Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Means To Ends

But in our modern world, a world built on community, connection and the magic that comes from combining ideas, the opposite is true. When people deprive others of education and opportunity, they’re not helping themselves, they’re depriving themselves of the benefits that would come from what others would end up contributing. We don’t benefit from treating others poorly, we pay for it.
Seth Godin "Undoing the toxic myth of exclusion and scarcity"
And to Mr. Godin, I would make the same point I raised a week ago in response to Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Raphael Bostic. But there is also something else here. Opportunity hoarding has different effects on the collective or community than it does on the individual. When a particular family helps one of its members secure a well-paying job and guards that pay by ensuring that the number of roles remains scarce, they, as individuals most certainly benefit from treating others poorly. Sure, the pie might be bigger if more people could access opportunities to contribute "in the form of work product and innovation," but the family's relative slice would be smaller. And if that's how they're measuring benefits versus costs, then their actions make sense.

While a lot has been made of the idea that, to quote an academic abstract: "quantitatively, changes in relative income have much larger effects on happiness than do changes in absolute income," when it comes to happiness, it's understood that it isn't all about money. And in that sense, perhaps appealing to "the benefits that would come from what others would end up contributing" is barking up the wrong tree. If the main benefits of opportunity hoarding that people are after are something other than, or in addition to, simple material gain, then the question become whether those other things are also scarce. Some are, by definition; any race may only have one clear first-place finisher. Others not so much, but how does one understand the expansiveness of the supply?

Posts like this are predicated on the idea that if people genuinely understood the world around them, they would behave differently, because they'd have a better understanding of the best ways to reach their expressed preferences. But that, in turn, rests on the idea that people don't actually understand the interactions between their goals and the world. I'm not so sure about that part.

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