Monday, February 01, 2016

The Top 20%

In complex dynamic processes, power laws are almost inevitably exhibited. At its broadest, we find the 20:80 ratio. In market economies, we find that generally the wealthiest 20% have 80% of the wealth, for example. When it comes to altruism, we find a similar pattern, though it breaks up in interesting ways. From one perspective, we find that about 20% of the population are perfect altruists, meaning they are willing to give to people no matter how they act, meaning about 80% are not "perfect altruists"; from another perspective, we find that about 20% are "cheaters," meaning they will avoid being generous when at all possible, meaning they are almost perfectly selfish. Relative to the first group, we have 20% perfect altruists, 80% selfish; relative to the second group, we have 20% perfectly selfish, and 80% altruistic. This means that there is a middle group of about 60% who are generous with conditions. This same group is also willing to personally lose to punish cheaters (the 20% perfectly selfish), while the perfect altruists are never willing to punish cheaters.

From a social standpoint, the perfect altruists are "suckers," while the perfectly selfish are "cheaters." The middle group are a sort of golden mean, demanding just actions  from everyone, that everyone behave in a pro-social manner. At the same time, I'm willing to bet that the perfect altruists, after a while, get sick of being suckers -- may it not be these people who end up embracing socialism at the most extreme, or at least welfare statism, as a way to ensure everyone be socially generous?

I am also willing to bet that we find this ratio in many other aspects of human behavior. And it may be that it is this 20-60-20 ratio again.

For example, there are studies that suggest that humans are primarily copiers. Humans are superb copiers, which is why our cultures are so incredibly strong and dominant in our lives. This keeps tradition strong. While creativity is also an element of our species, I would argue that it's rarer than we would often like to admit.

I would argue that only about 20% of the population are creative. The other 80% are not creative.

Now, that doesn't mean that people aren't sometimes creative. But let's take a look at the ratios again. It is likely that about 20% of the population are perfect copiers and are never creative; about 60% are almost always copiers, and are only sometimes creative; and about 20% are our most creative people, doing about 80% of the creative work in the world (the other 20% being done by the other 80%).

All of this is, of course, on a certain spectrum. There are a handful of extreme creatives, more high creatives, more still moderate creatives, many more occasional creatives, and a significant percentage who aren't creative.

The vast majority copiers are absolutely necessary if we are going to have a stable society/culture. Too many creatives, and too much is happening too fast. Equally, too many copiers, and you have stagnation. It would not surprise anyone, I suppose, if the perfect copiers were the most socially conservative people in the world, not thinking that change is necessary or even desired. The most creative would be the most liberal in the world, thinking change is a natural and necessary part of the world. The correlation, especially in the middle 60%, is perhaps not perfect, but it would surprise me if it weren't there.

This certainly has implications for social evolution. This means that revolution is a bad idea, and would only be preferred by a small minority (who would likely disagree on the direction, since there are a variety of liberalisms), while evolution would be greatly preferred as a way of both allowing for stability for the conservatives/copiers, and change for the creatives/liberals. This is similar to the patterns of early adopters of new technologies, etc. Ironically, many of the copiers might very well be early adopters since they will be copying certain people.

It seems to me that these patterns are the kinds social scientists ought to be interested in investigating.
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