Musical Chairs Theory Of Economic Justice
Competition, self-improvement and meritocracy do not improve economic justice outcomes in a musical chairs model. No matter how loudly Horatio Alger is invoked, there still will be only one winner of a game of musical chairs, and many losers. Likewise, no matter how responsably the players attempt to act, how much they struggle to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, only one will finish in a chair.
Musical chairs is a children's game that has many lessons about economic justice.
Libertarian ideas about economic justice are simple: what you get, you keep. That sounds good until you think about how it is determined what you get.
Libertarian economic justice has no problem with the game of musical chairs. The winner "obviously" earns that final seat through competition following the rules of the game. The losers also deserve their losses according to the rules of the game.
First, the payoff system in musical chairs is winner takes all. This is an important real world model, that children should learn about. But the converse lesson is that there are many losers and only one chair is left of the original number. A game designed to have more winners or no complete losers might be less exciting, but a better outcome. For example, a winner might get to sit across two seats, and a two losers would share one seat. Nobody is "out", and no chairs are removed.
The real world lesson from the musical chairs payoff system is that we can design society to concentrate rewards to a few people, or disperse them among many.
Second, the competition for chairs is wasteful. If the goal was to select a winner, it could be accomplished much faster by selecting lots. The skills selected for are non-productive: if equal skills and energy were applied to making more chairs, there would be an overall benefit.
In the real world, we prohibit certain wasteful, non-productive competitions. Competition for property through theft and violence, for example. In various religious communities, competition for status through conspicuous consumption is prohibited by requirements for plain dress. Etc.
- Inequality By Design: It Is Not Just Talent and Hard Work [More...]
- "If the 1 percent are able to extract vast sums from the economy it is because we have structured the economy for this purpose. It could easily be structured differently, but the 1 percent and its defenders aren't interested in changing things."
- The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive (book, online)
- Dean Baker's online book describing how upwards distribution through markets is a result of government policy (due to capture by the rich), and how to change to more equitable polices.
Professor Hayek... does not see, or will not admit, that a return to ‘free’ competition means for the great mass of people a tyranny probably worse, because more irresponsible, than that of the State. The trouble with competitions is that somebody wins them. Professor Hayek denies that free capitalism necessarily leads to monopoly, but in practice that is where it has led, and since the vast majority of people would far rather have State regimentation than slumps and unemployment, the drift towards collectivism is bound to continue if popular opinion has any say in the matter.
George Orwell, "Review by Orwell: The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek / The Mirror of the Past by K. Zilliacus "