View Poll Results: Is wealth accumulation a zero-sum game?
Yes. 5 29.41%
No. 12 70.59%
Voters: 17. You may not vote on this poll

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Wealth Availability/Acquisition

by russ_watters
Tags: wealth
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Feb16-04, 11:04 AM
P: 22,316
This issue came up in another forum. The question is this:

Is wealth a zero-sum game?

By this, I mean is it required that in order for one person to get richer, another must get poorer in any economic system because the amount of wealth available is constant (at least with respect to population)?

Please note, though the discussion will inevitably turn to capitalism vs communism, the quesiton is more broad and includes both. Certainly many people believe capitalism works this way in practice, but I want to know if all systems must work this way due to an inherrent limitation in the amount of wealth available.

I'll just let the poll go for a little while - naturally I have an opinion I wish to discuss and a point to make.
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Feb16-04, 11:49 AM
Zero's Avatar
P: 1,509
Yes...and no.
Feb16-04, 04:29 PM
P: 1,528
absolutely not.

Feb16-04, 04:42 PM
FZ+'s Avatar
P: 1,954
Wealth Availability/Acquisition

No, because the amount of wealth is not constant. Unless if you are talking relative wealth...
Feb16-04, 05:45 PM
Zero's Avatar
P: 1,509
I mean, obviously, it is not required...but it can very easily happen.
Loren Booda
Feb16-04, 06:17 PM
Loren Booda's Avatar
P: 3,408
No. Imagine trying to gain wealth, having already 90% of the world's economy as opposed to .00000000001%. The efficiency of investment relies on the uncertainty it instills in the extremes of overall economy (among other factors). Moderate wealth encourages greater relative accumulation of value.
Feb16-04, 06:31 PM
Zero's Avatar
P: 1,509
There is obviously a limit to the amount of total available wealth, at any given moment, and also that the amount of wealth can change up or down. The real question is whether unlimited growth can be sustained indefinitely, and at what cost.
Feb16-04, 10:17 PM
Sci Advisor
PF Gold
P: 4,014
Open an economics textbook, any textbook ...

Or, use a favourite technique of mathematicians, assume wealth accumulation is a zero sum game ... leads to manifestly absurd conclusions (or, blindingly false statements about the world), ergo ...

The tragedy is there are also well proven ways to destroy wealth, and they're always to hand whenever you feel envious or wish to emulate the dog in the manger ...
Feb18-04, 01:04 PM
Sci Advisor
P: 1,341
Greetings !

My answer is mostly yes and partially no.
What I think the real issue in any society of
any level and "wealth" is - is what that society
THINKS of wealth and the various levels of it.
You could be a bushman in the desert with your little
clan and feel happy with what you are and you could
be living in a concrete house with incredibly complex
electronic devices all around and feel like ****
because your neighbour got more of'em electronic devices.
So the real question, I believe, should be - how
is society to be educated so that the maximum possible
amount of individuals is satisfied, without enforcing
anything or brainwashing people in a negative way in the
process (though "negative" is also a relative term).

Live long and prosper.
Dissident Dan
Feb18-04, 11:25 PM
Dissident Dan's Avatar
P: 691
I pretty much agree with Zero's and drag's posts.
Feb19-04, 03:34 PM
kat's Avatar
P: 58
***waiting to see Russ's point***
Peter Pan
Feb19-04, 04:56 PM
P: 44
I say no for the sole reason that wealth can be created. You can have an original idea for a product or service that doesn't pull money away from other sectors.
Feb19-04, 08:04 PM
PF Gold
P: 8,147
I think that any initial state of society will evolve into a stratified one where there are haves and have-nots. Whether you call that upper class "the rich" or "the party" or "the chiefs and shamans" it's the same story.
Feb20-04, 12:00 PM
motai's Avatar
P: 496
I guess inflation could give a false sense of wealth (at least in the short term to pay off debts). William Jennings Bryan advocated unlimited coinage of silver at a ratio of 16:1 to gold. It never worked though, and America soon therafter passed the Gold Standard Act of 1900.
Feb20-04, 01:13 PM
Sci Advisor
P: 875
In the long run, obviously not. Compare the net wealth of the world now to 1000 years ago. There are some microcosms in economics that are zero sum games, though. A union bargaining with management over salaries is an example. There are enough of these to justify the opinion that, quite often, the rich are rich because the poor are poor.

Feb20-04, 01:17 PM
P: 22,316
Well, this is encouraging, yet vaguely disappointing.

Yes, of course the quantity of wealth available can't remain constant unless resources are limited. The one thing many people forget though is that coal, oil, and other things we pull out of the ground aren't the only resources. The 40+ hours a week I work is a resource. Even the sun is a (underutilized) resource.
I guess inflation could give a false sense of wealth
That's true, inflation must always be taken into account. However, in the US anyway, all income groups have been increasing faster than inflation for at least the past 40 years.

And China, with stagnating (negative?) population growth and double-digit GDP growth is showing a similar trend (though those at the bottom in China are likely not seeing any of the benefit).
Feb20-04, 01:50 PM
Sci Advisor
P: 875
One big perception problem is how wealth is generated. Most wealth is generated by innovation. It is not just high tech stuff like lightbulbs or computers either, crop rotation was a fabulous, wealth-producing innovation.

The problem is, every innovation displaces people. The displaced suffer while the rest of society benefits. Innovators reap huge rewards if they can patent their work, the masses usually benefit modestly from lower prices, and a small segment suffers. We tend to blame those who suffer, but usually they are just the unlucky losers of a reverse lottery. In the past, these problems were solved by the displaced people dying out. Life was short, and innovation was slow.

Today, innovation comes at a rapid pace, and people live a long time. This means that a significant portion of society is displaced at any time. Fortunately, we are much better about what to do with people displaced now. There is a class though, who benefit disproprotionately from this state of affairs.

Those who make their living through investment are reaping ridiculous fortunes. I'm not talking about the entrepreneur who starts a business to fill a need that is not being provided. That person is just as much at risk of being "out-innovated" as anybody else. I'm talking about those who simply shop around for businesses to fund. Those who live solely by the work their wealth does for them prosper disproportionately from the state of affairs that causes significant hardship for many people. For this reason, capital gains taxes are amply justified. Income from labor is essentially just productive for society, while income from investment is both productive and destructive, essentially two steps forward and one step back.

Feb20-04, 01:59 PM
FZ+'s Avatar
P: 1,954
I'll just let the poll go for a little while - naturally I have an opinion I wish to discuss and a point to make.
Can you make your point, now?

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