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The mathematics of wealth

An economics professor was accustomed to meeting a variety of strong views amongst his students.  However, this year he was surprised to find that the whole class was of one mind.  If all wealth were shared equally, they had concluded, no-one would be poor and no-one would be rich, and the world would be in harmony.

He was interested to know by what mechanism they thought wealth would be shared out.  “By taxation and centralised spending,” they agreed.

A few days later the professor announced, “OK, this term we will conduct an economic experiment within the class.”

He went on to explain that, using marking grades as a kind of currency, all work would be collected in, marked and averaged out.  Everyone would then receive the same grade.  That way, no-one should fail and, in all probability, no-one would receive an A grade.  After a little thought the students nodded their approval.  They would sink or swim together, the strong helping the weak.

After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone received a B.  The students who had studied hard were a little upset, they had to admit, but the students who had not done much work were happy.

As the second test approached, the students who had studied little studied even less – they knew their grades would be uplifted anyway –  and the ones who normally studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too, so they studied less as well.

The second test average grade was D.  No-one was happy.

When the third test rolled around, the average was an F.  All had failed.  And as the term unfolded, the scores never increased.

At the end of the term the professor asked them what they had learned from this experiment.  There was much bickering, blaming, name-calling and hard feelings.  All declared that the others were lazy.  None was prepared to go on studying for the benefit of the others.

The professor suggested gently that the answer was much simpler than that.

“Wealth is like mathematics,” he said.  “You cannot multiply something by dividing it.”

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