Equality or Efficiency, the Size of the Pie and Each Slice

More Thanksgiving Economics

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Nov 23, 2012    •    578 Views

From a past econlife Thanksgiving post:

  • In 1623, 2 years after the first Thanksgiving, Governor William Bradford was worried about Plymouth’s food supply. The problem, he concluded, was that people shared whatever they produced. Because “able and fit” young men were expected to work harder and then give their food to others, all worked less. As Bradford explained, ”So they began to think how they…could…obtain a better crop than they had done…At length…the Governor…so assigned to every family a parcel of land…This had very good results for it made all hands very industrious…”

Income equality was a problem in 1623 and remains a dilemma in 2012. In 1623, the question was redistribution of the food supply from those who produced it to those who needed it. Now though, redistribution questions are about spending on entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security, and tax cuts, marginal tax rates and tax deductions.

But still, like Governor Bradford’s dilemma in 1623, we are talking about the size of the pie and how unequal each slice should be.

Sources and Resources: My quote and facts about 17th century Plymouth Plantation are from here and here while our contemporary equality or efficiency is the focus of Arthur Okun’s book.

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