Monday, March 12, 2012

What is normal? Trading hours, fairness and heterogeneity

Some posters are getting around the Napier building, saying "normal is a distribution". Hold that thought, but keep in mind the idea of heterogeneity - the fact that people vary. And a frequency tabulation tends to take the shape below (especially if you average it out many times over).



Yep so now we talk about trading hours on today's public holiday.



Familiar arguments.

Big retailers want it, economies of scale
Small retailers are divided, they're individual small businesses
Shoppers are happy enough to have the trading hours, even if they don't use them
Rundle Mall wants it, they see it as important to revitalizing the city
Unions have gone along with it, but want their members to be paid well for it
Civic groups consider it a threat to quality of (in particular family) life

And there is the unfairness. Some people have to work, others get to be the relaxers.


So I think about heterogeneity. The fact that everyone is different. That "normal" is a distribution. Perhaps it would be fairer if it was evened out. Perhaps everybody should work the same hours, the same times, earn the same money etc

Aside from the practical problems of making this happen, my experience of teaching has given me an insight to the fact that - really - people don't want across the board equality.

When I do a thought experiment with my classes I ask them "what if everybody gets a 75% distinction?". It would save me my most unpleasant task - judging others.

Initially the class sounds interested. "wow, I get a distinction. Cool". But very quickly (less than a minute) there are murmurs of discontent. I kill the thought experiment then.


The people on the right side of that normal curve - they tend to like heterogeneity. They like the idea that if they relinquish the odd night out, do a little more research, listen to the lectures a few more times, come to the special sessions; if they put in the extra yards they will have it recognised.

So I don't have an answer to the shopping hours question. Looking beyond the obvious often puts us there.


But inequality is one of the factors that cause some people to work harder than others. That said, the "slosh factor" makes it amazingly unfair - in the short term - sometimes. I felt the burn many years ago on a New Years Even at 7pm when all my friends and family were readying for their celebrations as I was readying for work.

That night I was the one making sure the "Olympic flame" association enjoyed their 400 person function. OK, so I got some education and made some life choose that means I haven't had to work NYE for 20 years now - but the future is an uncertain place. Slosh factor.



So it tends to be that everyone wants equality, with those who are better off than them. And the lawmakers need to walk the line between allowing for productive inequality and trashing family values. Sounds like a Gordian knot.



I do like the way the French treat their Sundays as sacred, see my post "le Dimanche is different".


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