I posed two questions. The first question was, “$100 is to be distributed amongst 100 people. How should it be distributed?” I divided the 31 responses into five broad categories, and then asked, “What is the most fair way to distribute $100 among 100 people?”
Twenty-eight people responded. The results: thirteen heartless scrooges said to give the money to those who earn it, six bleeding hearts said to give the money to those who need it, four gutless weasels said to distribute the money evenly, four selfish opportunists said they’d keep the money for themselves, and some guy said to distribute the money randomly.
I thought there were two difficulties in answering the question:
1. You know nothing about where the money came from. Is a company distributing wages to its employees? If so, perhaps you should distribute it to those who did the most to earn it. Is a corporation distributing earnings to its shareholders? If so, you need to distribute the money in proportion to ownership. Are these tax dollars that Congress is doling out? If so, you’ve got to figure out who needs it most (forget the special interests for the time being), and good luck with that. Am I dying and trying to decide how to divvy up the inheritance? If so, I’ve got to decide who my favorites are and you’re running out of time to curry favor. Did philanthropists decide to donate the money? Did I just rob some guy and decide to play Robin Hood? Did Bernanke write “$100” on a scrap of paper and say, “Trust me, it’s money”?
2. You know nothing about who the money is going to. Were the 100 people already rich, so that nobody’s going to care that much about who gets how much? Or were they already poor, so that the money means a great deal more to the recipients than it would if they were rich? Or are they somewhere in between? Or is there a mix of economic classes, and if so, what’s the mix? And how do we define rich, middle-class or poor? Is it based simply on having more or less than the others, i.e., relative wealth? Or is it based on how well you can meet or exceed basic human needs like food, clothing, and shelter, i.e., absolute wealth?
Wouldn’t the answers to these questions affect how you’d distribute the money?
This recent viral video commented on the distribution of wealth in the United States. Simply put: Americans think wealth is distributed less evenly and fairly than it should be, and wealth is distributed far less evenly and fairly than Americans already think it is.
Next question: So what? What does it matter if the actual distribution of wealth doesn’t match some poll-generated “ideal” or “fair” distribution of wealth?