Chuck E. Cheese & A Free Market

Dr. Barry Creamer recently wrote a post The Meaning of Money. I don’t have anything to contribute to his content, but would like to restate it in my own words. 

When I was young, my parents took me to Chuck E. Cheese’s. In hindsight, the whole thing was pretty weird. Basically, it’s a kid’s funhouse with huge pits of balls, tubes to climb through, overweight, sweaty kids, lots of pizza and a performance stage full of robotic gorillas and monsters that played keyboards and electric guitars. The icing on the cake was that the whole venue centered around a giant rat “Chuck E.”

Now, every kid knows that when you go to Chuck E. Cheese’s, there are a few preliminary things that have to happen: lose the shoes, play in the balls, eat pizza, try to look behind the curtains while the anatomic performers take a break, and so on. However, every kid also knows that the main reason to go to Chuck E. Cheese’s is to win prizes. Essentially, mom and dad get killed in the Chuck E. Exchange Rate and buy the kiddos two pockets full of Chuck E. Cheese coins. The kid in turn spends all of the Chuck E. Cheese Money (specially encrusted with the rat’s very own face) on various games. The better you do on a game the more tickets you get. So, the more skilled you are at the ball shoot, or the more concentration you put into the hitting-the monsters-on-the-head-with-a-mallet game, the more tickets you are rewarded. This is important, because the more tickets you get, the more things you can exchange the tickets for in the end (plastic rings, fake spiders, etc.). So, the tickets are only worth as much as what you can exchange them for. If, when I was done playing all of the games and collecting all of my tickets I found out that Chuck E. Cheese was completely out of prizes, the tickets I had earned would be useless to me.

Let’s say that Chuck E. Cheese’s isn’t out of prizes, but at the end of my run my mom required that I give half of my tickets to Tommy since she felt bad that he had less tickets than me. After all, fair is fair, right? “No!” I protest. In a moment of child genius I argue that Tommy had coins too, but chose to use them on non-ticket giving machines and thus, it isn’t right to force me to share my tickets with stupid, fat Tommy. But, my mother insists and half of my profit is lost to Tommy (who will never be invited back).

Now the comparison: Chuck E. Cheese is like a free market. We can do whatever we want. Some can sit around in the balls, some can be entertained by the robotic performers, some can eat their life away in pizza, and some can work hard on the games, perfecting their skill to earn the maximum number of tickets. The tickets, like our money, have no intrinsic value or practical worth. The tickets and the money simply represent or signify the amount of work that has been put into the system so that the economy can know how much to pay the individual worker back (with goods and services). In this analogy, my mom is like socialism. I, as a game player, have put work into the system and am owed prizes as a result -the Chuck E. Cheese economy is in my debt. Socialism, the mandatory redistribution of goods (money), not only takes from he who has more, but penalizes him who is owed the most! Not only is this bizarre, but it is immoral. Essentially, it is the economy borrowing from someone and, before paying him back, punishing him for borrowing too much.

16 Responses to “Chuck E. Cheese & A Free Market”


  1. 1 luke britt October 7, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Joel,

    How do you think Israel’s economical practices, like the cancellation of debt (Deut. 15.2), fit into our views on the economy?

  2. 2 Barry October 7, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    Luke,
    I think the point of the forgiveness of debts (jubilee and such) is why Jesus is able to use that language in the Lord’s prayer to make the point of what we really did owe Him being completely forgiven–like me saying you don’t have to pay me what you owe me. It is not enforced by the one who owes, but by a God who is exemplifying future, literal forgiveness. And as a model of forgiveness it is only as meaningful as the original debt was obligatory!
    bkc

  3. 3 Brandon Harris October 10, 2008 at 12:10 am

    This post brought to mind a monologue in Ayn Rand’s, “Atlas Shrugged”, in which a hero of man questions the remark of a socialist philosopher that, “money is the root of all evil.” There follows several pages of discourse on the nature and meaning of money in rebuttal of that statement. There are many interesting observations therein, but I can’t help but at least quote the first part which serves as an excellent foundation for discussing money.

    “Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce.”

    Now that my inner Rand-fanboy is appeased I’ll comment on your observations 🙂 In your post you say,

    “The tickets and the money simply represent or signify the amount of work that has been put into the system so that the economy can know how much to pay the individual worker back (with goods and services).”

