Egalitarianism and Why Fair isn’t Fair

I don’t know of any conservative who even wants a system that is egalitarian.

I know. I see so many of you good people clutching for your pearls, but egalitarianism, in the strictest of meanings is a horrific way to live.

First, let’s consider one law which more people need to understand — Price’s Law.

Derek J. de Solla Price was an efficiency expert who studied the behavior of organizations, and among his most important findings was something later called “Price’s Law”.

Price’s Law says that 50% of work at a company is done by a small number of people. Specifically, it says that 50% of work is done by the square root of the number of employees.[1]

What means is that if you have an organization, be it a company, government, club, church, or even sports team, half the tasks needed to be done will be done by the square root of the total population of the organization. This includes work like managerial and administrative, which (can) work as force multipliers for efficiency in getting other tasks done. So if you have a club of 9 people, 3 of them are responsible for half of everything done. To be clear, this isn’t a true law of economics, but a very good rule of thumb, as all of us know those people in an organization that if they disappear, the whole place would fall apart. This gets more extreme the larger an organization we get, a company of 10,000 people – 100 people are responsible for half the work, 1,000,000 people – 10,000 (an example of this is the military, where extremely competent officers are required to leverage the fighting capabilities of many, many warfighters.) But what about the whole of the United States? At around 320,000,000 people fully half of the tasks done which we all require to remain viable as a nation is done by only 17,888 people.

Obviously, this isn’t talking about physical labor. Simply put, one individual’s labor can’t be stretched that far, but people who create work, opportunity, and make it possible for more work to be done, those are the people in the 17,888. We’re talking about people like Mark Zuckerberg, who through the invention of Facebook, transformed the way we communicate together; Bill Gates, who changed the way we work; Jeff Bezos, who is in the middle of changing the way the world buys goods in no way different than when Sears Roebuck started shipping out catalogs to take advantage of the railways. We are also talking about elected officials like Governors, Senators, and the President, whose decisions can either help or hinder the efforts of millions to get work done.

What Derek Price was actually trying to figure out wasn’t who the best people were, but why companies fail. By showing that there were people who did a far outsized proportion of the work, either by physically doing it or through their efforts, making it get done, he showed what happened when those people left.

When companies begin making poor choices, the choices that weigh on these individuals more than others, they often leave to pursue better opportunities. Promoting someone into their place doesn’t often solve the problem, as this involves training costs and ignores the problem that talent, education, and drive are important features necessary for the success of an individual in their given role. So what Price was studying were companies in the midst of their best people abandoning a company on the road to failure after a few bad choices, which then led to a complete and unavoidable collapse.

The moral of that story is that we aren’t all equal. There are those of around who are far, far more useful than all the rest of us, and if we don’t provide some reason for them to stay in that role, they will leave.

Just as much as the inverse of these people.

Look toward any manager you know. You know what? Forget managers, look to your own experiences. Ask yourself if most of the time isn’t invested in the bottom 10% of employees under their charge. Either it is trying to drive them to meet expectations, or fixing their screw-ups. Expanded out, we also know that most societal problems come from the bottom 10% of any group, whether we are dealing with outsides disbursements in charitable aid, crime rates, or unemployment. Now, here’s the big problem… if an organization, be it a company, university, or the country don’t create systems that keep and grow those high performers, then they will lose them, but nothing such organizations do will get rid of the bottom 10% who bring with them most of the problems. The problems won’t diminish when things get bad, but the problem solvers will leave. That’s the sort of cascade failure Derek Price sought to study and ultimately solve.

So the real moral of the story is that people aren’t equal. Some cause huge problems far outweighing the rest of us, while others fix problems in ways that far, far, far outweigh the rest of us.

Given that, an egalitarian distribution of resources is a disastrous model as society benefits when those who do the most are given the most power to do more.

Some people might call this “maintaining the status quo”.

Well, let’s look at that status quo from the perspective of the bottom.

The poorest people in America have access to clean running water, which places them better off than 80% of the planet. They live in a country where crime has been declining steadily for over 30 years. They have a car, a TV, and a smartphone. They have air conditioning. They have access to the internet and the information to do just about anything with it. They have free education up to the 12th grade, and through numerous need-based college grants, most can qualify for a two-year degree or trade certificate for with no other qualification than family income. In fact, in the United States, a person living today lives a better life than any human alive 100 years ago, and 99% of those living 50 years ago. And here’s the big one…

In most countries, the poor are defined by starvation. In the US, the poor are identified by obesity. Why? Because they can afford the calories necessary for their survival, but they can’t afford expensive nutritious food, planned diets, and gym membership fees of the more affluent. What a monumentally amazing time and place we live where the poor people are fat instead of starving.

Such a reality begs mention of one of history’s greatest progressive presidents and his famous words on the measurement of progress.

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.

– Franklin D. Roosevelt

If we are comparing the world that many egalitarians want, it would not be better for the poor. That’s why demands for egalitarian redistribution models which are aimed at helping the poor are either lying to you or lying to themselves. They are not aimed at helping the poor. What we have, the status quo is the single best model 10,000 years of civilization to help the poor, as evidenced by the lifestyle of our poor as compared to the poor of everyone else’s.

No, egalitarians don’t love the poor. They simply hate the rich.

Conservatives, however, want everyone to equally have the same path to prosperity and keep what they earn to give it back to society by whatever means they see fit. We’ve seen through the narrative of history and proof of research that this is by far the better system not just for them, but for everyone… poor included.

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