Cards & Culture
The 1920s in the United States – the Roaring Twenties – was a period of remarkable financial predation. It was also a time when disrespect of the law was widely encouraged by the emerging failure of prohibition.
More and more people drank and gambled in flagrant violation of the law. The police were seen as looking the other way. It began to seem that only fools followed the letter of the law.
The crash and Great Depression that followed changed American culture in many ways. One way was in the card games people played.
Contract bridge was first played in the US in late 1920s. During the 1930s, bridge’s popularity blossomed. By 1941, when the Great Depression ended, contract bridge had become the most popular card game: 44% of American households played it.
Contract bridge is played by partners who must cooperate: a social game that was frequently recommended as a way to make friends, learn social skills, or even find a beau. Contract bridge is rarely played for money.
By 2000, contract bridge in the United States was in serious decline; viewed as a game for the elderly, with few young enthusiasts.
In contrast, poker – particularly Texas Hold ‘Em – surged in popularity in the 1st decade of the 21st century. Almost always played for money, poker is played by individuals for their own profit. The game encourages deception in the form of bluffing and keeping a “poker face.”
Of course, we know there may be no link between what is taking place at the card table and what is taking place in the economy. But if card games played by millions of people shift the role of deception, wouldn’t we be naïve simply to assume that such shifts do not also occur in the world of commerce? ~ American economists George Akerlof & Robert Shiller
Poker’s popularity peaked when the Great Recession of 2008 hit. Since then, speculation has lost favor, both at the card table and in the world at large.