Re: Bye-Bye to the >H Right Wing

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Sun Feb 03 2002 - 20:08:24 MST

At 02:30 PM 2/3/02 -0800, Olga wrote:

>No envy here. I just don't understand how some human beings (one not
>essentially different from another) are worth billions and some are barely
>valued at all (no matter how hard they work - and by "work" I mean doing
>something that takes away from one's leisure and personal time).

Plenty of envy here, I'm not proud. :)

But envy doesn't constitute an argument, nor a moral basis for changing the
way things are. Not by itself.

I gather that the best current explanation (which of course serves the
interests of the obscenely rich, and so is as suspect as proclamations by
the tobacco industry of the healthy effects of smoking) is that it's a side
consequence of the market system we all love for its unparalleled success:
a side effect due to the kind of power law that kicks in with all such
systems `on the edge of chaos', as they used to say at Santa Fe.

A power law, of course, describes systems like avalanches and word usage
frequency, where some few words are used very, very often or some enormous
avalanches happen very, very rarely, and other instances following a power
curve up or down the scale (see Per Bak's HOW NATURE WORKS). If this is
validly applied to economics, then any market system will generate,
willy-nilly, a few owners tottering on billions (however unstably), say ten
times as many with hundreds of millions, 100 times as many with tens of
millions, 1000 times as many with millions, and lots and lots of us schmucks.

Now plainly people can *decide* to stop it happening that way, by
confiscation or voluntary potlatch or inventing new disjunctive technology,
but the argument is that doing so (except for the last case) yields a less
than optimal--even catastrophically munged--outcome. Might be so. Certainly
there *are* plenty of these power law phenomena in human affairs, as there
are in nature at large.

Damien Broderick

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