Spread the Wealth: The Gasparilla Experiment

Posted by on January 30, 2009 at 5:35 am.
faqfriday

gasparillaIn honor of FAQFriday, this post is about a bunch of questions our society wrestles with daily. I hope the example I share doesn’t trivialize the magnitude of the questions…although I usually try to answer questions on FAQFriday, I’m the one asking today — and I expect some answers!

Last weekend my family drove down to Tampa to see the Gasparilla Parade (there’s another next weekend). Having grown up in Tampa, attending the parade is a 30+ year tradition for me and we always have a great time. This year was a bit different, though. Both of my daughters had the opportunity to walk in the parade so my wife and I watched with our extended family. We had a blast, but without my daughters sitting with me I found myself paying closer attention to the capitalism vs. socialism struggle around parade seating.

You see, my family has always been the type to arrive early (10am) and create a great viewing area for the parade (3pm). Because we arrive early, we reserve parade-side seating in a chair-encircled area about 10 feet deep and 20 feet wide. We set out lawn chairs, blankets and coolers in anticipation of a full day of family, floats and fun — and beads!

If you’ve ever been to a parade as well attended as Gasparilla (half-a-million people), you may sense where this is headed…

Between 10am and 1pm, thousands of other parade goers arrive and follow the same tradition, with chairs, blankets, coolers, and family — creating a crowd of 50,000 about one-family deep along the entire route. I’ll call this group the “early-arrivers” class because they sacrificed their morning, arrived early and created a comfortable space for their families.

Then, between 1pm and the parade’s 3pm start, the other 450,000 people show up. I’ll call this group the “late-arrivers” class. The earliest of these are probably a “middle-class” of parade space who don’t get front-row seats, but still have decent space in between the early-arrivers and late-arrivers flowing in as the parade starts.

So what do you think happens?

First, the late-arrivers almost immediately start swallowing the middle-class because of their sheer numbers and because the middle-class didn’t arrive early enough to secure their space from plunder. That equalizes and aligns everyone off-street, envying the prime space held by the early-arrivers — even though the floats are large enough to be seen by all classes and there will be more parade beads thrown, to all classes, than anyone cares to keep. Then, for the rest of the parade, it’s open class warfare as the late-arriver masses slowly consume the prime viewing areas created by the early-arrivers.

It starts with the late-arrivers trotting out their saddest cases for “spreading the wealth” — their smallest kids. This is a very successful tactic, as most early-arrivers voluntarily reduce space for their own kids to pack the curb with the newcomers — even though it significantly alters the experience from a comfortable family gathering. Then, once their kids have space, the late-arriver adults either wedge themselves behind/beside their kids or they begin the drum-beat of “spreading the wealth” with others — full-scale class warfare is at hand. While some battle with words, many others physically start moving chairs, coolers, blankets to take more space. As some do it, it emboldens others until…eventually…the wealth has been spread to all. The parade ends with the late-arrivers having equal (sometimes better) space as the early-arrivers and the early-arrivers trying to find the lid to their cooler that was successively kicked behind the masses.

Although we had a great day watching the parade, catching beads and seeing our girls walk by in the parade (they actually missed us because they didn’t recognize our mixed group of family and late-arrivers), this social experiment was really intriguing to watch unfold. It crystallized, for me, a few observations and questions about society:
1) Why do the late-arrivers feel this is “OK” or appropriate behavior to teach their kids? What do kids from each class learn from it?
2) How would it all change if parade goers weren’t just splitting confined space, but early-arrivers actually “created” space by their arrival (more analogous to how entrepreneurs create jobs and wealth in society)? Would the late-arrivers feel any more or less entitled to equal space?
3) Does any of this feel different if we just change the labels from “early-arriver” to “rich” and “late-arriver” to “poor”?
4) How would it all change if there was a governing entity who announced that the early-arrivers were expected/required to share with the late-arrivers — the more you have, the more you have to share? Would it reduce the number of early-arrivers? Would it cause late-arrivers to be even more brazen in their takeover, because the “spread the wealth” mindset was sanctioned from above?
5) What would happen if everyone, early and late arrivers, voted just before the parade started on how to split the space and the majority ruled? Would such a vote alter people’s behavior in future years?
6) There will always be more late-arrivers than early-arrivers, it’s the nature of people and a bell-curve of personalities.
7) Is this one-day experiment an accelerated view of what brings down societies over hundreds or thousands of years?  Is “parade day” coming for the world, with its own distribution of “early-arrivers” and “late-arrivers”?

