Life as a Positive-Sum Game

A friend of mine posted to Facebook yesterday: “Life is not a zero-sum equation. Ensuring the liberation and justice for those most marginalized doesn’t actually take away any liberation or justice from you.” It reminded me of some things I’ve mulled over off and on.

It seems that much of the fear that was whipped up during the 2016 election is based on the assumption that life is a zero-sum game. If I gain a right, you lose it. When African-Americans get to vote, Whites votes count less. When women start working, men’s jobs are threatened. When same-sex couples can get married, the sanctity of heterosexual marriage is threatened.

These zero-sums are artificially created.

According to James Surowiecki, one key element that differentiates a crowd that moves toward wisdom from mob rule is diversity of opinion. By giving voting rights to people other than white male property-owners, we are diversifying the electorate and should end up with wiser choices. Yes, I know, this doesn’t seem to happen. The flawed U.S. system restricts diversity of opinion through other means, including the winner-takes all system. More sinister, though, is the voter suppression that happened, especially during the 2016 election. The election result was more a reflection of mob rule than wisdom of crowds.

With jobs, the artificial creation of a zero-sum game is even more obvious. Let’s assume we have 10 hours of work to do. If we gave those 10 hours to a white man, he’d have to work the whole 10 hours. A white woman, two women of color, and a man of color also want to work. Now we have five people. Each one only has to work 2 hours! But what do they get paid?! In our current economy, they’d all get paid only one-fifth, which makes all of them less well off – unless they all could find 8 more hours of work. It could be worse since there is another person, often a white male, who pegs all five against each other and gives the job to the lowest bidder (who probably would end up working all 10 hours for less than 1/5th of the pay!). This is the zero-sum game of capitalism. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. What if those 5 people got together and created their own co-op. They could share the work and its benefits. Maybe they would end up working, say, 5 hours each but would earn the equivalent of 10 hours work. What we are taught is that this is not possible. We are taught to stay stuck in the zero-sum and don’t even try to create a positive-sum, which would lift everybody up because a positive-sum would not benefit those that benefit from the artificial zero-sum: Those who siphon off wealth for their own enrichment creating the extreme inequality we see now in the United States and the world.

The marriage example is only grounded in rhetoric. There is absolutely nothing that my neighbor does in the privacy of her home that impacts anything that I do in the privacy of my home (well, assuming she isn’t hacking into my computer or something like that 😉 ). Claiming that someone else’s marriage somehow impacts mine is plainly absurd.

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