    I think this explanation of the origin of money’s value needs refinement. I think it is better stated that, as Ayn Rand puts forward, “Money permits you to obtain for your goods and your labor that which they are worth to the men who buy them, but no more. Money permits no deals except those to mutual benefit by the unforced judgement of the traders.” That is to say, trading parties determine what the value of their effort is through unforced negotiation. Money does not quantify the value of effort independent of those using it. It is those engaged in trade who determine what their effort is worth. You seem to put forward that money represents per unit a specific quantity of effort. I propose that you have it backwards, that, in fact, effort represents per the laborers judgement a specific quantity of money.

  4. 4 Joel October 18, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    It may not be that money represents per unit a specific quantity of effort, but as you say, money represents per unit the value a society places upon certain kinds of effort or services. So, the origin of value may be better understood as you put forth, but I don’t think it effects the overall thrust of my argument regarding a free market. The meaning of money is still representative. It signifies, points to, the value a society has placed upon certain goods or services and when someone has money it shows that the market is in his debt. Thanks for the comment man. I love hearing from you!

  5. 5 Brandon Harris October 18, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    I certainly agree with the ‘overall thrust’ of your post, but I think as an issue of semantics that you are giving ‘society’ and the ‘economy’ too much credit. Again I say that money is a tool of individuals, not societies – if the United States imploded and the dollar ceased to exist, men of goodwill who sought to trade would still find means of trading equitably, value for value, for goods and services. The essence of free markets is men and women who seek to trade. Truly, money is representative, but I think that it is more consistent with capitalism that what it represents is not a topic for ‘societies’ and ‘economies’ but instead one for individuals. Maybe I’m just splitting hairs \_-_-_/

  6. 6 Joel October 18, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    What is a society or an economy other than a group of individuals trading? Maybe I’m missing something…

    Side note: what is that ‘design’ at the end of your comment?

  7. 7 rudi hayward October 19, 2008 at 11:01 am

    Dear Joel,

    Another interesting post. I would like to know your response to Luke’s question. Barry’s reply doesn’t satisfy me because it takes away any original meaning from Deuteronomy and leaves it solely as an analogy for New Testament purposes.

    The Chuck E. Cheese example is interesting, you happily describe it as a system, but under pressure fall back on an individualistic view that society etc. is nothing beyond the relationships between individuals (I don’t believe that christians should accept either an individualist or a collectivist view on society). However you can’t do anything you want at ChuckE’s, there are rules, there are options, but certain kinds of activities are encouraged, certain activities are rewarded (or not), and certain kinds of prizes are offered. ChuckE’s is not a neutral space, there are certain values, even a particular worldview that is at work in the set up. Economic structures are certainly highly complex, but there are some parallels here too.

    The Rand quote (given by Brandon) “Money permits no deals except those to mutual benefit by the unforced judgement of the traders” seems far too simplistic to me. When a poor country is encouraged by international economic institutions to develop tradable goods (cash crops) over feeding their people, and then world prices slump, perhaps due to over production (i.e. too much hard work!), then I’m not sure we can say that “Money permits no deals except those to mutual benefit by the unforced judgement of the traders.” What say does a Brazilian farmer have in the price of coco beans?

  8. 8 Peter Schneidler November 10, 2008 at 9:04 am

    Hi, I like your blog (the few minutes that I’ve zoomed through it). Thanks for the thoughtful writing. I don’t have the time for this but wanted to reply to this post in particular. I’m not going to aim for intellectual power or incredible writing but just spill a bunch of thoughts out and run because I should be in bed already.