spread the wealth

9 Comments

  • Carol says:

    What a great analogy! It is so relevant to the going philosophy with the new regime. I continue to be flabbergasted by remarks that I hear (repeatedly): (That person) does not need all that money. They SHOULD give it to people who need it more. It’s not that I have a problem with charitable giving. It’s the mentality that one person believes they or another person is ENTITLED to the profits/wealth that another person has created by their hard work, industry, commitment, dedication, and ability. In psychology, if a person indiscriminately does for another what that person needs to be doing for themselves, we call it ENABLING behavior, enabling others to continue harmful, self-destructive behaviors. The one enabled typically develops the attitude that they are entitled to be provided for and become demanding, unappreciative, and even aggressive when their demands are not met. Those around them become intimidated and afraid to set firm, clear boundaries – just like in your Gasparilla experiment. We know that children thrive from firm, clear boundaries, yet, as a society, we teach blurring those boundaries and creating dependent, underachieving, ineffectual individuals. This is not a recipe for developing mature, independent, self-confident, citizens who can be proud of who they are and what they have achieved. Certainly, there will always be those among us who are truly disabled and in need due to unfortunate events in their lives. Those are the people for whom we happily help through various charities and government programs. These are not the people we are talking about who steamroll over others with their attitudes of entitlement and those who enable them to do so. I don’t know about other parts of the country, but in Mobile, it has become a generational belief system and lifestyle that is passed from one generation to the next. I do a lot of disability evaluations, and I see so many who are applying based on what I would call minimal types of medical/psychological concerns. One of the questions I always ask is for the person to give a description of a typical day in their life. It blows me away how many people will say they do absolutely nothing all day every day but sit and watch TV or talk to their friends on the phone. I have no idea how social security makes their determination. I am simply commenting on the mentality that it is someone else’s responsibility to provide for their livelihood, without so much as lifting a finger to do anything at all to provide for themselves, improve their health, give to the community, etc. On the other hand, I see so many who are truly disabled, physically and/or mentally, who do whatever their limitations will allow, whether it is cleaning one little area of a room at a time, walking to the mailbox to get the mail, following doctors’ prescriptives for diet and exercise, or a myriad of other things.

    You really hit a nerve, here, Dan, because I believe that the best way we can truly help someone is to help them in ways that foster feelings of worth, and that doesn’t come from taking from others what they have earned and giving it to those who believe they are entitled to have just as much as the person who earned it. Unfortunately, our new regime does not encourage productivity, accountability, or self reliance.
    In answer to your questions, professor, I offer the following:
    1. The late arrivers may have this sense of entitlement that may have been modelled and passed down by their parents, whereby they come from a belief system that ordains that others are not entitled to more than what they have,. This makes it okay for them to take from those who have more. Deep-seated belief systems are not necessarily based on rational thinking, and are many times irrational. Our core beliefs are what drive our behavior. We tend to have confirmatory/ overlooking biases with regards to our belief systems, zeroing in on evidence that confirms our beliefs and overlooking evidence that does not support our beliefs. This allows us to hold on to irrational beliefs in the face of disconfiming evidence. Thus, a rational discussion about the pros and cons of the early arrivers versus late arrivers may not be possible between the opposing groups. The children, then, learn by the model of their parents what is acceptable behavior and beliefs. I am so thankful I was raised by parents who taught me to work for what I wanted in life and not expect things to be handed to me on a silver platter. (And in today’s times, we would probably have been considered part of the unfortunate have nots.) I am very happy with my life and proud of who I am thanks to the example and guidance that they gave me.

    2. I do not believe that the reason for the wealth would matter at all to one with the sense of entitlement to which I have been referring.

    3. I think both sets of terms are overgeneralized. I think it is more a matter of this entitlement belief system than early/late, rich or poor. Wealthy people can have this belief system as well, as evidenced by all the white-collar embezzlement and scams that exist.

    4. I definitely believe that government sanction would and does increase the boldness of those with this entitlement mindset. I don’t know that it would reduce the number of early arrivers, well maybe for Gasparilla. However, people who believe in working for what they want and providing for themselves are probably, for the most part, internally motivated. Having their wealth taken from them may cause all kinds of upset, but I don’t know that many of these same people would just choose to become demanding, aggressive, entitled non-achievers. They may, however, seek out another country where their wealth would not be confiscated by the government. In the case of the parades, they may just stop going to the parades.

