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Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Small Percentage Causing Big Problems

Where does most of our trouble lie?

Way back in the 1890s, Vilfredo Pareto, a passionate gardener and Italian economist, noticed a small percentage of the pea plants in his garden seemed to produce the majority of the peas. He counted the peas, and in fact, 80% of the peas he produced came from just 20% of his pea plants.

This seemingly rudimentory observation led to the development of the “Pareto Principle,” which tested his pea plant theory. The “Pareto Principle” is that 80% of the results (in any area of our lives) come from 20% of our efforts. For example, 20% of our habits create 80% of our productivity. 20% of our time leads to 80% of our happiness.

It works inversely, also. Eighty percent of your knowledge is used 20% of the time; 80% of your stress is caused by 20% of your stressors; 80% of family problems are caused by 20% of the issues.

Did you know 20% of your wardrobe is worn 80% of the time? Or that 20% of your phone apps get 80% usage?

Now, for Pareto, he extrapolated what he saw in his garden to a macroeconomic analysis and discovered that 80% of the wealth in Italy (at that time) was owned by 20% of the population. Since then, however, economists, psychologists and productivity gurus alike have all tested the “Pareto Principle” in various other ways.

Businesses have discovered that 80% of a company’s output is produced by 20% of its workers and that 80% of their profits often comes from about 20% of their customers. In sports, teams have discovered that 80% of their wins come from about 20% of its players. Investors often find that 80% of their wealth comes from only 20% of their investments.

I mention all of this because there’s a great deal discord in our community (and really, all across the country). Folks talk about bad police officers. Bad teachers. Incompetent elected officials. Bad parents. A racist judicial system. Rising violent crimes. Deficit spending. Prejudice because of your skin color, your gender, your pronouns, your religion, etc.

The question becomes, with the “Pareto Principle” in mind, “Are 80% of these issues in our communities caused by just 20% of us?” And if so, why do we spend so much time attacking, and demonizing, and shaming, and painting the 80% (not causing any trouble at all) with such a broad brush that we don’t realize that we have so much more in common than not?

Watch the Shreveport City Council, for example. Some would say that 20% of the City Council is responsible for 80% of the infighting and frustration. Is Shreveport as racist as some on the Shreveport City Council would like you to believe? Perhaps not.

When it comes to crime, are Shreveporters as violent as it seems? Or are the vast majority of the violent crimes being committed by a minuscule percentage of the population? As Mayor Arceneaux said recently, following another late-night shooting, that Shreveporters are “overwhelmingly law-abiding.”

Another example: Shreveport has a racist police department and a two-tiered system of justice. But we have a black police chief, a black district attorney and a black city marshal. So, is law enforcement and our justice system, in the hands of these men, as racist as some would like you to believe? Or is it closer to the “Pareto Principle,” where the great majority of law enforcement and criminal prosecutors in our community serve and protect and provide equal justice under the law?

So is everything hunky-dory? No, of course not. There’s work to be done that’s long overdue to be accomplished. But perhaps Shreveport’s often negative opinion of itself is mostly because it’s being stirred (and reinforced) by a handful of citizens, and only because of a handful of issues.

Those are the small number of folks who constantly demean this community on social media and distribute hopelessness and despair about our community to anyone within earshot.

That includes the so-called elected leaders who seem more concerned with the preservation of their own power than addressing head-on the 20% of the real issues causing 80% of what has been ailing our community for years.

The bottom line is that we’re all neighbors. Two peas in a pod, so to speak, but as long as the 20% of us causing discord and divisiveness in our community is getting all the attention, is real change for the 80% of the rest of us even possible?

Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in 318 Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at louisavallone@mac.com, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.


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