The “80/20” Rule Leads To The 1%

The 80/20 rules, formally known as the Pareto Principle, is a common rule-of-thumb in lots of situations. In general, it says that 80% of all effects in a particular situation comes from only 20% of the causes in that same situation. If you can eliminate the right 20% of the problem causes, then you can get rid of 80% of the effects from those problems.

Reading Taleb’s “Antifragile”, he points out that the complaint against “the one percent” holding 50% of the wealth in the country is a natural outgrowth of the 80/20 rule. There’s no conspiracy, it just works out that way. Of the top 20%, 20% of them will hold 80% of that wealth; of that subgroup, another 20% will hold 80% of that wealth, and so on. Eventually we find that about 0.8% of a population will hold about 51.2% of the wealth, just as a rule-of-thumb. So, a baseline point of 1% of the population holding half the resources doesn’t seem that out of line to me, mathematically and statistically speaking.

Doris Lessing on Communism and Language

It is not a new thought that Communism debased language and, with language, thought. There is a Communist jargon recognizable after a single sentence. Few people in Europe have not joked in their time about “concrete steps,” “contradictions,” “the interpenetration of opposites,” and the rest.

The first time I saw that mind-deadening slogans had the power to take wing and fly far from their origins was in the 1950s when I read an article in The Times of London and saw them in use. “The demo last Saturday was irrefutable proof that the concrete situation…” Words confined to the left as corralled animals had passed into general use and, with them, ideas. One might read whole articles in the conservative and liberal press that were Marxist, but the writers did not know it. But there is an aspect of this heritage that is much harder to see.

Even five, six years ago, Izvestia, Pravda and a thousand other Communist papers were written in a language that seemed designed to fill up as much space as possible without actually saying anything. Because, of course, it was dangerous to take up positions that might have to be defended. Now all these newspapers have rediscovered the use of language. But the heritage of dead and empty language these days is to be found in academia, and particularly in some areas of sociology and psychology.

via Questions You Should Never Ask a Writer – New York Times. Looks like she has a longer form of that article here.