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Zero-Sum Reasoning

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In discussing economics (broadly), there's always that famous zero-sum vs. positive-sum dichotomy (negative-sum, too, but it's not as relevant to free-market operations). I'm having trouble getting my mind around the proper way of thinking about where each stops and starts. Obviously, leftism exaggerates the zero-sum aspects of capitalism, but it would also be wrong to say that there are no zero-sum games in capitalism whatsoever. In terms of wealth in the long-term, I agree with Rand that "there are no conflicts of interest between rational men." However, it seems to me inaccurate to say that competition isn't zero-sum in the short term. Am I wrong in believing that?

I ask because I came across a statement in OPAR that I'm not sure how to think about:

"It is perfectly just, Rawls maintains, for society to sacrifice the me of intelligence and creative ability - to seize their products and redistribute them to the world's losers - because, he says, nobody worked to achieve his own gray matter..."

Is he being genuine here when he uses the word "losers", or is he trying to make a point by accusing Rawls of conceptualizing ethics as a matter of winners and losers? If he is being genuine, why? Isn't that exactly the wrong mindset?


BONUS: There seem to be zero-sum games that don't necessarily result in totally positive-sum outcomes. For example, I work at a catering service. I don't complain about it, but I'd be lying if I said I enjoyed it. Taking pride in my work is also difficult because I spend about half my time standing still and watching guests, often doing absolutely nothing. Of course, this is the case for many jobs, but there is something a little more disappointing when you're "the help". Most of my coworkers are latino, and while I would disagree with many minorities about the nature or cause of their social status, I would understand if those like my coworkers were frustrated. They're bilingual and hard-working but not found as often in high-paying positions. Yesterday, we catered a graduation luncheon for some MBA students. It was tough for me because I spent much of the time being reminded that I wish I had taken my college years more seriously. Of course, being a seen-but-not-heard buffet-monkey for these successful people really drove the point home. To me, this seems like a good example of a persistent zero-sum scenario. Of course, service industry and manual labor jobs are FAR cushier than they were a hundred or two hundred years ago, but the "server" vs. "served" thing never seems to go away, no matter how rational the society. What do you guys think?

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