Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Redistributing GPA

University students in California put accepted liberal wisdom to the test in a well-executed video. Posing as petitioners, they asked bewildered classmates to sign a petition that would mandate redistribution of GPA points from those fortunate enough to have high GPAs to those with low GPAs—in order to bring everyone closer to the university median. Unsurprisingly, most students demurred, claiming it was unfair to take what they had worked hard to earn and give it to others. Regrettably, most were then unable to reconcile this belief with their contradictory support of a "tax-the-rich" mentality. Its quite sad how so many Americans, particularly our budding scholars, accept such arguments whole-cloth without thinking through the underlying reasons and implications.

The video is a few months old, but highly poignant given the equally obtuse rhetoric coming from the Occupy Wall Street movement.


  1. Josh, I think there is one major flaw in your argument. Students who are learning very hard and who get good marks have achieved this without the help of anyone else. They are just relying on their brains and their hard work. If you think of the rich people in the US it's different. A CEO of a big company who earns millions of dollars depends on the company's employees, he is dependent on a good education system in the country for being able to hire smart people, he also needs people who can afford to buy the company's products and so on. That's why it seems absurd to me to read your statement: "Regrettably, most were then unable to reconcile this belief with their contradictory support of a "tax-the-rich" mentality." It's rather contradictory to deny that the super-rich have to do their bit for the community.

  2. I disagree. A student owes just as much to the community as a CEO. No student achieved what they did without help from others. Students can give credit to their parents, teachers, mentors, study groups, partners in group projects, quality of their school system, informal and formal tutors, their culture and community (for providing an environment that is more or less conducive to being a good student), and more.

    You are correct to point out that nothing is achieved in isolation, but this is true for the GPA as well. Think, for instance, of the class that is graded on a curve - don't the students at the top of the curve "owe" something to those who are at the bottom? After all if the lower-graded student performed better, the higher one wouldn't be able to be ranked as highly. In general, individuals are shaped by their social environment, but that does not imply that anything directly "caused" their situation or that anything or anyone is "owed" more compensation.

    Much, if not all, of this social influence is actually compensated for - the CEO or the student need not double compensate. For instance, the employee just like the tutor is paid a wage for his services. The good education system is the same for all who attend the same school and is paid for through taxes.

    True there is luck, chance, probability, and the like, but that's just the nature of life - we cannot escape it. And while I don't disagree that sometimes people are paid too much or too little for their services, those are errors in the system. Such mis-compensations hurt (or benefit) the employer and if anyone is owed money it is them, not society. Society should, and usually does (and where it doesn't it should be corrected), treat everyone the same - those that achieve more have done it due to other non-societal variables (think of a regression analysis) which certainly means they do not owe society anything. This idea of "giving back" implies that society existed before the individual and possessed before the individual - that is simply untrue.

    The general point isn't to deny social interaction and that many benefit from this interaction, but to put taxation into its proper perspective. This is not necessarily a claim against progressive taxation; but its justifications need to be found elsewhere. Taxation should not be based on who "owes" more or less to society. Nobody a priori owes anything. Taxation should be derived from the need for government to provide certain essential, social services that would otherwise not be provided. This is mainly because as public goods everyone benefits from them more-or-less equally and thus no one has the incentive to provide them individually (if such wasn't the case, there would be a market for the provision of these and we wouldn't need the government at all).

    Thanks for your comment.


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