In history this week, Alex learned about the great medieval kingdoms in West Africa: Ghana, Mali, and Songhay. They rose to wealth and prominence because they were located in the center of trade routes, which allowed them to tax the trade in gold (from the south) and salt (from the north). Yesterday we played a game from the Story of the World Activity Guide to see how that all worked.
On the main level of the house, in my bedroom, we established a salt mine with twelve white Legos representing blocks of salt. On the lower level, in the laundry room, we established a gold mine with twelve shiny pennies representing lumps of gold. Alex and Colin were a team of Arab traders, traveling back and forth trading salt for gold and vice versa. Together, they could carry two objects per trip.
I sat on the stairs to the lower level. I was the queen of Ghana. If they wanted to pass me, they had to pay me one lump of gold or one block of salt. If they didn’t want to pay taxes to me, then to get to the lower level they had to go out the front door, around the house, and in the door to the walk-out basement. Same thing on the return trip.
The object of the game was to get as low a score as possible. For every 20 seconds on the clock, they got two points. For every piece of salt or gold they transported successfully, they got minus one point.
Alex took the point of view that paying taxes was always terrible. Of their twelve trips past my chokehold, she led them on the long tax-avoiding route eight times. The whole trading game took them almost exactly 10 minutes, but they kept 20/24 of the trade goods.
Next the kids got to be Mali, the great African kingdom that followed Ghana. I announced my intentions to take the “lazy way,” paying taxes every single time. I only kept 12/24 of the trade goods… but I finished in just over half as much time as the kids, and so I wound up creaming them on points.
Alex was very surprised to see that me paying them taxes enriched both of us. They wound up with a lot of gold and salt, which they could then use, as the kingdom of Mali did, to build schools and universities and mosques, and to support their citizens. Even though I wound up with fewer trade goods, my route left me much better off than their tax-evasion route because it was so smooth and efficient.
I can think of no analogy between this game and modern politics.