We can learn everything we really need to know about politics and economics from watching dogs at play.
We have two poodles, standard “Arlo” and mini “Tuffy” (well, he needs to be!). The theme of all play between Arlo and Tuffy is “Mine!” This is normal enough (and a good model for most human play), but yesterday I noticed a new nuance:
If there is one rawhide bone, they will spend all day snatching it from each other and running to hide it where they can gloat. If the other loses interest, they will bring it out in the open and growl to get things going again. You might think that big Arlo would have an unfair advantage over little Tuffy, but in fact it’s the other way around: Tuffy can get into places where Arlo can’t, and sit there with the bone, growling and barking. It’s cute — they are almost human! It’s also mostly good-natured competition. Things are simple and it’s all in fun.
It gets darker and more complicated when we foolishly give them two bones. You might think, as we did, that now there would be one for each and thus nothing to fight over. Wrong. The game now becomes “Both mine!” Which is tricky because neither one can actually hold both bones in his jaws at once. So they invent schemes for hiding Bone 1 somewhere and then fighting over Bone 2. Dominance can only be achieved by capturing all the wealth and protecting it in clever hiding places.
Moreover, they don’t have fun any more. Because the competition is no longer simple and straightforward, it is perpetually frustrating and the growling turns to snarls. Tuffy and Arlo come close to a real dogfight until we take away one of the bones.
From this I deduced that a higher standard of living is unlikely to make people more willing to share the wealth unless we can change some basic instincts that go way, way back. Dogs don’t compete to get what they need; they compete to have it all, because that’s where the fun is, as long as scarcity is the rule. With abundance comes confusion, dissatisfaction and animosity, every time.