Transplanting Our Resources

In the context of Mankiw’s Defending the One Percent:

The person with both kidneys is healthy, the person with one kidney is vulnerable, and the person with no kidneys is dead. Who wants to give away something that keeps them safe? Don’t you have a responsibility to yourself to put your health first? Or at least keep a safety net for your family? I would argue yes.

But there is a line between a safety net and a hoarder’s nest. The argument that you should be able to keep what you earned is one that I would agree with in a society where its members are valued justly. For example, as a firm supporter of quality education and educators, I’m a proponent of raising teacher salaries. Generally, educators go into the profession acknowledging that they will not make as substantial an amount of money as their peers with similar education levels. Although they enter the field under these conditions, I believe that teachers hold much greater value to our economy than the amount that is placed on them.

Our society is selfish. On a whole, we are interested in only ourselves and extensions of ourselves. Kidneys are necessary for our bodies to survive, but money is vital to surviving society. The difference is that you don’t need more than a certain amount of money to sustain a comfortable standard of living. The extravagantly wealthy are valuing their futures – their abilities to travel across the world in first-class in retirement or pass down hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to their children – over the more immediate needs of the working or middle class. It’s perfectly understandable not to want to relinquish a kidney. But is sacrificing a better experience at Disneyland by renting a disabled person (yes, it actually happens) to instead support a disabled person financially really so difficult? Why spend resources on frivolous things and/or be a parasite to our society when you could contribute something good?

I envision a scene like this: say there’s a grocery store that has food that can support the whole population if distributed equally. However, not everyone can fit into the grocery store, so the strongest members in each community volunteer to bring back food for everyone. They get to the store and pick up the rations for their neighborhood. But then they question why they should have to give it up. After all, they are the ones who did the work and sacrificed their time. So, instead of distributing the goods equally, they save a disproportionate amount for themselves for a feast now while ensuring enough for the future. This leaves a smaller amount for everyone else in the community that won’t be sustainable. The people in the community feel betrayed, but since they aren’t the strongest members in the neighborhood, they don’t have any power to do anything. And all that the strongest have to do is wait for everyone else to starve to death. However, this wipes out a lot of other service-based talents. Gone now are many teachers, doctors, engineers, botanists, etc… all because one trait  – physical strength – at a very specific point in time held all the value in society. And this isn’t something that can be sustained in the long-term. Evolution of society has a tricky way of turning the tables and changing what we place value on. So it’s important to value and reward a variety of skill sets because something that may not sound particularly useful today could be in high demand later on.

It sounds poetic to say that the organ we most need for our society to survive is the heart. It’s true that humanity could benefit on a whole from being more empathetic. However, it’s also very important to use the neocortex of the brain. After all, if the wealthy are able to plan for the future, they might as well learn how to be good at it.

1 thought on “Transplanting Our Resources”

  • I agree with you in large part. The question is not really equality versus inequality–that question will never be resolved. Rather, the question is
    how much inequality is fair? I believe that money, like power, is corrupting. It’s hard to be rich and not think you deserve most, if not all, of your wealth. Thinking in terms of a little less inequality seems more politically likely to be feasible.

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