Welcome to New World Same Humans, a new weekly newsletter by TrendWatching’s Global Head of Trends and Insights, David Mattin.
This week a pair of shoes got me thinking about the race to the top of our societies, who gets to win, and how we reward them.
Also: thoughts on ethics and business, and Iowa. Let’s go.
Vaporflys, Fairness and the Liberal Elite
The Tokyo Olympics is less than six months away. World Athletics, the international governing body for track and field sports, have ruled that competing athletes can wear the controversial Nike Vaporfly shoes, a prototype version of which helped Eliud Kipchoge run a marathon in under two hours last year.
Vaporflys combine carbon-fibre plates and a thick foam sole to produce a 4–5% increase in running efficiency. That means an advantage of at least 90 seconds for an elite male athlete over marathon distance. Unsurprisingly, some have argued that the shoes constitute an unfair advantage. World Athletics disagree. Expect records to be shattered in Tokyo.
The subject of fairness in sport is perennially fascinating; probably because it helps us to see more clearly what we think about fairness in life. Everyone agrees, for example, that when an athlete takes EPO to increase red blood cell count, that is not fair. Meanwhile, the fact that some people have genes that cause higher levels of EPO and so more red blood cells is fine. Look closely, and it’s clear that these evaluations of fairness often come down to judgements over which characteristics are intrinsic to a person (we say good EPO genes are) and which are not (we say use of EPO is not). It turns out we want sport to be a test of intrinsic advantages plus hard work. These days most of us want life to be like that, too.
I read the news about Vaporflys alongside a new essay in The Atlantic. Questions of fairness hovered over that essay just as they do over the Tokyo Olympics. ‘How McKinsey Destroyed the Middle Class’ argues that the world’s most famous consulting firm helped forge the class structure we now inhabit by encouraging big…