Did you know science could be fun? Yes, science.
Archimedes did it. Einstein did it. Now we can do it, too.
I’m talking about doing a thought experiment.
In fact, not only a thought experiment, but a thought present for YOU.
Let’s make you rich. Really really rich.
No, not as rich as Gates, or Buffet. Richer.
Not as rich as Bezos or Zuckerberg. Richer.
Not even as rich as the entire USA. Richer.
This is a thought experiment. We can go where it’s impossible to go. We can go to the very extremes of possibilities.
As of this moment, there is no income, no particle of wealth, absolutely nothing of value that you don’t own. The queen’s jewels? Yours. The queens toilet and toilet paper? Yours.
That donkey raised from a pup by that Himalayan monk no one has seen for several decades?
The question for us behavioral scientists is this. What happens next?
If economists were any good at what they did, they could answer this. But they can’t.
In reality, you’re going to spread the wealth. After all, you’re going to want to eat. You might even want a companion. All of that costs something.
People who have “your stuff” might feel that you are far enough away that they don’t have to pay you for it. That Himalayan monk? Chances are you’re never going to meet him. Good luck getting that donkey back.
Of course, the incentive for anyone else to work will be diminished. But they have to eat as well, so there’s a chance that a shadow economy will emerge, based on bartering and some other items considered valuable. Your items of course, but how will you know?
Slowly, surely, your own wealth will be spread around, so that some kind of work will begin again. But how quickly?
The problem is that you also own everyone’s assets. So even if someone works in a restaurant to feed you and others, you will receive the profits. Which means, ultimately, you get even richer.
Enough fun. How about comparing our experiment to today?
Today’s world does have a Gates, Buffet, Bezos and Zuckerberg. These people do have incredible levels of wealth and income compared to select individuals of the past.
How does this impact the rest of society? Is it a good thing?
There are those who tell me that rich people are good for the rest of us. But in the beginning there were no “rich” people. What does that mean?
It means we need to think about this, more, better, and deeper. And it means we need to do more thought experiments.
Careful though. They can be too much fun!