Sunday, October 27, 2013

Trading Places, Athenian style

This is a sort of followup to my post earlier today in response to those who push an untrue, envious, and extremely ill throught through idea of welfare.

We see bizarre backwards envy all over the place.  The rich envy the poor, those who can find jobs envy those on unemployment, one particularly egregious example was when Fox found out a church group (as I recall) decided to buy school supplies for the poor children of prisoners because the prisoners weren't really in a position to do that and a pundit said something that amounted to, "I wish I were in prison so my kids could get free school supplies."  Sure you do, pundit, sure you do.

Well, we are not the only culture in history to have to deal with someone saying, "That person has it better than me."

In Ancient Athens when something needed to get done a rich person was tapped to finance the job.  Sometimes the rich person would say something like, "Look at Xeno[I can put almost anything here and it will sound Greek based on the Xeno at the start], He's way more loaded than me."

And at this point Xeno could say
"I totally am.  I'll finance the project."
"No, I'm not, that other guy has it better."

If the second was chosen the two of them would trade places.  Each would get all of the other's stuff.

This was a powerful incentive for you not to claim someone who was worse off than you had it better because you'd be giving them the chance to get everything you had while you'd be stuck with their crappy lot in life.  But if you really thought someone did have it better off than you then by all means speak up because either they have to do what you were going to have to do, or you get their better off position.

Sometimes I feel like we should revive that practice.

Jerk: "It's so fucking hard being rich, you poor people don't understand."
Soceity: "Ok, here's a randomly chosen poor person, do you agree that you should have to pay higher taxes so that Jerk doesn't have to, or would you rather get Jerk's entire fortune (and not just the monetary portion)?"
Poor Person: "I'll take the giant gobs of money."

Do that in a few high profile cases and maybe people would stop voicing their envy toward those who have less than they do.

Maybe all of the working people who complain about having to support welfare should be put on welfare and all of the people on welfare (save those with disabilities preventing them from working) be given their jobs.  See how much, "I wish I were screwed over enough to be on welfare," bullshit there is once that started happening.


  1. Each would get all of the other's stuff.

    How do you deal with sentimental value? Giving up your diaries and pets and the teddy bear you've had since before you were conceived* is an awfully high price to pay, and not really fitting with the spirit of the thing. On the other hand, you could concoct a fake explanation to give sentimental value to nearly anything, so how would you know when to stop?

    *My parents bought a Winnie the Pooh doll on a trip to Disney World for the child they hoped to one day have.

    1. I don't know how the Athenians dealt with this, I assume there was at least some level of, "These two slaves are clearly of equal monetary value, so we'll each keep the one that started with us." (Never let the Athenians of old be mentioned for long without bringing up that they were slave holding misogynist jerks. They had a lot of good stuff, but it would be a mistake to forget the bad.)

      If someone were to actually implement it in the real world today my advice would be to let the envied party decide how much sentimental value stuff of theirs they kept, have an independent appraiser determine what the monetary value of the stuff was, and have the envying party get to keep an equal monetary value worth of sentimental value stuff (monetary value of said stuff determined by the same independent appraiser.) (If their sentimental stuff had a lower monetary value then they get to keep other stuff, decided by them in order of sentiment to make the monetary values equal.)

      So you get to keep your Winnie the Pooh doll but it means that person you're trading stuff with gets to keep a Winnie the Pooh doll's monetary value worth of stuff that they otherwise would have had to give to you.

    2. Or, for the short version, the key is not so much that the stuff gets traded as the value of the stuff gets traded. And the value in question isn't sentimental.

      So when the rich person envies the poor person the poor person can take the "trade places" option without losing their house provided they end up with as much of a monetary advantage/disadvantage (they're the poor one, it would be an advantage) as if they had traded their house. The rich person then gets to keep the poor person's house monetary worth of sentimental stuff of their choosing because the poor person chose to keep their house.

  2. Since I'm unemployed and have large grad school debts, I'm all for this. Particularly since I have the good sense to be grateful for everything I still have and am aware of just how much worse off I could be.

    It just amazes me when even middle class people complain about things like poor people getting food stamps. They have no freaking idea how much most people getting food stamps would like to have enough money coming in to not need them. You can insert a 2000 word screed on jerks who oppose the Affordable Care Act here.


  3. ACA jackassery is on my mind since it's on my facebook through a friend who hasn't put the fear of god in jerks. Facebook is for stupid cat pictures, and Firefly references, and chemistry jokes, and keeping in touch across the country...

    I do get why middle class people, and working class people who make just enough to get their benefits reduced, resent people who have a few of the agonizing decisions taken away. The fault certainly doesn't lie with the people scraping buy with never-enough govt benefits, though. It's the people hording the rest of our GDP, who laugh every time one of us crabs knocks another one back into the barrel.

  4. Ooops, that's not how you spell "hoarding," is it? They're a horde of hoarders.