Today I was listening to "The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys" by Traffic. One portion of the lyrics is this question:

If I gave you everything that I own
and asked for nothing in return
Would you do the same for me, as I would for you?

Or take me for a ride
and strip me of everything, including my pride

It's actually a pretty tricky question. Let's approach it first as a matter of social justice. If Steve Winwood, the singer, gave me everything that he owned with no prior agreement that I reciprocate, I'd be very rich and he'd be destitute. My newfound wealth would surely make me inclined to help the less fortunate. But would Winwood be the best subject for my charity? While he'd be tied for poorest person in the world, he still seems to be performing, and thus his income potential would probably be higher than anybody else in his wealth cohort. It's not as if most destitute people can just go on concert tour and start raking in the bucks.

On the other hand, I probably would feel some sense of reciprocity -- here is a very wealthy man who just gave me everything he owns, plunging himself and his family into absolute (if temporary) poverty for no apparent reason. Even if he's not the most deserving recipient of my charity from a social need perspective, surely his hope that I'd give him all my possessions counts for something.

Moreover, it would probably make sense for me to reciprocate out of mere self interest. If there's even a small chance that some other rock star might contemplate making the same deal, I would certainly want to show good faith. The value of keeping my current possessions is pretty small compared to even the tiny chance that, say, Mick Jagger would also decide to trade possessions with me.

One tricky issue would be the fact that some of our possessions would have more value to the original owner than to the new owner. Once I had everything Winwood owns, sure, my 1994 Plymouth Neon would no longer have much use to me. But it seems wasteful to also give him things like, oh, my family photos or my college intramural softball championship t-shirt that have sentimental value to me but none to him. Likewise, I'm sure his 300-year-old manor house in the Gloucestershire countryside (per Wikipedia; I'm not a stalker, or even an especially serious Winwood fan) is worth more than my house, but it's not necessarily where I want to live. So I guess my conclusion is that I'd give him most of what I own, but not all.

And of course, all this is assuming that, by "do the same," Winwood means give him everything that I owned pre-transfer. Taken literally, he is asking if he would give me everything he owns, and then I have to give him everything I own post-transfer, which would result in him winding up with all his possessions plus all my possessions. But interpreting the question more plausibly, yes, if Winwood gave me everything he currently owns, I would give him everything of non-trivial value that I currently own.

Song: