[ExI] Status, Envy, and Economics

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Wed Feb 13 20:16:09 UTC 2008

BillK writes

>> Status may be a zero-sum game, but economics *certainly*
>> is not---except in those cases where some genius like Lenin
>> supposes that he has a better way to organize everything.
> But in human society, status trumps economics. That's inbuilt to human nature.
> <http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-op-schermer13jan13,0,1195880.story>
> 'Why people believe weird things about money'
> Evolution accounts for a lot of our strange ideas about finances.
> By Michael Shermer         January 13, 2008
> Would you rather earn $50,000 a year while other people make $25,000,
> or would you rather earn $100,000 a year while other people get $250,000?

The latter.  And I would sincerely appreciate it if people who
would prefer the former, would either say so, or flip a coin
and if the answer is "heads", state their true preference.  :-)

> Surprisingly -- stunningly, in fact -- research shows that the
> majority of people select the first option; they would rather make
> twice as much as others even if that meant earning half as much as
> they could otherwise have. How irrational is that?

I would not argue that it is *irrational* at all!  No, not at all.

If annoyance at inequality really is greater than value received
from greater riches, then it would be irrational *not* to prefer
the closer-equality.
> 'Perception of fairness' and 'status' are far more important drivers
> for the majority of humanity than mere money and wealth.

This preference for wealth equality may indeed be more important
for the majority at any given time (so far, in history), but it has not
remained constant over history.  Religion has done a great deal
to help people accept that others may have more wealth and that
this is not a problem. 

Also other memes help:  it is often said that Americans believe
more than others, everything else being equal, that they can
"get ahead".  If so, then this has also helped them to evade
envy and dwell less on how rich Bill Gates is, say.

Would you not agree to this:

1)  it is good that people want to be richer
2)  it is unfortunate, and needs to be worked against
     that people are so interested in relative differences 


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