    Back as a 20-something I used to go with friends sometimes to “Dave and Busters” which is essentially Chuck E Cheese for grownups (yes, weird). I’ve probably been there 2 to 4 times, usually celebrating something with some other folks. Anyhow, one time at D&B I was winning at every game, it seemed. Are you familiar with the games that consist of a glass dome with a gazillion little lights that go around the inside perimeter of the dome, and they light up one at a time in rapid succession, and you have to hit a button at the precise moment that a certain light (say a red one) is lit up? Well, now you are. They often have some hokey scene in the middle like the statue of liberty or a hockey rink or whatever. Anyway, its absurdly difficult and winning is total chance. Through our own ignorance we decided to play this game, and we put $1 in, not realizing it only cost $.25 and we had unwittingly quadrupled the potential payoff. In addition, the longer a game had been played without anyone winning, the potential payoff increased, and this game hadn’t been beaten apparently in quite a while. I was clueless about all this and had never played this kind of game before. We just thought what the heck, lets try this one. The lights went around and I slapped the button and bells started going off, sirens, spinning lights, and tickets poured forth. And poured. And poured. WELL, we were quite impressed, and my buddy Joe (who loves the place and was the reason my wife and I were there) insisted I play again, and put in another $1. I did it again, and more tickets poured forth. I was standing with tickets piled up around me on the floor above my shins. We had not come to D&B to win anything, but to have quality time with Joe. But hey we were sure having fun by this time. The third time, I did not win. Joe and my wife tried and never came particularly close to winning. We walked over to another machine and I played that one and won on the first attempt. This one didn’t pay as well as the first one because we didn’t quadruple the payoff. The whole rest of the night I didn’t gather very many tickets but was walking around with a huge sack stuffed full of folded tickets. So I was absurdly rich in tickets. Instead of counting them when I cashed out, they weighed it, and we picked up some t-shirts and other garbage.

    Now. Did I deserve my wealth? You talk about the “diligence” and “concentration” required to accumulate tickets. I demonstrated no more of those qualities than my fellow revelers, and yet I won 100 times as many tickets as they did that night despite their best efforts. I believe that the cattle on a thousand hills are the Lord’s, as is paper currency, and He causes the rain (or drought) to fall on the good and the bad. I believe that there is such an idol and an illusion made out of our individual power to earn and succeed and get ahead. Is that what we should strive for? You talked about the inherent awkwardness of voting for candidates who must compromise or selectively hide certain values and twist their words in order to be elected. I agree with that post (though I think we should still vote. Find a candidate who tells it like it is. They won’t win, but support them anyway. You can make a difference even without gaining office. If you can’t find any such candidate then I still think you should vote for the least of the bad choices. We’re called to love our neighbors. Out of compassion, pick the one who is going to be best for them. Not voting IS a vote you know, and may allow the worst candidate to win. And that was a totally off topic ramble, sorry, told you this was unedited.) So you think we shouldn’t vote because it means supporting dishonesty. But we should keep all of our money to ourselves? Isn’t that GREED? Obviously, God is the one who knows our motives, and each man has to look within to know where his heart lies. But I think the vaaaaast majority of the anti-tax crowd that has been throwing the “socialism” thing around lately is completely motivated by self interest (selfishness).

    Now, there is some truth to what you say. Some people do choose to just eat pizza or lie around in the nasty ball cage thing (do they ever hose that place down I wonder?), and they don’t get tickets. And some people in this world are lazy. Most of us in this country maybe, to varying degrees. But some people are busting their butts trying to get tickets, and they have a few, but at the end all they can get is the smelly sticker while I heave my bag of tickets up on the counter next to them and survey the plethora of options afforded me due to my wealth. And some people even simply inherit their tickets. They essentially walk in to Chuck E Cheese with a suitcase (or 2, or 50) full of tickets because of the hard work and luck of their forebears.

    Should they NOT care for the poor, for the widow and orphan? I’ll join the movement to end compulsory taxation when we the people start helping our fellow man voluntarily as we should. That slacker in the ball chamber is Jesus. Inasmuch as you’ve not done it unto the LEAST of these, you’ve not done it unto me. That’s the pete translation off the top of my head. What a brutal, head-exploding scripture. Jesus is awesome. We can argue that isn’t fair, or isn’t just, but aren’t we then saying that God is unjust? Doesn’t HE define justice? I remember in college studying about the workers in the vineyard who all got paid the same wage even though some only came and worked the last hour or so. But the one who controls the wealth and pays the wages can freely decide to give what he wants to the workers. It is not up to the ones who worked all day. They have no right to be angry, and they don’t get to define justice.

    Another point. People up above were asking for your take on the year of jubilee (debt cancellation). How about on the early church model that held all possessions in common (book of Acts)?

    Sorry to write such a ridiculous, rambling, long diatribe. Hope you can make heads/tails of it and that it does some good.

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