The Thousand-Foot Sub Sandwich

Hoagie_Hero_Sub_SandwichThose people who deny the problem of wealth and income inequality seem unable to grasp the reality of what’s going on in our nation’s economy. I’ve offered many analogies in an attempt to explain why it’s a problem, even on a purely mathematical level, yet there’s always someone who doesn’t get it.

So this is another analogy. Let’s say that the resources of your country are represented by a thousand-foot-long sub sandwich. It’s a magnificent sandwich, full of all sorts of delicious meats and cheeses produced by various citizens and their businesses. The population of your country is a thousand people, and your job is to manage the economic resources–your job is to make sure that the sandwich is distributed in such a way that none of your citizens are left hungry.

You might think that giving each person one foot of the sandwich would be the most fair distribution. However, some people already have enough food, some just aren’t hungry, and others are starving. What method should you use to achieve the best distribution of your resources? The end goal, remember, is to have the least amount of hunger possible.

Let’s use the American method of resource distribution to illustrate how fucked up it is.

First, you give one person a full 200 feet of the sandwich, because he happened to inherit the sandwich corporation from his parents. Then you find another 99 people and divide 600 feet of the sandwich between them, so they each get on average about six feet of it. These first 100 people weren’t hungry and already had their own food, so they just put their massive amounts of sandwich into freezers to save it for later.

Now you have 200 feet of sandwich left and 900 hungry people, so you start slicing it into smaller and smaller pieces, until you run out and the last 400 people are left with crumbs, bits of meat and cheese, and the pickles that other people picked out of their sandwiches.

This is what the distribution of wealth in America looks like. This is how capitalism works when most of the population doesn’t have any capital.

If only they would get a job at the sandwich corporation, you might say. Or, if only they would start their own sandwich corporations and somehow compete against the one that’s powerful enough to coerce the meat and cheese suppliers into signing exclusive contracts. If they just performed decades of hard labor for the corporate overlords, or somehow successfully competed in the market despite having no resources, they too could become the super rich guy who gets 200 feet of the national thousand-foot sub sandwich!

Sure, and you can technically make pigs fly by launching them with catapults.

It may be theoretically possible for any one person to succeed and join the top 10%, but that’s not the point. The point is that it’s impossible for everyone to do it. In fact, only 10% of people are in the top 10% at any given time. Given this cold mathematical reality, it isn’t enough to create a system where “anyone can be successful if they work hard”. Rather, we need a system that properly distributes resources so that nobody goes hungry, regardless of whether they’re in the top 10% or the bottom 10%.

Image: Wikipedia


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