The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Unequal Talent Benefits Us All

I saw a commercial that was making a point about education which was decent but then they closed with a stupid motto: “Talent is equally distributed but opportunity isn’t.”

I can’t imagine what talent they are talking about that is equally distributed. I can assure you no matter what “opportunities” I had I was not going to grow up to be a Harry Styles or a Tom Brady.

Only a few needs, and then only at the most basic level, are relatively evenly distributed. But virtually everything about human existence is unevenly distributed.

We need shelter but since our species is unevenly distributed that need varies dramatically. You might get away sleeping on the beach in the tropics, but not in Alaska during the winter — if you can find a “beach” there under all that snow.

Even our rampant individualism at the biological level makes our needs for food very different. I can munch peanuts but others would die if they did. We want love and affection, just not equally and some people don’t want it at all.

There is no even distribution of talents, needs, wants, opportunies, etc. Everything natural is unequal. Our rights are a legal construct and should be equal, but sadly even they’ve been unequally doled out and that should change. But the unequal distribution of talent is a different matter and is the major reason humans trade with one another. Those who need one thing less trade it for something they need more, and their trading partner is doing the same thing. It’s basic.

Imagine if we all had a talent for auto repair but none of us were very good at agriculture or medicine. We’d starve to death rather quickly. In fact, without people who can build autos the repair talent would go to waste. But the builders of auto need people who are good at mining iron for the vehicle, producing computer chips, producing tires, plastic and glass manufacturing, etc, etc.

Markets are a massive chain where we all rely on one another. That is capitalism—an interdependent chain of millions of people with varying talents all relying on the well-being of each other!

Even equality of rights doesn’t even mean that people can use all rights equally. I benefit from others, with talents very different than my own, when they are free to do what they do best.

Even if we rigged the world so everyone magically had the same opportunities the results would be totally unequal. What people do with their talents doesn’t just depend on the talent they have, but the person they are. And we’re all different. I fear there are some people — and I suspect most of us have known some — who will screw up any opportunity they are given. They will self-sabotauge. Others will take the most meager of opportunities and turn them in successful ventures.

In South Africa I supported, and still support, redistribution of state housing to the occupants. Total ownership given outright. Squatters live on government land all over the place — the government, not whites, is the biggest land owner there. I support given title deeds to the land on which squatters are living to the squatters.

That said, I know some will ruin it for themselves. In some cases where the housing was so distributed new owners were happy to exchange their home for beer. Others for small amounts of money. There is no way to stop people from squandering opportunities when they present themselves. At least, no way without totalitarian regimes micromanaging every aspect of life.

Our uneven talents and values makes freedom very important, even if some of us use it badly. That there are talented actors and producers benefits me in that I can relax with films or television shows I enjoy. That people I don’t know are good at agriculture means I have food to eat. The talent of others means I have medical care, housing, clothes. In fact, almost everything I own or benefit from is produced by other people and I pay them for what I want. They too find that most of what they own is produced by others and they pay them for those things.

That we are all free to exchange with each other makes us healthier, happier and wealthier. We all benefit from the unequal talents of others, provided we are free to profit from our talents by exchanging our talents with others in a free market.


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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.