Investopedia defines a “zero sum game” as “a situation in which one person’s gain is equivalent to another’s loss, so the net change in wealth or benefit is zero.”
If a political leader wielding power sees the world as a zero sum game – gains to one must mean a loss to another – it is likely that this leader will promote policies that will limit growth, wealth creation and innovative problem solving.
What a zero sum worldview will produce more of is political, class, and ethnic resentment and strife.
It so happens we have a leader today that has this worldview and his name is Barack Obama. It is not surprising that today’s world over which he is presiding, at home and abroad, increasingly shows these characteristics.
President Obama was very candid in a recent interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times in which he stated his zero sum view of the world.
“Obama made clear,” Friedman writes, “that he is only going to involve America more deeply in places like the Middle East to the extent that different communities there agree to an inclusive politics of no victor/no vanquished.”
There you have it. No suggestion that there is right and wrong, or better answers that make everyone better off and worse answers that don’t. No, in our president’s take on the world, if there is a winner who winds up better off there must be a loser who winds up equally worse off.
The president then made clear that he views the world through this zero sum lens at home as well as abroad.
According to him, notes Friedman, “…we (America) will never realize our full potential unless our two parties adopt the same outlook we’re asking of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds or Israelis and Palestinians: No victor, no vanquished and work together.”
This “inclusive” world view, devoid of right and wrong, true and false, better and worse, stands starkly in contrast to what Abraham Lincoln had to say when confronting a nation torn apart by the question of whether it would tolerate slavery.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” said Lincoln. “I believe this government cannot stand, permanently, half slave and half free…It will become all one thing or all the other.”
The president’s “no victor, no vanquished” take on the world is turning up the flames of the Israeli Palestinian conflict by legitimizing the falsehood that if Israelis are better off it means that Arabs will be worse off.
It perversely forces the Israelis to sit and negotiate with Hamas – an organization that even the United States officially designates as a terrorist organization.
Author George Gilder characterizes the Middle East conflict as “not between Arab and Jews but between admiration for achievement, along with a desire to replicate it, and envy accompanied by violent resentment.”
Gilder describes how the inflow of Jewish settlers in the last century transformed Palestine for the benefit of all.
“Between 1921 and 1943,” he writes, “Jews quadrupled the number of enterprises, multiplied the number of jobs by a factor of 10, and increased the level of capital investment a hundredfold.”
“Far from displacing Arabs,” continues Gilder, “they (Jews) provided the capital for a major expansion of Arab farms and enabled a sevenfold rise in Arab population by 1948.”
Zero sum politics plays out in similarly destructive ways in our own country. Instead of building a culture of achievement and responsibility, politicians of the left stoke grievances of low income Americans, inspire envy and resentment, and teach that the poor are poor because the rich are rich.
By stoking these politics of envy and victimhood, it’s the politicians, at home and abroad, who grow powerful and wealthy. The disenfranchised languish as political pawns, never hearing the truth that life is about making correct personal choices in an imperfect world.