Friday, 26 May 2017

Game of Mates - book review

Game of Mates – how favours bleed a nation
By Dr Cameron K Murray & Professor Paul Fritters
reviewed by Colin Cook

We all like to help a mate – it is just human nature to lend a hand, give a lift or a bit of advice; this book is about cultivating and helping mates with grey gifts – a very different game.

The authors submit the Game is costing us billions every year. They estimate on housing development we lose $11 billion per year, transport infrastructure, two thirds of our costs are lost, but in superannuation, it is only a quarter! Banking costs us $15 billion per year and on and on.

‘Grey gifts’ are the authors’ classification of those favours and presents you can render to a mate, cost you nothing, are valuable to him – will solicit a return of some kind, some time – but which cost the community heaps and heaps, often way into the future. Many examples are given in the chapters dealing specifically with Superannuation, Transport, Banking, Mining and others such as Taxes, Pharmacies & Health, Supermarkets, University Education and Agriculture in the chapter, ‘Other Games, Other Mates’.

But it is the depth of the analysis that is impressive. We are shown the myths that enable us to be ‘sold’ on the virtue of the games, the fundamental human traits that contribute to the recruiting, soliciting and the gaming of/by mates, the conditions that make the Game feasible and, most importantly, what we can do to reduce this enervating, impoverishing drain on our society.

One myth for example that Public Private Partnerships build infrastructure without pushing the State to into debt; the contract may guarantee a fixed return to the investor – which is just like the State issuing a bond to raise the capital for both impose a future liability on the State. Then the State may even lend the investor the money at a favourable rate; this loan would be shown as a State asset -  no debt at all, see! Only liabilities which are not disclosed.

To research the traits fostering the Games, the authors designed a computer-based experiment to observe behaviour, including amongst complete strangers, close up in a laboratory. The result of their rigorous work showed that at least 84% of us would play the Game of Mates, given the opportunity!

‘Grey mateship’ – recruiting and soliciting – often develops through professional contacts and co-operation. Over the years, this is hugely strengthened by the revolving door of appointments; regulators join trade associations, retired politicians become lobbyist, lobbyists are given safe seats and become politicians. An appendix lists many persons coming-and-going through revolving doors.  It is happening before our eyes. 

How is it we stand this robbery? One explanation is that our expanding population conceals the extent of it; we all benefit a bit from the growing population/GDP but not as much as we could because the Mates take a grossly non-proportional share.

The book is written as a tale about James, the Mate, and Bruce, the average Australian. James will fight hard and dirty to retain his positions and influence – and he owns the mainstream media. The authors exhort Bruce to ‘Rise up’; to reclaim the value of the grey gifts for the public, disrupt James’ coordination – jam the revolving door, have citizen juries to make top public appointments – and bust James’ myths. Independent media and journalists are very important for myth busting. And to create publically owned competitors for James and his mates – construction, banking etc

The book has just one short-coming – that there is no reference to the electricity industry. Maybe this would need a whole book to itself!

This really is a must read– not just for grey haired activists but for all students whatever your subject, all mortgage holders, all members of superannuation funds, our local councillors and council staff. Buy one and circulate it widely. Better still, buy two and give one to a ‘small m’ mate. As Professor Steve Keen writes, ‘……essential for all Australians, except the Mates’.

Colin Cook, may 2017

Introductory video

See also Chomsky on the Game of Mates in USA, reported at

1 comment:

  1. Hi Colin. Just bought 'Game of mates' which is certainly good but only confirmation of what one reads on sites like GA or AIMN, often between the lines or as sub-text.
    You will have read of The List, my informal compilation of GA posters who refute the pile of inequality-creating doggie-doo that is Neoliberal dogma. You're on it of course, as are 129 others. Hope to turn up here regularly.
    Keep posting on GA !