The Re-emergence of the Zero-sum Economy

Commentary by Gabriella ATKINS

Ask parents of the millennial generation how they feel about the prospects for their children and the majority will answer with a reticent scepticism.  House prices mean many will be unable to afford to enter the property ladder; climate change means children are paying for the sins of their parents; and longer life expectancy means a slowing down of wealth turnover.  These issues are exacerbated by the ever-widening inequality gap fuelled by excessive globalisation.  According to Oxfam, the 62 richest billionaires own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population.  In effect, 1% of people own more wealth than the other 99% combined.  If this gap continues to widen, it is possible that we could see the re-emergence of a zero-sum economy.

Numbers And Finance
“A zero-sum economy is one which for every winner is a loser” – Public domain.

A zero-sum economy is one in which for every winner there is a loser.  In an economy with a finite level of resources and money, wealth had to be stolen from others in order to support the winners.  Serfs and slaves were used to fund the rich.  Wars and the plundering of losing countries supported the rich.  The Roman Republic is an example of such an economy, along with the European monarchs of the 16th and 18th century.

In contrast, a positive-sum economy is one where real incomes are able to rise indefinitely.  The world as a whole has existed in a positive-sum economy during the most recent centuries.  Such a state has contributed to the end of perpetual warfare that existed in Europe until the mid-20th century and is indicative in the decline of serfdom and slavery.

However, the inequality gap could indicate that, unless resolved, the global economy may return to a state of zero-sum.  Money and resources are being used to further the wealth of the richest few at the expense of the poorer many.  Whilst the current state of the global economy is by no means in the throes of a zero-sum economy, it takes no large stretch of the imagination to see that the warning signs of global change are prevalent.

Maybe the postulations of Huxley, Orwell or Atwood are not as dystopian and estranged as we might like to believe.


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