Trying out my own pyramid scheme

To explore an "equilibrium of an ecosystem in which players’ selfish behavior collapses the system," I decided on the classic pyramid scheme, in which a person's success depends on their recruiting of additional people, ad infinitum. The inherent problem is easily illustrated in the image below, which proves that a system of this nature is quite literally unsustainable.

I designed an ambiguous pen-and-paper "game" to see if I could embroil my colleagues in a similar scheme. I told two random people that the goal was to create a team-network and they needed to each recruit two people, and tell them the exact same thing I told them. They would fill out the small papers I provided and continue until the paper ran out. Each recruit was to return their papers to the person who recruited them, in effect creating a depth-first search, since I would not get any papers back until all of the people below me had submitted them to their higher-ups.

I also mentioned that their score would be determined by the number of people they managed to recruit underneath them, so that they should only choose people who they thought were likely to carry out the instructions. The lack of real incentive didn't seem to hinder people's eagerness to participate, but then again, this is ITP.

After my own recruiting, I receded into the shadows to watch the chaos unfold. It was hilarious to watch as people starting asking questions about who the higher-ups were.
"Who do I give this back to?"
"Who do you give it back to?"
"The person who gave it to me."
"You mean that guy that was standing over here?"
It only had taken me five minutes to become an anonymous figure of lore, just like the criminals who I read about while researching the basis of this experiment. I'm sure these same questions were asked during the downfall of Bernie Madoff's investment scandal.

The game also evolved on the fly, which is not something I had anticipated. Due to the half-baked nature of the rules I explained, it wasn't clear to the participants what to do if they only had one sheet of paper. I heard at least one person suggest that they should make their own paper in order to keep it going, which was not my original intention, as I wanted to minimize the amount of effort required by each individual participant. However, I did not intervene, as the mark of a good pyramid manager is to stay laissez-faire all the way to the end.

Unfortunately, I did not get back any of the papers yet so I cannot say with any certainty what happened. It appears though that there was not enough of an incentive to encourage their timely return. I will update this when all of the papers are returned to me.

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