Friday, December 31, 2010

Zero sum

I wonder if the world really is a Zero Sum game.

What Does It Mean?
What Does Zero-Sum Game Mean?
A situation in which one participant's gains result only from another participant's equivalent losses.  

When I was a liberal, I took it for granted --that is, accepted it without really investigating-- that, to put it simply, everyone could have what they wanted and so injustice could be reduced, with no differently unjust side effects. With liberal change, things could only get better for everyone.

Not so sure anymore.

I can't think of any large human society that is not based on a structured combination of justice and injustice. The choice is probably restricted to which kinds you want because on this planet, available resources and access to them will always be scarcer than demand.

Take our own society. We have more access to more goods, more safety, more
security, etc than any other society in history. But some of us will always have more of these things than others and others will want more than they have.

This applies also to group status and societal power.

Sharing power may in fact be a myth. The struggle for dominance, given the Zero Sum rule, will be constant and there will be winners and losers, not colleagues.

I was thinking this morning that liberals, driven by envy --the covetousness against which the Tenth Commandment warns--, mistrust Big Business, which they hold is driven by greed, and promote Big Government to restrain and to redistribute. Conservatives mistrust Big Government, seeing it, rightly, as the agent of envy.

Is the real difference between greed and envy --both of which are immoderate desires for acquisition-- that the greedy are successful in acquiring what they want and the envious are not?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My experience of "liberalism" was different - very much a zero sum worldview: my/our prosperity causes destitution for others both in oppress'd populations in North America and in the Third World. UnPickwickianly Christianity taught this in the 1960s and 1970s, both "Protestant" and spirit of Second Vatican: the reality of creating wealth (maybe first mention'd by Machiavelli, Prince, end of ch 21) always needs to be re-discover'd (e.g. by Locke [mixing labour with the almost instrinsically worthless elements of nature]; by Adam Smith; by Karl Marx [labour theory of value, vs parasitism of owners of the means of production]; by George Gilder, in Wealth & Poverty, c. 1981.

Gilder's observations really diminish'd the enormous guilt load I was carrying from my UCCan formation: socialism and "government programmes" generally have had lousy successes in creating wealth or even in creating employment; some version or other of "work ethic" and "innovation" is necessary to elevate a population or family system out of our natural condition of poverty, near-starvation, famine; the British empire was very much an economic drain on ordinary British prosperity except for India's exports of cotton; etc etc.

But liberal Christians look on modern productivity systems as medieval manors: everything the gentry has comes by taking from the peasants. (Liberal Christians would never mention the medieval Church as parasitic landlord. A relative of mine, a high cleric in a mainline denomination was indignant when teenage I said that Leon Uris in Trinity was very critical of the Church, and insisted absolutely that this was not the case. At that time I didn't see that the will-to-power of the state was to take the blame for prelates, and my relative didn't explain this to me.)

Yet obviously profit taking on innovations in productivity and innovations in what constitutes wealth (prior to internal combustion engines, petroleum was not wealth) is very different from wealth enjoy'd by taxing a manor, which really is a constant economic thing, not a dynamic thing.

However, as regards honour -- which is the only thing that amour-propre driven academics, prelates, men of letters etc struggle for -- I suppose this really is a zero sum thing. One can increase the honour in a shared or not-shared honour system, for instance if a country or a university goes from "Podunk" to "leading" stature -- but this is by comparison with Podunk countries or universities, who are honour-deprived merely by the existence of "leading" institutions or "world power" countries. ... Best-case scenario: a fraternity that shares a sense of honour of a very high degree?

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