The Winner Take All Society
Garrison Keillor’s mythical town Lake Wobegon is a town in Minnesota where women are strong, the men good looking, and all the children are above average. Modern teachers would love to teach in Lake Wobegon.
We don’t live in this type of town, although many Americans believe so. We live in a winner take all society. I just reread a couple of chapters in a book with this name written by Robert H Frank and Phillip J Cook. They compare competing in this society is like buying a lottery ticket as we have too many contestants and only a certain group have a chance of becoming a member of the top group. This also lowers the earnings of the middle and lower class.
Author Lester Thurow claims that “History will look back and see a shift in the American distribution of earnings since the 1970s as the largest that any society has ever had without a revolution or a military defeat and subsequent occupation.”
Most big winners are members of entertainment, sport figures, graduates of Ivy League Schools, figures from wealthy families and rare people with luck. A few like Mark Zuckerman and Bill Gates are exceptions.
Only the top performers in these areas make it to the top. Only 5% of college basketball players make it into the NBA and only the outstanding players like Michael Jordon get the lucrative sponsors that make them wealthy. Another example would be in the Olympics where the runner who comes in first is endowed with wealthy sponsors while second place runner, 1 second behind, is forgotten. This goes with most sports. The winner takes all.
The entertainment industry has 100s of thousand hopefuls, but only a select few become stars. The winners take all have many palatial homes and oodles of money while the others are waiting tables.
State University graduates usually get mediocre jobs while Ivy League graduates are the ones who rise to the top, but it must be noted that only the outstanding graduates of these schools become wealthy. The party goers and lazy students from these schools are also left behind.
The other group that rises to the top is already at the top. People like the Kennedys, Bushes, Trumps and others born with rich parents believe they are on third base because they hit a triple while without rich parents they would still be on first base.
The High School I attended had two tracks, academic and manual arts and it wasn’t a sin to be in the manual arts track. Now days parents start prepping their children for college at conception while most of them are not like the children from Lake Webogon and not academically above average and would have a happier life in other less illustrious professions needed by society. Your children don’t have to keep up with the Joneses.
Before plunging your children into the rat race for prestige and money wouldn’t it be wiser to know the knowledge and the number of contestants in the area you want them to compete in and if they have they relative strengths and weaknesses for overcoming the odds to be a winner.
Adam Smith described the over estimation of their children’s capabilities. “The over-weening conceit which the greater part of men have of their own abilities, is an evil remarked by the philosophers and morals of all ages.”— The contempt of risk and the presumptuous hope of success, are in no period of life more active than at the age at which young people choose their profession.”
I realize the rancor this will generate, but when looking at the costs of college and the unbelievable debts our college graduates will be burdened with for many of their formative years, it may be wise to look at life realistically. Remember that this is a winner take all society.