    5. I think that taking a vote before the parade might motivate the early arrivers to seek other solutions, stop going to Gasparilla, or simply join the crowd and become a late arriver as well. I don’t know that this would apply to the rich/poor concept, although it has happened where some entrepreneurs have opted out of the hassel and gone to living on a beach somewhere.

    6. That’s why it’s so important that elected officials understand that if they cut off the head of the food chain, they hurt all of those they supposedly care so much about. However, I don’t see it as caring. I see it as political maneuvering to be in power, not doing what will help people to be self-sustaining and able to be proud of their efforts. What ever happened to the words of John F. Kennedy, to which we only give lip service now: Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. That was not enabling speech. That was motivating, inspiring, wise, and empowering speech.

    7. I think it can definitely bring down a society if the early arrivers decide to join the group and become late arrivers. Then we can all just duke it out and destroy each other. The scary part is, I have seen this even in myself, going to Mardi Gras parades. I have scrapped with 12-year-old boys who ran in front of me to grab a moon pie or a necklace. None of us are exempt. Everyone has a threshold for violence. My decision? I don’t go to Mardi Gras parades anymore. Let the late-arrivers have it.

  • Construction Orlando says:

    What you wrote is a clear illustration of divisions of society. There are the fair ones and the opportunists. There are those who worked hard for what they have and those who come in and demand a share without contributing anything at all.

  • Huba Rostonics says:

    Very interesting analogy. I am a centrist, and while I recognize the hard work and sacrifice of the Early Arrivers I also find it very abusive when they take way much more space than they going to need.

    We live in a limited resource world, now more than ever, we should leave space to others to some extent.

    One that I used to hate back in school is when you arrived “middle class”-type and you found not early arrivers BUT THEIR BOOKS. This also happens in society, the “early opportunists” that lock down resources, cut monopoly deals, etc. I look at these with a critical eye.

    Keep up the writing.

  • Brady says:

    I'm just going to throw this out there. I am NOT going to comment on putting people into classes, but did you stop to think Gasparilla actually requested people not bring coolers or chairs? Its not your land to claim. I understand giving people their space but when you go to an even like this you really should expect to be crammed. Thats like going to a concert and jumping in the mosh pit expecting to be able to sip a glass of wine with out getting bumped. I agree it should be different with the childrens parade, let that be more family oriented and calm, but as for later today, you should know what you are getting yourself into, and if you dont like it, dont go. If you want to watch a parade in comfort, sit inside and watch one on tv, dont spoil our drunken fun of being lost in an intoxicated mass! We live for this once a year party. Not to mention those you classify as " late comers " are probably their a hell of a lot earlier than you are. We typically start at about 7 AM, but who wants to sit in the same place all day? As well, we arent going to trust people not to steal our stuff. So when my group rolls up next to you at 10 or 11 dont judge me and think im cramping your area and an ignorant late comer, Ive been chilling in the mass since before you were awake probably.

  • Dan says:

    Brady,

    Thanks for the comment. I've been attending Gasparilla since the 1970s and I'll share that the event was not designed to be a mosh pit.

    I think you're describing what I consider a self-fulfilling prophecy: because you think it's supposed to be like a mosh pit, you make it one. It's a great example of mob rule.

    And don't just take my word for it. Here's the official question/answer about reserving free spaces for the parade:
    "Can I put up a tent, or reserve an area with rope or snow fence?

    Tents of any kind or reserving an area with rope or fencing is strictly prohibited. You may “reserve” viewing space along the parade route in designated areas by arriving early (anytime after dawn) and physically occupying the desired space. You are welcome to bring a chair or blanket."

    Note, the emphasis on "arriving early" was not mine, it came from the FAQ. It's been the rule of Gasparilla for as far back as I can remember…

  • Tom says:

