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Rich and Poor

Today I have been involved in a “discussion” with a more right-oriented friend. Actually, it might have got a little bit beyond a discussion but it hasn’t quite got to the point of being an argument yet. Maybe debate would be a better word.

Anyway the debate was over a story which has been circulating on the internet for several years. It tells of an economics professor who offers to average the marks of his class and pass or fail them all as a group. He had never failed anyone in the past but when that experiment was done the whole class failed. It was supposed to illustrate that the competitive, commercial model is best and we shouldn’t be wasting resources on “freeloaders” as all the socialists want us to.

Its all garbage, of course – as all right-wing propaganda is. The first problem is that the story wasn’t real – it is an urban myth. When I pointed this out the friend said it was an allegory. But he only said this after I showed him it wasn’t true. Its too easy to present something as if it is true, then when it is discovered to be a lie just to say it was an allegory all along. That’s quite dishonest!

The second problem is that the whole issue isn’t presented in a realistic way. No one is saying that everyone should be treated the same no matter what their contribution to society is. What I am saying (and what most people with a political tendency to the left are saying) is that we should have some minimum standard for everyone and we should be more thoughtful about what type of behaviour we reward.

The right tend to indicate they want a totally free system where people are able to work towards greater rewards (to them that is always money) for themselves. They say this is fair and often even go as far as saying its best for everyone. Well if we had a “free for all” society we would have murderers and despots in the top level of our society. After all, isn’t that the ultimate response to a competitive system?

So we do work in an essentially arbitrary system where some people are rewarded more than others. And despite what the right say, it has little to do with how hard people work. Sure, I agree that hard workers will probably do better on average but that’s a minor factor really. For example a lazy banker will get paid a lot more than a hard working rubbish collector but I would debate which makes the greater contribution to society!

So we do have basically random rules which dictate who gets the most and who gets the least and all we are really arguing about is how those rules should be fine tuned. How much is enough for someone who makes a great contribution and how much is enough for someone who makes very little? And how do we decide what is a genuine contribution and what isn’t?

One thing I can say for sure: the pure, free market capitalist system doesn’t create an environment where the best people can thrive. Instead it creates one where the most ruthless, greedy and self-centered do well and almost completely ignores the role of the people making genuine long-term contributions.

To mention my old example again (I’ve never been given a good answer to this): why do executives selling sugar water (Coke for example) get paid a fortune when cancer researchers are often not funded adequately? Clearly capitalism doesn’t work.

So the political right should think a little bit more carefully about their very superficial ideas. If we followed those disaster would inevitably follow.

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