12 June 2017

inequality and fairness

When I was in Havana a couple years ago, there seemed to be a good sense of social interaction on the street. It may have been partly the pleasant tropical climate. People were going about their business or leisure. I know I was ready to see that Cuba was a good place. We did hear from one of the tour guides that the elite did have access to better housing but that they generally did not have more disposable income. The ostentatious signs of inequality in the U.S., such as McMansions and huge black SUVs, are not so visible in Cuba.

In last Sunday's Opinion section in The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote about "What Monkeys Can Teach Us About Fairness." Recent research had looked at how monkeys reacted when one of them got a prized grape rather than a cucumber slice in exchange for a pebble. Other research looked at how travelers in coach were more satisfied with their flight if they did not walk through a first-class cabin on their way to the coach cabin. With all the complaints about airplane seating, I've never been able to understand why anyone would want priority boarding. Still other research showed that sports teams with similar player salaries generally did better than teams where some players got much larger salaries than others. The perception of inequality exacerbated the situation.

I suspect that my good feelings about the general sociocultural climate in Havana came from a sense of shared space as well as the afterglow of improving relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Sure, there were some people that were more shabbily dressed than others but it wasn't the grotesque visual clash of socioeconomic inequality.

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