeed about the policy. Here it is: it is an IDEOLOGICAL drama. It's about the Globals and the Libertarians, and it's really the richest elites who are controlling the Globals agenda.

Anil: I'm confused. Globals versus Libertarians?

Ramesh: Yes, correct, Globals versus Libertarians, and the plutocrats keep the focus away from the inheritance policies.

Anil thought about this for a while, and even looked at the link that Ramesh had sent him.

Anil: Yeah, no shit. They're totally ripping off the public. And they punish anyone who opposes them.

Ramesh didn't like Anil's formulation, and felt an obligation to enlarge Anil's perspective.  He realized he did not want to criticize the Socialists. So he decided (on the spot) to adopt the Libertarians' position that multi-generational wealth is beneficial to society.  He tied in Carl's comment about the Globals' theory of capital efficiency.

It led to a rather heated, extended exchange.   Feeling a bit miffed, Anil went to the web and looked for primers on fiscal policy. He was eager to bolster his own position with some theory. "Ramesh isn't so smart," he muttered to himself.

After skipping around to various pieces, he noticed a "just 4 minutes" mini-simulation. He bit. He changed a government policy, two years later economic growth accelerated, and he assented to looking at a second case. He got hooked for three hours, and his confidence rose.

There were small simulated scenarios and large ones. The largest one was too intimidating, but the small ones were fun. It was very "visual," and it presented a global system that was a bit crazier than the real one. Countries could go back to the gold standard, or prohibit all imports, or jack up taxes.

Anil with simulation

Anil was now in a 20th-century one where the British Empire was crumbling and fortunes were being lost and wealth was shrinking. He decided to save the English bondholders by stepping up military enforcement in British territories. The debt increased, and at home a populist revolt occurred.

He stopped and thought. Did the bondholders have an estate tax? His mind went back to Ramesh's absurd arguments against inheritance taxes. He typed "about wealth taxes" into Search and was presented with several relevant options. He passed over the topic explaining how wealth taxes worked inside the simulation, and instead clicked on a piece titled, "Troubling Holes in India's Capital Tax Code."

He briefly skimmed it, and a leering grin grew upon his face. He searched for a juicy quotation, grabbed it, and sent it to Ramesh with the deliberately-casual annotation, "Not sure who agrees with you."

Today, few citizens really understand tax policy or the financial world.  Presumably, that fact has left the rich in control of it. That may or may not change in the future. Let's hope at least that excesses are further curbed.

We are increasingly seeing, though, the power of interactive simulations: learning "games" where you're in a plausible, understandable scenario, and you're forced to make decisions, and you see results unfold over time. (Think, for example, of Sim City, and of Civilization.) Such simulations are not easy to build, but good ones convey understanding that might otherwise take years to acquire.

The best ones are observant of cognitive issues, including short-term memory, attention, story coherence, and perception. Building them is typically a collaboration between an academic expert, a designer, and programmers.

Scenarios that incorporate some historical or quasi-historical context have particularly great educational value. Usually, you don't understand an issue until you learn a bit of its history.

So, two basic benefits of simulations: (1) they not only can teach you really important stuff, but (2) they also make it super easy to learn it.


cast of characters