Zero Sum Game Lame, Inane, Insane

 By Dr. Brad Lyles    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

As seen in Canada Free Press

Most things in life are a matter of perspective. For example, regarding the difference of opinion about wearing mink, there is the perspective of the fur-wearer; then there is the perspective of the fur-bearer.  Such matters of perspective, inclusive of assumption (presumption?) sets, bear upon the relationship of the proletariat (99% per OWS) to the “rich” (1% per OWS).

For the sake of discussion, let us initially consider the “rich” to be those whose annual household income places them in the top 1% of American income-earners, those whose households earn more than $350,000.00 (before-tax income) per year. This figure includes the 270,000 American households earning more than one million dollars per year. Keep in mind, however, the top 1% of U.S. income earners are NOT in every case the wealthiest – wealth, instead, refers to “net worth,” and not to annual income. Accordingly, a person might earn no annual income at all – yet could well still be a multi-millionaire.

This holds true even were we to account for dividend earnings on bonds or capital appreciation of stocks. A person with a minimum of ten to twenty million dollars invested might reasonably earn one million (taxable) dollars per year in dividends/appreciation. Certainly, these rich are included in our 1%. Paradoxically, also included in our 1% are those citizens who earn $1,000,000.00 or more per year but have a negative net worth – they owe more than they are worth.

Clearly, this “top 1%” language doesn’t really refer to anything in particular other than a “bunch of rich people.” Then again, what is meant by “rich” people?: High income? High “earned” income, like from a job? High “unearned” income (like from investments)? High net worth? High debt-potential? What?

In any case, let us concede that the top 1% of U.S. income earners are NOT the wealthiest 1% of U.S. citizens. This is a small distinction but a crucial one. Instead, let us define, henceforth, the top 1% of Americans to be the wealthiest (highest net worth) Americans, and NOT the top 1% of annual income earners.

It is these wealthy, in particular, who most deserve our resentment and our wrath according to Obama and his fellow travelers. These are the people who inherited their wealth, stole their wealth, lied and cheated for their wealth, perpetrated fraud and cons for their wealth, married wealth, leeched off wealth, those who achieved wealth through patronage (“it’s not what you know but who you know”), and, for the remainder, simply everyone who is wealthy who does not deserve to be wealthy – which we shall consider for our purposes to be all of the wealthy.

Furthermore, let us consider that the ENTIRETY of the 1% of the wealthiest Americans are evil and that NONE of them deserve their wealth; none earned their wealth. Let us consider them to be the vilest of the vile. Let us also presume that they have done and will do whatever is necessary – immoral, hateful, despicable, cruel – to obtain more and more wealth, more than they could ever need.

As the OWS protestors decry, the rest of us poor slobs are the 99% of the population who are not wealthy.

Defining wealthy people as entirely evil and undeserving, what next? We still must define our own situation – that of the 99%.  This is easy. Most of us wish to be wealthy ourselves. More than this, it is also likely true that most of us would be happy enough were everyone to be wealthy. Regrettably, there are some of us (the most vocal) who would be satisfied were none to be wealthy, for all to be impoverished, as long as each of us was the same. Nevertheless, for argument’s sake, we shall accept that most of us wish to be wealthy and would not be upset if everyone else were wealthy too. Now, how can we become wealthy?

In order that we all become wealthy, it would be logical to examine the methods by which the currently wealthy people got their wealth. This will not work for two reasons. First, since we’re assuming that all wealthy people are evil and got their wealth by evil means, we cannot become wealthy by similarly evil means because we are not evil or willing to become evil ourselves to do so. We must divine another path. Unfortunately, we are blocked in this effort by the “zero-sum game.”

The “zero-sum game” concept is deceivingly simple. It is so simple that almost every commentator, politician and pundit fails to understand it. If they understand it, they fail to articulate it.

Zero-sum game,  finite amount of wealth, Person A can only become wealthy at Person B’s expense

The zero-sum game refers to the presumption that there exists only a finite amount of any particular resource, including wealth. Since there is only a finite amount of wealth, Person A can only become wealthy at Person B’s expense. For A to win, B must lose. If one presumes the “zero-sum game,” there is no escaping this fateful logic.