    This misses the point of socialist logic. The idea is not that the poor are begging the rich for money because they don’t bother to work and “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”
    To make money in this or any country, someone wealthier than you basically has to give you permission to make money. This is because, when we tug fruitlessly on our bootstraps, wondering why we’re not lifting off the ground, what we’re doing is imitating those who are wealthier than us, who can just pull the ripcord and start up the rocket boots that we can’t even comprehend how to make, much less afford to buy.
    The rich have a social responsibility to give, either charitably or through taxes or both, because otherwise the system that allows them to have more than others would collapse from under them. This is not to promote pure social security, which is charity to individuals that is ultimately wasted without giving those individuals the opportunity to get off of welfare. And make no mistake, people on welfare are in the most abject poverty possible in America, and social security is only keeping them from starvation.
    But those who have wealth MUST provide their enormous means to schools in poor communities, public transportation, free health clinics, public housing projects, job creation programs, and cultural enrichment centers of all kinds without expecting ANYTHING in the way of direct monetary returns. In the short term, the top 1% of the wealthy will have to go without their platinum-plated helicopter-yacht or whatever they would buy, while the poor get smarter and richer. However, once the poor get richer with the obstacles to their success removed and opportunities for success provided, they start to buy more and more and more things, things they could never have afforded before, and the rich get many, many times richer, because their consumer base will have dramatically increased. The exponential increase in the percentage of people that can afford nice things will create many, many more jobs, because somebody’s got to make all the stuff we will suddenly be able to afford.
    The only worry is that we will run out of unskilled labor willing to do menial work, and we will all starve because there are no poor wage slaves to do the work nobody wants to do. This would be true a century ago. However, we can and often do replace the entire process with a few skilled workers and a ton of sophisticated machinery currently. The few jobs that can’t be done by robots can be done by illegal immigrants, the only ones left that will put up with being treated like robots, at least until we develop robots that can do their jobs.

  • dan says:

    Tom, thanks for the comment. I really appreciate you wading in here. Unfortunately, you lost me at “to make money in this or any country, someone wealthier than you basically has to give you permission to make money”. I’ve met literally thousands of entrepreneurs who didn’t need anyone’s permission to build companies, employ people, deliver value to customers and make money in the process. Our survival as a country depends upon rewarding and replicating that behavior over and over again…

  • Tom says:

    Dan, I agree that the entrepreneurial spirit is crucial to our survival as a stand-alone country and as a member of the global economy. This doesn’t mean, though, that we can absolve those entrepreneurs and oligarchs who have money of their responsibility to provide others with the opportunity to replicate their success. Every one of the entrepreneurs that you’ve met has benefited from the help of someone that had more than them.
    In no way does this devalue their accomplishments, but in order to do what they’ve done, you need good education, spare time, and spare money. You can’t have good education if you can’t pay for private school and nobody else is willing to fund public schools. You can’t have spare time or money if you need to work two jobs with little or no opportunity for advancement to put food on the table and a roof over your head.
    What I was saying, basically, is that it takes money to make money, and if you don’t have it, and nobody’s providing it, it is really, really hard to keep from being caught in a cycle of hand-to-mouth.

  • Don says:

    @Tom

    I doubt I’ll change your mind on any of this. Your responses are laced with class-warfare cliches and the logic doesn’t support any vibrant economic model that I’m aware of. It seems based on assumptions of what is right and wrong, vs how incentives and human behavior actually play out historically. I would suggest starting your re-ed with economist Frederic Bastiat’s essay The Law, 1850. It analyzes the basic underpinning of what you are suggesting with “the rich MUST…” argument.
    You don’t know the entrepreneurs Dan has met, and you don’t know if or how they have benefitted from others. That’s a blatantly false assumption based on a worldview that assumes motives and attributes of the wealthy. I’ve met entrepreneurs that were decidedly dealt WORSE circumstances than their peers, and became successful despite their circumstances. Yes, entrepreneurs, in varying measure, can benefit from a society with law and order, open markets, etc., but those entrepreneurs don’t benefit from that society in any way more than every other able citizen. The entrepreneur that “applies himself” within that system doesn’t then owe the system more in return, because the system provides just as much help to everyone that didn’t apply themself.

