Economic Darwinism and The Lion’s Share

Profile photo of cincinnatus 92 By cincinnatus
June 26th, 2012

Launch Blog, Category 7: Public and Private Sector


Economic Darwinism and The Lion’s Share

On the African plain, a kill made by a pride of lions is cause for celebration. Not just for the lions, but for everyone in the local ecosystem. (Except, of course, for the animal that got caught… but even his buddies in the herd are secretly glad it wasn’t them.)

Lions are skilled and savvy hunters, following an amazing, time-proven ritual: they study a herd, pick their intended target, stealthily and patiently stalk it, make their move, chase it down, and make the kill. Having captured their meal, lions eat until they are full, and leave the rest for the others… hence, the term “The Lions’ Share.”

After the lions are finished, they are followed by hyenas and jackals, who eat until they, too, are gorged; they leave enough for vultures and other scavenging birds; they, in turn, are followed by smaller mammals, and smaller birds of prey; finally, insects and their larvae will pick the bones clean.

When the feast is over, everyone has a full tummy. And all eyes turn back to the lion, awaiting his next kill. It’s a cycle that goes back thousands of years. It’s the animal equivalent of Pay Day, and smaller animals know that they owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the lions: without the lions’ hunting skills, the smaller animals – incapable of hunting big game on their own – would perish. The more successful their lion is, the better everyone’s life will be. (Except for the occasional zebra, kudu, or wildebeast who’s the unwitting “guest of honor” at the feast.)

It’s worth noting that lions don’t knowingly hunt for the overall “social good” of everyone in the ecosystem. They hunt because that is their nature – it’s a “King of the Jungle” thing – and it’s how they provide for their families. Do lions owe more than “The Lions’ Share” to the smaller animals, whose only role was to wait for the lion to make the kill, so they might live off his leftovers? No. Do the smaller animals complain about “Trickle-Down Economics” and demand that the lions limit themselves to “their fair share?” No. Do they form protest groups like “Occupy Walvis Bay?” No.

Instead, everyone on the plain – from the hyena to the dung beetle – are pulling for the lion to succeed as though their lives depended on it… because they do. But even though they are the “Apex Predator” in their habitat, according to studies by naturalists, lions have a success rate of only about 15% per hunt; in other words, they fail 85% of the time… but they never stop trying. Because when lions fail, every animal on the plain loses. And they all know it.

Humans aren’t always so insightful. Although they, too, are dependent on the labors of others up the food chain for their survival, humans are distinctly less grateful… and much more “entitled” in their thinking about their role in their “habitat.” As humans, we ask ourselves questions like, “Doesn’t the lion have a moral obligation to leave more for the others, out of fairness?”

Well, no. There’s nothing inherently fair about the Animal Kingdom, the Rat Race, or the Human Race. Face it: the lion made the kill; without him, there’d be nothing for the smaller animals to argue over. If the smaller animals don’t like the arrangement, they can: 1) move to another plain and hope the lion there devours less; 2) develop a taste for roots and become vegetarian; or 3) evolve into something that controls its own destiny.

Humans can learn a lesson from the lion and the ecosystem he supports. In our “habitat,” called free market economics, the business world is how we provide for our families; so in a very real sense, it’s mankind’s own test of “survival of the fittest.” In that arena, there are businessmen and businesswoman who, like lions, possess rare skills that make them incomparably successful in business. Without their business skills, those companies fail; and all of the other employees – those who lack the skills, the drive, and the work ethic to be in senior management – eventually lose their jobs, too.

The success of any organization frequently depends on how well the CEO “hunts.” Instead of griping about how much their top execs make, rank-and-file employees should be thanking them that, under their leadership, their company is succeeding… while the person who has their job at the company’s biggest competitor is filing for unemployment. Of course, in a free market if you have a job and don’t like it, you can bail out, like the smaller animals above. Only the human equivalents are 1) go find another job that pays you what you think you are worth; 2) downsize your lifestyle to what you can afford on your salary; or 3) start your own business… as thousands of successful people do every year. Then you can be the CEO: and you’ll have a whole new appreciation for how hard the job is. Remember how lions fail 85% of the time? The failure rate for start-up businesses is even higher. So choose wisely.

Most critics of free enterprise snidely call it “Economic Darwinism,” suggesting that it’s unfair to all but “Apex Wage Earners.” Of course, the people who make these allegations most vociferously are people with little or no first-hand experience of how businesses work: college professors (who are always hitting up rich capitalists for grants and honorariums), politicians (who are always hitting up rich capitalists for campaign contributions) and Occupy Wall Streetpeople (who are always hitting up rich capitalist for spare change. But truth be told, they would love to be a rich capitalist, too – which is why they borrowed $150,000 to go to college – but can’t, because they keep following the advice of their college professors and voting for politicians who end up flushing the job market down the toilet. Talk about a vicious circle.)

