Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Vonnegut on Equality

In Prof. Wagner's class, he often reminds us of a critical question: How do you slice a pie if the more evenly you divy it up, the smaller it becomes? In other words more equality also makes us poorer, so what's the optimal distribution?

This is a hard question for some (I personally put myself firmly in the large pie camp), but those that don't see how forced equality diminishes everyone's wealthy always demand as much equality as we can get. For them, I reccomend Harrison Bergeron by recently deceased author, Kurt Vonnegut.


B Tween said...

"How do you slice a pie if the more evenly you divy it up, the smaller it becomes" is the most absurd, nonsensical leading question I've ever read. Possibly excepting of course the bold statement that "more equality also makes us poorer".

"The Pie" is a constant.

The only thing that changes is those who "deserve" more for whatever reason get less, and conversely, those who "deserve" less get more.

Vonnegut's premise could be metaphorically tied to government hobbling of business through regulation and thus has no logical tie even to an abstract interpretation of a premise like Professor Wagners.

Bergeron's government stifles human capability/productivity to ensure adherence to a least common denominator.

Wagner's "Magical Shrinking Pie" assumes that productivity has already occurred and that your Ubermenschen have delivered that pie. The question then becomes how do we slice it.

Wagner - from how you've represented his argument, anyway - asserts that if you try to slice even-8ths, somehow there's less pizza for *everybody*.

More "equality" again assumes a constant quantity of a resource goes from being divided on a merit basis to being divided (and shared) on a purely mathematical basis.

How does that mean there's less pie?

David said...

The pie paradox that Prof. Wagner discusses is about how the world responds to forced equality. Unless you get lucky (which almost never happens), moving money from those that earned it to those that don't means moving it from more productive to less productive ends. That shrinks the pie.