    For example, we all pay taxes for a sidewalk. Person X walks on the sidewalk to go to work, and comes up at five. Person Y walks on the sidewalk to go to work, stays at work 12 hours a day, and comes home at 9pm. Greater input, greater output, so person Y makes more every day, advances faster, does more with the extra he’s earning, and eventually becomes wealthy. He doesn’t now owe more taxes for that same sidewalk than person X that didn’t want to work more than 8 hours a day. The key ingredient in his success was harder work, and then things start to get better and better for him. You don’t punish that, and to do so is purely evil and a cause for societies to collapse. Person Y is not “enslaving the poor”, he is working harder, being more industrious, applying his talents. That story is repeated, not thousands of times, millions of times. I’ve seen policemen, firemen, paper boys, single moms, countless others do nothing greater than “work harder”, and start a cycle of moving ahead economically. Eventually some of them have enough money to open a small business on the weekends, and then work all week AND weekends on their business, to get it to a point of expansion.
    Secondly, you state that the entrepreneur needs good education, and you reference private school as their advantage. Again, that is a blatantly false claim, as you don’t know the education of Dan’s friends, nor the entrepreneurs I’ve known or have in my family. Private school education, especially ivy league education, is NOT a requirement for success. There are just too many examples to refute your assumption. I don’t mean to sound gruff, but how can you hold these notions when it’s all out there to read. Henry Ford, Ray Kroc, Edison was homeschooled by his mother, and Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College after 1 semester to work with Wozniak. James Clark dropped out of high school, joined the navy for 4 years, and then slowly re-educated himself through night school available to anyone. He ended up running 4 companies with a billion dollar market cap. His “wage slaves” followed him from company to company, so I guess they didn’t mind the ‘crumbs’ too much. There is just too much history out there, you are not trying very hard to challenge your own assumptions.
    Spare time? – Again, blatantly false. I started working at 10 years old helping my father throw a paper route. He had two degrees, worked as a school teacher, but also threw a paper route at 5am to get ahead. To get the route done quickly so he could get dressed and go teach, he woke me up at 4am to help. He paid me for my time, and it was a great experience all the way through high school. So let me ask, while he and I were busting butt to distribute 500 papers to low income homes and the housing projects (that was our route), and all those people were in bed sleeping while we were working the first of our roles for the day, which of us had the spare time? The people living in the projects had the spare time, and they used it to sleep. We used our time to work extra hours. Not surprisingly, our standard of living grew over time, but required a ton of work and lots of risk. Some of those families who were customers on our paper route 35 yrs ago, are still in govt housing, and still have more “spare time” than I do. BTW, I’ve personally spent time with 3 entrepreneurs who became billionaires in my life, enough to know their personal schedules and habits, and all three of them had tougher daily schedules than any other person I know. And they had those schedules looooonnnnggg before they were wealthy. We all have 24 hours in a day. I don’t have a minute more, or less. If you are not using it wisely, your problem is intelligence and decision making, not lack of time or opportunity. Why “MUST” those who use their time industriously, sacrificing sleep and ‘spare time’, then be required to pay MORE than those who have not CHOSEN to do so?
    Spare money? – I’m not even going to bother sharing some of the history that proves this is not a requirement. Does it help? Hell yeah money helps. Here’s an idea, —go make some! Wannabe entrepreneurs could certainly go faster with up front money, that’s what VC and angels are for. They need to hit the road with their rockstar idea and raise the capital. When I started my company, I had squat for capital. Nothing. A 30 yr old mobile home in the middle of nowhere. But I had a business plan (which co-founders and I worked 57 straight days on, no whining about weekends off). We took our business plan on the road in the toughest of times, and raised capital. We didn’t ask for grants and loans from former entrepreneurs who just “MUST” give back to help us. We presented a business case, a return for their investment, and the best ideas move forward. Again, you just need to re-educate and read more. The facts are out there. Meet more entrepreneurs. From my experience MOST of them are extremely charitable, and give to all sorts of causes plus contribute time and resources. But not a one of them “MUST” do this in my opinion. We live in a free country, and we should decide individually what causes we want to contribute to, and how much we wish to contribute. No wealthy person is sitting on cash. They put it to work somewhere. If it’s not helping a charity, it’s backing loans, or being invested in other companies and growth.

    Finally, I agree with your last statement “it is really, really hard to keep from being caught in a cycle of hand-to-mouth.” I’ve been in that cycle most of my life. I’m not wealthy, though my standard of living has improved. I keep at it. It’s hard, so what. So others must share the fruits of their labor with me because things are hard on me? Bullcrap times ten. That mentality is evil. Life is hard, who cares. Life is hard on the rabbit, the lion, the gnat, and on humans. Does that mean life sucks? Heck no, unless you feel you’re entitled to life being easy. I love every day and have excitement through thick and thin, but it ain’t easy. Where is the ethical and moral justification that we should make life easy for our neighbor, so he can sleep late a few more years than we did? That’s not social justice, that’s spoiling and pampering.

    Reminds me of how the chick nearly dies of exhaustion breaking free of his egg shell. You could help him by peeling away the shell for him, he can get out more easily, and then die. Die because you denied him the neck muscle growth that comes from pecking at the egg shell relentlessly. http://www.ehow.com/how_4747068_help-chickens-egg-hatch.html

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