Price’s Law & Self-reflection

Just a few weeks ago, when I was reading and learning about Effective Altruism, I became very depressed learning about all the suffering that’s going on in the world. Especially I found myself thinking that the world is so unfair, rich people are so greedy and cold hearted, etc. I thought it would be a much better world if wealth and opportunities are more evenly distributed. Maybe it is because I grew up in a more communistic country? Anyway, it pained me to see homeless people, and I was eager to see changes to be made so there would be less suffering.

Reading a new book put me in a new perspective. The book is “12 Rules for Life” by Jordan B. Peterson, and it was recommended by a friend. I was not too convinced at first, the book title seemed too generic, 12 rules for this, 48 laws of that, there are endless number of such lists, how good could they be?

In the first chapter, it introduced the Price’s Law and lobsters, and I was sold. In 1963, a researcher called Derek J. de Solla Price discovered a model using an approximately L-shaped graph, with number of people on the vertical axis and productivity or resources on the horizontal. That is, a small fraction of the population has access to most goods in the world. the highest earning 1% in the U.S. hold more than half of the country’s wealth. This seems really skewed and unfair, we may criticize our government and policies. But scientists have looked into all past civilizations and found this law to hold. What’s more, this applies to lobsters (and I imagine many other species) too, where the strongest lobsters get the best territory and therefore get more attention from females.

Now, instead of fighting the skewed reality, maybe it is time that we accept the Price’s Law as a fundamental and universal law of nature. “Tao Te Ching” has been my moral bible for many years, and I went back to it and found this line: 致虚极,守静笃。万物并作,吾以观其复。It says that we need to be as calm as possible, and view the world with clarity, and not to get perturbed by the world. That way, when things inevitably change, you can observe the pattern of how things change, and therefore learn the “Tao”.

I realized that when I was feeling angry and emotional about how corrupt the world is, I was getting too invested, therefore I was unable to see what was really going on. Derek Price was able to view the world calmly and observed the profound Price’s Law. And now that I have allowed myself to learn about this without any subjectivity, I can finally accept the merit of it. Maybe the world is supposed to be this way, where winner takes all. So instead of complaining, the more productive way is maybe to put in work and improve myself, so that I can one day join the winners’ club. And at that time I will have much more resources and knowledge on how I can help improve other people’s lives.

One thought on “Price’s Law & Self-reflection”

  1. Isn’t that just the naturalistic fallacy? It may be the truth (for both man- and lobster-kind), but does that suggest merit?

    Practically speaking, it seems to me the problem tends to be with “one day”: If you don’t already believe you’re in the winners’ club, with your abundant resources of intellect and care, the day may never come that you do.
    And if you do, in the far twilight of your life, find yourself in possession of all material resources you sought – of knowledge even! – what you may find depleted are the vigor and passion that would’ve made all the difference.


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