Thursday, December 10, 2009

Brains and Brawn

I was teaching an intro class yesterday for a colleague who was looking at economic structures and morality. We watched the part of the Enron documentary "The Smartest Guys in the Room" where the Enron energy traders were cackling over the way they were manipulating the energy market in California, depriving millions of electricity in the hottest part of the summer and getting them to pay $1000 for what is usually $30 worth of power.

One student said that he can't blame these guys for making all they could by outsmarting the people. Everyone in the marketplace has their wits and if these guys could outwit the rest, then that's how it works.

If having superior intellect was sufficient, I inquired, was having superior physical attributes also sufficient. Is it o.k. for bigger kids to shakedown the smaller ones for their milk money? No, he agreed. Then why should intelligence bullies be different?

Many thought that while both might be wrong, there still seemed to them a difference between the smart and the strong who used their attribute to acquire wealth from those who are less well-endowed and made the smart less morally problematic.

Is there a difference? If so, why?