Friday, October 06, 2006

The Class With No Cake

There are smart folks, very smart folks, and eFFing smart folks. Robert Reich, University Professor at Berkeley and Clinton’s labor secretary, is of the last kind. The latest post at his blog notes the growing inequality in this country and an earlier post makes the interesting observation on how the concentration of wealth has focused the thousand points of light to a few hundred supernovas.

This blog is not graduate school and I am not eFFing smart, so will skip discussion of welfare economics and overall utilitarianism and say what I have to say this way.

Suppose we assume kids like cake and visit a classroom and pass out pieces, alternating chocolate and vanilla until all have a piece. Life is good. But could it be better? Maybe a kid that got chocolate would rather have vanilla, and his neighbor would rather have chocolate? If we let them trade, we have a happier class, no? Let them all trade, and each time overall well being of entire class improves. Better yet, maybe some kids don’t like cake, and would rather trade their piece for a Randy Johnson (while still a Diamondback!!) baseball card.

But wait, Tom, who has the Johnson card, wants five pieces of cake, and connived with Sue, who has Bill under her thumb, to get his cake for a peck on the cheek, and David knew that Suzie’s mother knows the teacher from another class that was supposed to get cake, but didn’t know it was coming, and how long do I have to do this before you get that four people have all the cake and several classes in the school have none? You think this is a joke? We have a few students in some classes with almost all of the cake. We have classes with no cake.

In physics there is Entropy, and many forces, like my desk drawer, function according to this principle. At first, I have the pens and pencils neatly placed in their slots, the loose change in this bin, the paper clips in that bin, the post-its here, the white-out there, the highlighters here, the erasers, the envelope opener, rubber bands, certain keys to certain locks, and so on. Then life happens. Paper clips fall into the pen bin. Loose change ends up with the white-out. Within a month the whole damned drawer is chaos.

In economics, there is Wealth, and here the dynamic is the exact opposite. Think magnets. Dollars are attracted to dollars. Cake is attracted to cake. In science Robert Merten and in Higher Education Martin Trow (my humble opinion, wikipedia’s failure to include Trow is a slip) refer to the Matthew Effect which quotes the scripture stating "To him that has is given."

In human spirituality and perhaps the most elite higher education institutions, the Matthew Effect may have sound application. Certain spiritual schools probably should only admit those of a certain quality. Perhaps Stanford’s selectivity is appropriate.

But the ability to eat, have a safe place to sleep, obtain an education and skills that can provide for a better life?

Conditions have deteriorated to where those in power are not seeking the overall well being of the rest of us. How could any sane person concerned about all of us ignore global warming?

Conditions have deteriorated to where those in power are not seeking the overall well being of the rest of us.

I really don’t think I am being melodramatic.

Sustainability—we must establish equilibrium with that which supports us
Equity—we cannot allow the few to have all at the expense of our future
Development—we must improve our capacity for attaining genuine wisdom

It is past critical that we send people to Washington who understand the global warming that threatens our future. It is past critical that we send people to Washington that deeply understand the concept of service and seeking the overall well being of everyone. It is past critical that we send people to Washington who can and will speak for the class with no cake.


Blogger Art Jacobson said...

Here's a practical example of how being poor is more expensive than being rich.

My Grandkids go through AA and AAA batteries at an alarming rate so it's one of granddad's jobs to keep the electrons flowing.

I bought two super-sized packages of batteries the other day at a considerable per-battery saving, but the cost was almost twenty bucks. If twenty bucks is a significant portion of your weekly food budget you have to settle for buying just a few at a much higher unit cost.

Just one of the ways the poor get screwed.


10/07/2006 12:26 PM  
Blogger Dogma said...

“Conditions have deteriorated to where those in power are not seeking the overall well being of the rest of us.”

Now that’s a very powerful, insightful statement.

It brings to mind a personal enigma… How is it that the Republican Party, who is all about the concentration of power (in the Executive Branch) and wealth (in their friends’ pockets), have captured such a wide swath of America’s middle and lower-economic classes? Through slight of hand and a heavy dose of faith, these bread-and-butter Americans have been and continue to vote against their own economic self interests.

I’m sure Reich or someone must have a book out on the topic ;-)

10/07/2006 2:18 PM  
Blogger bookmobile said...

The cake analogy is great.

We have a closed system on this planet, at least for resources that can be used in the most direct way (e.g., clean and drinkable water, farmable soil), but it seems that those who scrape up every little crumb for themselves don't believe. There is no more cake that will be available to those who, for whatever reason, are left with none. It's imperative that we assure that all have some. Not just some. Enough. We've lost that idea.

10/07/2006 9:14 PM  
Blogger x4mr said...

Oh, Art, don't get me started on this one. Consider those Pay Day Loan outfits, or the Rent to Own scams "You can have this HDTV for only $9.95 a day!", or Pawn shops, and it breaks my heart when I see one of the struggling spend what little they have on those stupid scratch and whatever cards at the convenience stores.

Then there's the tiny liquor bottles.

OK, just kidding about the tiny liquor bottles.

I don't get it either, Dogma, but one guess is the whole religion thing. One rather dark thought I had later in the day is that maybe those in power have NEVER really sought the well being of everyone.

At any rate, and don't know if Liza reads this blog, I share her concerns. Barring some turnaround I think we are on a collision course with some real nastiness.

Bookmobile's certainly right that some have lost the idea that we need mechanisms to spread wealth.

Butchering the wealthy is not the answer.

Not to get ridiculous, but folks at the top, the very top, should understand that a very unhappy population coupled with a very unhappy military.....

10/08/2006 9:11 AM  
Blogger Liza said...

I'm reading this blog and by the way, this is a great post. I haven't responded because it is absolutely exhausting to think about this. Maybe that's why we spent so much time analyzing the CD8 Democratic primary because at least it was comprehensible.

10/08/2006 11:23 AM  

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