The notion of symmetry is fascinating because it pervades so many areas of human thought. Mathematical symmetry is described with respect to the passage of time, in equations or geometrically. Humans and other animals are physically symmetrical with respect to the sagittal plane, which divides the body into halves. Art, architecture and music all rely on the concept of symmetry for harmonious, beautiful proportion and balance.
Symmetry is an ideal of perfection. It’s found everywhere in nature and in human expression and interaction along with the opposite – asymmetry. Mankind contains a lot of asymmetry. Social scientists think of symmetrical interactions as moral “we are all the same” and asymmetrical relationships as a manifestation of power “I am better than you”.
There’s a line of study in contract law, insurance and economics called information asymmetry. Some people know more about stuff and they take advantage of it to better their position to the detriment of others. A moral hazard is when one person takes more risk because someone else bears the burden of that risk (bank bailouts and the subprime loan catastrophe for example). Adverse selection is where buyers and sellers have access to different information and one side uses it against the other.
This is the information age. Information asymmetry is everywhere. Economists tend to take the world, including human selfishness and uneven power, as a given and then try to engineer solutions around this perceived constraint. They would probably argue that their values and ethics have nothing to do with their public policy recommendations. However, a lot of the work from Nobel Prize winning economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz centers on the notion of information asymmetry. Invoking the term for the opposite of symmetry (harmonious, beautiful proportion and balance) implies that they believe everything should be equal – or at least more equal as an ideal.
Well it doesn’t work like that in the real world. Our society is not nice, it’s economic warfare – America is full of free loaders, cheaters and people with no moral compass (all in it for themselves). The asymmetry of economic power struggles may not be pleasant but it’s a fact of life that cannot be ignored. Attempts to force engineer economic symmetry make it worse, because people take advantage of those efforts to your disadvantage. Protect your family by building some wealth and then lock it down with insurance and good investment and estate planning advice.
Wealth accumulation is personal and should be balanced with physical strength, intelligence and morality. You can strive for symmetry in your personal life, but human culture is most assuredly asymmetrical and it will always be that way. Your Estate Planning War Chest is a symmetrical construct in the middle of a violent, asymmetrical world.