The Widget Game
by Justin Engelbrecht-Larkin, English and History Teacher
When studying economics, learning-by-doing can be challenging without a billion-dollar budget. Thus: the Widget Game, in which students take the helm of the world’s great widget producing companies and compete against each other in a market simulated through increasingly complicated spreadsheets. To achieve market dominance, students must carefully balance many factors beyond just the price they set. Will they increase productivity, or widget quality? Are wages high enough to support demand for high quality widgets, or should you be aiming for the bargain bin crowd? If you expand into a new factory, will you sell sufficient volume to make a decent return on your investment? If not, would you be better off relocating to a different country, where the regulatory environment is, ahem, more welcoming? If pollution gets too bad, though, will people be healthy enough to work?
If this weren’t complicated enough, each section took turns taking on the role of the government. Students set tax rates, minimum wages, and pollution clean up rates, as well as offered incentives and subsidies to attract and keep businesses in their provinces. Predictably, business and government were perpetually in conflict, and we were treated to disaster after disaster, be it the mass poisoning of the environment of a province by a single gigantic company, or the collapse of another province’s economy due to the exodus of business, to the default of the government on its debt and a string of bankruptcies due to a credit crunch. It was a glorious illustration of the law of unintended consequences, the dangers of overzealous regulation or unchecked growth, and just how interdependent even a simply simulated economy is.