From Polder to Pensionville
To what extent can a serious game contribute to designing our pension system? That is what IJsfontein discussed during a session with representatives of the largest pension funds of the Netherlands. Political scientist and initiator of this session, Koen Keepers, wrote an article about it that was published earlier in ‘het Financieel Dagblad’. Below you will find an excerpt of his article in which he makes a plea for the development of the serious game ‘Pensionville’.
From Polder to Pensionville
If my first sentence had been about the failed pension plan in the Senate of the Netherlands, chances are that you would have stopped reading immediately. If I had said that I am young and used arguments like Yvonne Hofs did to address the position of young people in the pension system, I would have been widely supported by young people and would have been maligned by the old. If I were a union leader and used jargon like accrual rate, only a few insiders would know what I am talking about. The benefits, for anyone? Zero. Again, nothing has been solved. I have come to the conclusion: This polder model is not getting us anywhere.
The entire society at the controls
There is not enough cohesion between parliament, trade union and people, too little know-how and too much social polarization. If politicians, trade unions and funds cannot solve the problem with public backing, society has to figure it out for itself. A new Wassenaar agreement should not merely be about the polder insiders, society as a whole should be at the controls. A serious game is what we should use: Pensionville.
Our polder being ineffective is a logical result of individualization. No party, trade union or fund can really rely on support anymore. In search of support, the polder tries to profile, or polarize itself. It is problematic that citizens do this as well. Apart from authorities that have to solve the problem, Hofs showed the extent to which the public debate has already been polarized. It is us against them. Young against old. Society against ‘enriching’ directors. That pressure makes all decisions emotionally charged. No wonder solutions aren’t presented and the trust in our pension system is dropping systematically. And all the while employees are working one day a week solely for their pensions. We have every reason to trust these people to take their futures seriously.
The pension issue is a puzzle that can, therefore, be solved. There is no conspiracy of generations or of people enriching themselves. The notional interest rate and coverage ratio are less encompassing than is suggested in the media. Other factors like contribution, return and obligations affect our pensions. The pension reality is no simple game of noughts and crosses, but Simcity. In Simcity the urban infrastructure, from sewage trough to transport and education, can be managed. These games are complex and are much like what pension funds do on a daily basis: Money comes in, you invest and you pay the bills. There are also risks involved: interest(swaps), ageing and the market. In short: Who is to get what, and when?
Manage your own pension
With these ingredients a serious game can be designed: a game simulation with a serious goal. Regardless of design you can use the game to manage your funds and your pension. You determine the investment mix, contribution and obligations. Military personnel may want to invest in weapons, but nurses in band aids perhaps. You can also decide for yourself to what extent you want to cut back or index. So: you think about the dilemmas the funds are faced with. And that is what you will also do for your personal life: so-called life events such as divorce, retiring, incapacity for work. How your fund will perform and what your choices will be. The two combined make up your pension. The only thing you cannot influence directly is the economy, simulated by economic models.
Just like Monopoly, the principle remains the same, but the layout can be adjusted per target group. The English Monopoly, for instance, does not have a Dutch Kalverstraat, but Mayfair. In each fund, your behaviour in game reveals how much risk you are willing to take, the investments you make, the accrual rate, etc. In short: how you solve the puzzle. Based on your playing behaviour your funds will give you feedback. You can send in your opinion if you think your behaviour is correct. All opinions that have been sent in, show the public backing for whatever measure, in whatever combination. The fund participants will finally find out what all those terms mean. They get the puzzle, understanding is created. Management and the participant have communicated about the solution. That is backing. That is the basis for whatever agreement.
If we start solving the puzzle together, we will all have balanced the factors together and shared the responsibility for the solution. That consideration leads to solutions that exceed interests, turning polarization into seeking consensus. The game can be used to deal with the same economic situation in a different way. You can contribute by deciding to send in your playing behaviour. The group’s playing behaviour shows the direction the players want to take and how much support that has. The management will then decide which solutions are best. Our democracy then changes from elections once every four years to a continuous joint puzzling of the facts.
Koen Keepers, (27) graduated in political science from the University of Amsterdam, initiator of Pensionville. Based on this idea, he and IJsfontein organized a workshop for a number of pension funds. Together we have thought about the possibilities of gaming for the pension sector and any further steps. Interested funds can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to stay informed about the latest developments.