Dave Broome missed a chance with The Briefcase

The Briefcase, premiering on CBS at 8 p.m. Wednesday, features “American families experiencing financial setbacks,” to use the network’s terminology. The family is given a briefcase with $101,000 in it, and then they’re shown another family who’s “experiencing financial setbacks.” They have to decide how much money to keep and how much to give the other people, or whether they want to keep it all for themselves; neither family knows both families have in fact received a briefcase, and that their counterparts are also deliberating over if and how to share the money. In the two episodes CBS made available for review, the decision weighs incredibly heavily on all participants. One woman is so overcome that she vomits. Everyone talks about health insurance. Several people claim this is the hardest decision they’ve ever made. Many, many tears are shed. And perhaps unsurprisingly, people demonstrate impressive generosity. That’s the point of the show, right? To show how generous people truly are? Surely these people were screened not just for emotive telegenics but also for proclivity toward magnanimity.

Well, no, not really, that’s how human beings work actually. As tha classic economic experiment, the ultimatum game shows.

And this is of course a version of that ultimatum game. A one time, going in both directions, real life version of it. I don’t, of course, know what the splits being offered are. But I would be surprised if anyone offered less that 30% of the cash to the other people.

But perhaps Dave Broome, the originator of the show missed a trick here. Because wouldn’t it be fun to have the other part of that game? Where if there’s a rejection, then no one gets anything? Here, a rejection being offering more than 10% less than the other participants are offering you?

That would be a lovely reveal, wouldn’t it? (Strokes white cat, feeds shark, puffs cigar.)

14 comments on “Dave Broome missed a chance with The Briefcase

  1. Except you need to iterate it for the participants to get enough information about their counterparts in order to maximise the return from whatever split they offer.

    As a one-off, with no forfeits, I would definitely keep the lot. Maybe because i am a selfish heartless bastard, or maybe because I can always hand some cash to the supposedly hard-up people later, once I have met them and verified the BS the TV people are telling me, or I can give to some even more hard-up people.

  2. The most important moral of this tale is that most people will gladly embarrass themselves in front of the entire world for 100 grand.

  3. TV game show takes its inspiration from Game Theory. Colour me unsurprised.
    Innocent question: was the Monty Hall problem a real invention of that show or did it too have its origins in some obscure text?

  4. Knowing the Game Theory, I’d keep the lot. And spend it on hookers and cocaine, or at least beer and skittles. If anyone called me mean, I’d just point out that if there is a moral imperative to give the other family money, the TV company has much more than me, so they are the ones being mean, since $101,000 is $101,000 more than I had before I got the TV show’s money, and thus my need is greater than CBS’s, or something.

  5. Apart from IanB and guests on Jeremy Kyle, most people will recognise this as a reputation game. Peacock’s tails don’t evolve by accident.

    Never before has so much money has been at stake. (Psychology depts have looked at this conundrum in multiple ways, but they don’t have the funds…)

    Suggested winning strategy.
    Keep enough to pay off your debts, give away the rest. With an audience of 10 million + you can surely find a mug who will reward you for your generosity.

  6. It’s not really game theory is it? They can’t lose anything. It just seems like ‘lets see how generous people are with 101k.’

  7. I can live with the reputation of “the guy who kept the $101,000”. There is no rational way to decide how much to give away.

  8. All he is doing is measuring how much trust there is in a society. In a small village, you need to rely on other people from time to time. People who have lived in the same place for hundreds of years and will probably continue to live in the same place for hundreds more (or in modern Britain before Blair, people who grew up with a culture that evolved from such a small village background). You never know when you will need help, or whom your son will marry, so you don’t screw anyone over.

    So you share.

    You do the same experiment in a place like Lebanon, or India or China, no one is going to share the cash.

    That is, this is basically measuring the genetic differences of a society. Highly diverse places have people who will screw each other over in a second.

  9. Hamiltonian kin selection: I will give up to half to my identical twin, 1/3 to my sibling or parent, 1/5 to a nephew, 1/9 to a first cousin and fuck all to some random hard luck case I’ve never set eyes on before and never will again. Might bung him the bus fare home to get him to go away, the whining twat.

  10. Bloke in Costa Rica – “Hamiltonian kin selection:”

    But we do not have built in gene detectors. We do not know who shares half our genes. But we do have some fairly good proxies – the same accent, shared experiences in childhood, and, yes, the same skin colour. All indicate that someone is closer to us genetically. They don’t prove it, but they strongly suggest it.

    Hence if you lose your wallet in genetically homogeneous countries like Germany, Britain. Sweden and Norway used to be, you will probably get your wallet back. As you still will in Japan. You won’t in Bombay. Or Cairo. Or Lagos.

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