Understandably, this philosophy innervates the 99 vs. 1 per cent rhetoric polluting the airwaves today. This is because of the undeniable conclusion that the 1% wealthiest Americans are wealthy primarily because they are the best at taking wealth from the rest of us – best at exploiting the rest of us. Accordingly, the economically fatuous would have us believe that we should deprive the rich of their ill-gotten gains. There is no other path to fairness.

Of course, anyone with common sense should recognize the intellectual trap presented by the “zero-sum game,” at least regarding everyone being wealthy. This trap is formed of the inescapable paradox that if “fairness” is our goal, everyone must have the “same.” Even were we to be entirely successful at collecting and redistributing all of the wealth of the top 1% of the population, none of us would be wealthy. At best, we would all be slightly less poor.

This is the inevitable consequence of the “zero-sum game” – we’re all still poor. For Liberal politicians to pretend otherwise is intellectual dishonesty at its most obscene.

Back home, we’re still trying to figure out how we can all be rich. Pursuing this goal, it is clear that the zero-sum game concept is of no value to us. Fortunately, there exists an entire theory of economics located far from the zero-sum game. This system is referred to as Capitalism – the sort of economic system once common to America.

The basic tenets of Capitalism were first articulated by Adam Smith, the Scottish philosopher widely considered to be the father of Capitalism (Wealth of Nations, 1776). Not only did he describe the means by which individuals could become rich; he also described the means by which entire societies (the rest of us) can become rich. These concepts are the foundation for the understanding that wealth is created and not divisible – one gets wealthy by “adding value,” not by stealing wealth from someone else.

These sorts of ideas, ideas that allow escape from the “zero-sum game” trap, are most often articulated in our time by the “Austrian School” of economics, otherwise known as the Supply-side School of economics. “Supply-side” economics, however, is better understood as Freedom economics – the economic principles underlying the Free Market. The Free Market requires that individuals be permitted ownership of the fruits of their own labor –they are permitted to own private property.

Many hundreds of years of economic history supported this concept. Even the Pilgrims figured it out after they almost all starved to death when, initially, all of their property was considered “communal” property.

Instead of redistributionist methodologies – those of Obama and the Left –  that would divide the zero-sum pie “equally,” giving each his “fair share,” (equally meager shares),Freedom economics suggests that if we permit individuals to own private property we will paradoxically and inexorably increase the size of the pie for everybody. On the contrary, if we continue to believe that the “zero-sum game” defines our economics, we will remain incapable of escaping the inevitable consequences where only a very few can be rich, or none.

To reiterate, zero-sum game principles allow for only one of two economic outcomes – one where 99% of citizens are poor and one where 100% of citizens are poor. Most would agree that neither outcome is acceptable.

It should now be understood (especially by all of our brain-atrophied economists who refuse to understand it) that most of the rhetorical bilge endemic to our politics is based upon the “zero-sum” game assumption.

This fact alone should provide conservatives the polemical high-ground in any discussions of economics, the poor, the rich, and everyone’s “fair share” and more. The defining question in every instance should be, “So, Peter, are you saying you believe in Zero-Sum Game Economics? If so, what is the basis of your belief?” This zero-sum game allegation should be employed by conservatives in every possible situation.

The “zero-sum game” concept is a defeatist concept, a demoralizing concept, an intellectually bankrupt concept. Anyone clever enough to insist that it remain an unspoken assumption should be routed; their belief should be illuminated for all to see. Anyone foolish enough to promote the “zero-sum game” concept “out in the open” should be declared, loudly, to support its ultimate and universally impoverishing consequences.

When one understands the dismal inevitable consequences of the “zero-sum game” redistributionist policies of the Left, it is virtually inconceivable that anyone could ever have been persuaded to them. Nevertheless, the Left articulates such policies with abandon and without shame. Our very own President was recently seen to remark, on live T.V., that wealth was “unfairly distributed” in the U.S. These sorts of ideas are not only Marxist – they are pre-Marx. As noted above, such collectivist communal ideas were both conceived and abandoned in the earliest days of American history – by the Pilgrims. It is not hard to understand why the Left is not known for its historical perspective or intellectual rigor.

“Zero-sum game” economics is failed economics and inevitably universally impoverishing economics. It is indelibly saddening that such economic concepts survive – and color so much of contemporary political language.

Instead, it should finally be understood, by all, once and for all, that the “zero-sum game” refrain is lame, inane, and insane.


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