Of course, there is an alternative to animals running wild in the wilderness, and humans running free in free markets. After all, not every lion prefers life in the wild: some prefer to just lay around, and wait for others to feed them; the food is lousy, but it’s easy. They get free medical care. And while there are no predators, there are lots of cages. It’s called a zoo. They’re no longer free… and they spend their days waiting for someone to stop by and throw them some hamburger, a banana, or a head of lettuce. They lose their hunting skills. They become entirely dependent on the zookeeper, who frankly is busy taking care of a lot of other animals, and figuring out his next career move. And if the zoo ever goes broke… very, very bad things happen to all of the animals inside.

Same goes for humans. When we allow government to benevolently play too big a role our lives – taking our economic freedom in order to spread wealth and “fairness” around like feed corn – we become more like animals in the zoo. When our innovative ideas continue to get hammered down, we stop trying. Without the fresh ideas capitalism spawns, eventually we lose our ability to innovate, and our society, our culture, and our institutions stagnate. Look at countries who’ve embraced anti-Capitalistic policies: though their leaders and party members live like royalty, their people have some of the lowest standards of living on the planet. And yet, despite history being littered with proof that these types of social models are abject failures, the United States has leaders who want to take us down that same, wretched path.

By historical standards, the United States is a very young country; less than 250 years old, compared with others that are more than 10 times our age. But in a very short time, we’ve built an economic powerhouse that propelled our economy – and our way of life – far beyond the rest of the world. We need to stop the silliness about “the 1%,” and recognize that every American – just by virtue of the fact that they live here – enjoys a standard of living that put them in the top one percent of the entire world.

We need to look to the lions. In Africa, unless lions make a kill, nobody eats. In America, unless business thrives… nobody works.

5 Comments to “Economic Darwinism and The Lion’s Share”

  • You might look at what actually happens on the actual African megafaunal biomes like the plains where one finds lions. For example, the most consistently successful hunting mammal is the African Wild Dog (up to 80% of hunts), and many times what have often been presumed to be “lion kills” are actually situations where the lions have taken over kills by other animals (African Wild Dogs are routinely displaced from their kills by lions and hyenas). Many of the animals you assume for the sake of your analogy are dependent upon the lion actually make their own kills and then are displaced from them by lions only to return to them later when the lions have eaten their fill, or make kills under the lions noses (e.g., small rodents or reptiles), but will take advantage of a lion or wild dog or hyena kills when the opportunity arises.

    Just as the actual realities of life on the African plain are far more complicated than the simple picture you drew, so too do the actual reality of economics contradict and complicate your analogy regarding “business” and “labor”. Lots of people get rich off of others’ innovations. And some of those innovations, point of reality, come from the so-called “public” sector as well as the “private” sector.

  • I agree, great post. jpenergy wrote a quote from Abraham Lincoln, but the premise of labor being the source of wealth was well described in Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations.” The industrial revolution itself would have never happened if it wasn’t for the hard working laborers, but also for the entrepreneurs who put those people to work. I see it more as a 50-50. The CEO wouldn’t be able to get by without the laborer, because in order to sell or market the product, he/she would have to be the labor. Same for the laborer, without the CEO(marketing/management) they wouldn’t have the job. Sure they could go somewhere else, but it would be the same scenario.

    • Profile photo of Tex Austin Tex Austin says:

      You can’t equate (50/50) the CEO’s one-of-a-kind experience, knowledge, and ideas with easy-to-replace labors. If a company loses laborers, they can hire more… quickly, easily, and without lots of training. But losing a CEO? That can set a company back for years.

  • Profile photo of Helz Helz says:

    Great post, Cincinnatus.

    • Profile photo of Jim Pease Jim Pease says:

      Cininnatus..Humans aren’t always so insightful. Although they, too, are dependent on the labors of others up the food chain for their survival, humans are distinctly less grateful… and much more “entitled” in their thinking about their role in their “habitat.” As humans, we ask ourselves questions like, “Doesn’t the lion have a moral obligation to leave more for the others, out of fairness?”
      Up the food chain? the vast majority of labors are down the food chain…the CEO’s of Cargill and ADM would starve without the farm workers who have for thousands of years made food grow. they would live better lives probably if they kept the food and sold it themselves as in the past. the survival of the CEO is dependent upon the labors of the the workers..but the workers are almost never dependent on the CEO. tribes live without a chief, a chief never lives without a tribe. Farmers struggle as Corporations get fat.. and people starve. My grandfather used to say,”I’ve lived my life so that on any given day I can tell any man on Earth to go to hell..if I have to”
      The later 20th century and the early 21st century seems to be the age of the sycophant..people worship comfort and money and disdain labor and freedom often forgetting..”Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
      Abraham Lincoln
      Some years ago I form a business with 2 insisted he be CEO ( business school grad.), I could not care less about titles so I said fine..after 1 year he showed zero accumulated knowledge on the subject of our business and did not want to know he wanted to go to meetings and make speeches and play golf as the figure head. I left as did the other guy with our 45 years experience his 12 months of sales experience he sold nothing but himself. Good products survive in-spite of poor leaders and poor products well that’s another story…Sorry but Pablum is for kids