LEGO’s Economics – How Much is Enough

LegosIn the center of Legoland California between strollers, toddlers and incredibly inventive statues made with pieces of LEGO’s sits a micro cosmos of economic proportions. We visited this on the last days of their biggest promotion of the year, so we got to experience longer than usual waiting times and also I got to witness greed at work.

We were in line for Sky Cruiser which it has a big play area with thousands of LEGO’s for children to play with while their exhausted parents stand in line for hours. In this area there are also four ramps and several tables stocked with even more LEGO’s..

I noticed there were dozens of children in a battle for the scraps of LEGO’s left in the pit at the end of the ramps.  The smartest, fastest and most clever kids easily gather enough pieces to build a car to play with on the ramp. You could also see the kids who built more elaborate vehicles, yet, most kids where just happy to get enough pieces for a basic car to race down the ramp. It was beautiful to watch these kids who had more talent and passion for design. These kids also toiled more diligently to find “the right piece.”

In this game there were some losers. Little poor souls who lacked enough assertiveness and bravado to get the pieces they needed. In this scenario there were not enough pieces for everyone… And everyone simply accepted that as a reality. This was a world of to beat or get beaten.

However around the playground in the tables there were a handful of kids playing with a lot more pieces of LEGO’s. For these kids, building a car was not the enjoyment they were seeking. They had managed to collect enough parts to build towers, mini cities, trees, houses with front porches and lawns. These kids definitely had gathered more resources. They probably had been at the play area much longer, or had a parent helping them out, and with time they’ve accumulated a wealth of LEGO’s.

Then I saw the Blob…

But one kid in particular called my attention. He was not playing with the LEGO’s. In front of him stood the most obscene picture of what could only be explained as gluttony. A blob of colorful pieces with no rhyme or reason.  I don’t know how long he had been building but unlike the other kids who would occasionally share their excess at the request of somebody or when they noticed they had enough, this kids was decisively not sharing and felt entitled of every piece in the playground.

This kid kept on gathering more and more LEGO pieces. His dad stood guarding the giant monstrosity, while the boy and his brother went and gathered more and more. He alone had more pieces than all the rest in play being shared by the other kids (a dozen or so).

I was amazed that no one said anything. I was tempted to approach him and ask him to share some of the pieces with the rest of the kids since some kids at the end of the pit did not have enough LEGO’s to even build a basic car. His creation had more wheels than all the cars in play combined.

At this point, I opened my Evernote app and began journaling the experience. Incredulous that the crowd mostly composed of very young children had such an elaborate economic system creating winners and losers.

Honestly, at times I wanted to scream “revolution.” I couldn’t believe the apathy that everyone had towards this huge injustice. Especially when the boy in question had an older brother who was very apt at “collecting” from the broken pieces that came off from the cars racing down to the pit, taking from the kids who barely had enough pieces to keep their cars together.

I guess everyone felt that the boy “had earn it” and had “outsmarted” everyone else. It saddened me to see that the boy’s dad did not feel he should attempt to teach his son about generosity and sharing. Everyone there had paid a costly ticket for the right to play… Everyone should have a chance to play… Some kids unable to  “compete” stood in the sidelines or even rejoined their parents at the line (for hours).

Every kid kept playing unaware of any injustice, fighting over the scraps instead of confronting the one responsible for taking all the LEGO’s.

I watched one of my nephews. He was searching for the perfect design. He didn’t need much, but needed the exact pieces for which he worked diligently. Sometimes getting clever, watchful of the pieces coming apart and sometimes asking for the piece he needed.

My youngest nephew, however,  focused on playing on the table of LEGO’s while standing from the other side of the gate… Perhaps overwhelmed by the intensity of the game inside of the play area, he decided to leave it for safety.

My niece was what you would call a free spirit. Playing at the table in here, getting lucky after finding an abandoned car there and quickly moving on after her car got stolen. She was having the most enjoyment out of the game.

 Then there was my daughter…

She wanted to build a train, but at first she only was able to find enough pieces for a simple design. Each time her car went down the ramp she searched to see if there were any available new pieces she could add. Sometimes she ventured looking for extra pieces under the tables and in the corners. When the pit was full of children, she was extra careful not to let the train slide all the way down the ramp as not to risk that the scavengers would take her car apart.

Once in a while she would run the risk to let the car slide down all the way and discovered it was fun. But as her car acquired a second car, then the third wagon and finally a forth she became more guarded.

At one point she was no longer letting her newly built train slide down on its own and instead she would accompany her vehicle down the ramp with both arms around it. An hour went by and things had not changed. More kids joined the playground making the LEGO’s even more scarce. (even though there would be more than enough for everyone to play with them if everyone only took what they needed.)

I wanted to be a distributor. “You want to build a tower? Here you go! You want a train? Here you go! Here are some wheels for that cool race-car you want and this could be a window for that mansion… “

But of course I would have to take the excess and I didn’t feel comfortable with taking LEGO’s from children.

I wanted to tell my daughter “your train doesn’t need to be three stories high” and to the boy with most of the LEGO’s “seriously what the heck is that?”

The thing is that the LEGO’s didn’t belong to my daughter, to the boy or to anyone. The use of them was a temporary recreation facilitated by the nice people at Legoland and as such we should care for them, and share them. They were for EVERYONE to enjoy. If they wanted to build big structures that’s OK, as long as EVERYONE got to play.

My daughter was playing “by the rules” (unspoken rules she observed and probably not only at Legoland). She was allowed to keep what she got, and she was fair about it, getting little by little, saving, investing and working hard (after all she crawled under the table…if someone wanted to do that they were free to do that too, why should she share if a lazier kids didn’t do that, right?)

She was also careful to store away her resources.  And unlike the boy with the family working to amass a bunch of Lego’s for no other reason than to have them ALL for himself, my daughter would in occasion share her lot.

But at the end, she too felt that the LEGO’s belonged to her.  It broke my heart.

Letting Go…

Then out of nowhere my four year daughter old finally let “her” train go after watching how much fun a new group of free spirited kids were having. I was happy to see she learned the lesson on her own. I was proud that she had escaped, albeit a bit late in the game, the futility of accumulating more pieces for a train she was no longer getting joy from. She finally abandoned herself to the joy of childhood… of playing, sharing and laughing together.

Eventually the boy left because it was his turn to ride on the Skyride. He never created anything beyond the blob of LEGO’s.  Although I had been waiting for that moment and in my mind, and I had fantasized about making a huge pronouncement to my fellow parents about the tyranny of accumulating obscene wealth, I did nothing (to my husband’s relief).

I was curious to see what the fate of the little boy’s creation would be. As I predicted the shy kids standing in the sidelines were the first ones to come and take from the monstrosity a piece or two… Some other kids approached to see what they could get… At one point before it was our turn… Everyone played in harmony… Utopia.

The mountain of Lego’s reduced its size, but like I said… In the mountain there were more pieces than anyone would know what to do with. So it sat mostly undisturbed for a while.

One… Two… Three…

When we got off the ride I got to see something else.

All the kids were excited cheering.  I got closer to see what was happening.

An older boy had built with the help of everyone a giant boat looking car and was readying to slide it down the ramp. “One… Two…Threeeeee!”

Down went the giant boat car, sliding faster than anyone could imagine with near engineering precision. Everyone cheered, “Thump!” It hit a boy scavenging in the pit in a comical fashion and everyone laughed…  Who knows how many other scenarios those same Lego’s would create, but needless to say it got me thinking of how much is enough.

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