Thursday, January 9, 2020


The economic system in this country a) is generally fair to most Americans or b) unfairly favors the most powerful interests?

As someone who doesn't really find the idea of "fair" to be all that relevant in day-to-day life, I'm kind of glad that I didn't have to answer this question. I'd still be mulling it over, I think. When the Pew Research Center asked Americans this question, about 70% of respondents answered said that the U.S. economy unfairly favors the powerful. Which makes sense. As Pew points out, the idea that the economy is "rigged" has been a common theme for the past four years.

And while I understand why people see it that way, I don't know that I agree. The Vanderbilt University Commodores won the College World Series of baseball in 2019. The Washington Nationals won the Major League Baseball 2019 World Series. The Commodores versus the Nationals would likely be a one-sided game. But it wouldn't need to be "unfair," in that the Nationals wouldn't need to cheat or to have the umpires on their side. The Commodores would simply be outclassed by the greater skill of the professional team and the resources available to it. The "rigging" or unfairness of the situation would come from the Commodores being unable to bow out of the game in order to play other teams in their own league and from the game being treated as between equals.

And this is the overall problem that a highly unequal economy brings with it. The Major League-level players can pick and chose who they go up against, and in so doing, set themselves up to win the games they play. And since winning carries benefits, and losing has penalties, "the rich become richer, and the poor become poorer." And, thus, the inequality increases. The system may not be actively rigger or unfair, but it is broken. I'm not particularly confident that we'll deliberately fix it, but fixes don't need to be designed. It's better that way, because an emergent fix is likely to be very violent. Either way, it's likely that a new equilibrium will eventually be achieved.

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