This week I went to an excellent lecture on inequality. Clayne Pope, retiring economist, pointed out that while income inequality in the U.S. has been pretty close to the same for the last 200 years, leisure-time is now concentrated more heavily among the poor, while education inequality and lifespan inequality have both dropped like a rock. These are great things, wonderful even.
Unfortunately, I fear that improvement in Sunday School comment inequality may well be stagnant. I substitute teach Sunday School every once in a while and sometimes it seems like about 10% of the group makes all the comments. I can ask more questions, but largely the same core group responds. They are great responders and have wonderful insights, but I’d still like to get others involved. I’m sure better teachers don’t have this problem because they have magical teaching techniques of which I am not aware. It is less of a problem in the smaller Elder’s Quorum where I know the participants well enough that they take pity on me. But by and large, most people don’t talk. This is a shame because many of them could share very interesting insights or experiences or questions.
This is an externalities problem. People don’t provide the service as much as they should because the benefits don’t all flow to them, while they bear all the risk of making a stupid comment. Since they discount the benefit to others, they don’t raise their hands and comments are underprovided. Many of them would be willing to comment, but face sharply diminishing returns to that service in the face of other people commenting.
As an aside, the same thing happens in charitable contributions, by the way. People would be willing to give more if the marginal charitable dollar had more impressive results, but between rich people and the government, there is enough money in the system that the value of a marginal dollar is driven down to the point that people donate fairly little (about 3% on average). They free ride.
The market solution for Sunday School is to subsidize comments. The regulatory solution would be to ask people not to comment more than once so as to drive up the perceived marginal return to commenting. In my classes at school when students are giving presentations, I give students credit for commenting (once!) on the other students’ presentations. Maybe I should bring candy to Sunday School…
The same thing is true, by the way, for testimony meetings– the top 10% of testifiers in a year probably rack up well over half of the total time. That’s even more concentrated than U.S. income inequality! But the problem, in this case, is exactly the opposite from the income problem. In income inequality the issue is that the few people have all the resources. In meetings, those who aren’t sharing, but could, are depriving the rest of us of their insights or convictions (while they also deprice themselves). Granted, that’s a good thing in some cases, but I am pretty sure it is still a net loss. Of course, if the 10% are always rushing to the podium, it is pretty easy to not stand up.
This actually isn’t as much of a problem in my current ward as it has been in some past ones. Or maybe I just don’t notice because I’m typically out in the hall with one of my beloved children.