Floors and ceilings

It’s no surprise that many would like to be as good at basketball as Kobe Bryant or at golf as Tiger Woods. And it’s equally no surprise that this isn’t possible.

But there’s one way to make us ‘more equal’ and that’s to make those better off much worse. To continue with sports, for example, let’s say we limit the amount of time Bryant and Woods train each day. This would disrupt their performance and, in doing so, reduce the gap between our abilities. But the objective has been achieved – we’re now more equal (although still a great deal apart).

The same handbrake on ability, skills and opportunity can be applied to virtually any arena, from academia to business. But some political leaders and policymakers have seen the harmful effects of this thinking on society and the economy.

Ronald Reagan, for example, in his 1957 Eureka College Commencement Address said that ‘an economic floor beneath all of us so that no one shall exist below a certain level or standard of living’ in reality means ‘building a ceiling above which no one shall be permitted to climb.’ Reagan thus pursued economic policies that unleashed people’s talents and not the other way around.

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