Status and Income Redistribution

This description of the practical, private, daily consequences of living with low status in a stratified society was a sharp illustration of theoretical studies of inequality. Research by academics such as Richard Wilkinson and Michael Marmot has exposed the statistical connections between status and health, and status and life expectancy. What they have shown is that even small differences in status have a significant effect on longevity and wellbeing. The man in the bulletin showed how social injuries are experienced, and how they might accumulate.

This is true.

But that experience isn\’t leading, as one might expect, to a generalised support for greater equality.

People in these positions bemoan the growth in inequality. They all agree that there should be greater redistribution from the rich to the poor.

Ah, now we\’re talking about income inequality, not status inequality. The two are not in fact the same thing and it\’s most unlikely that we\’ll solve one by altering the other.

As an example, Polly T is rumoured to earn £140k a year from The Guardian. That\’s third or fourth year earnings for a middling hedgie these days. Does that hedgie have a higher or lower social status than Polly T (I mean in general, not amongst us hateful right wing bloggers, where her status is something lower than whale shit)? Gordon Brown has climbed to the very top of the political greasy pole. His income is a percentage point or two of the incomes of those at the top of the banking tree. Who has the higher social status?

Further, what if we did in fact make incomes vastly more equal? Given that human beings are status seekers (sorry, but this is an essential part of what makes us human, there\’s no getting around that) then we\’d just invent a new method of denoting status. We\’ve done it before, we\’ve allocated high status to those good at hacking peasants with a broadsword, we\’ve allocated it to those who pray harder than others, we\’ve allocated it to those born to those good at either. We\’ve even allocated it to those good at sports, even if unfortunately we\’ve done it too little to those with the brains to improve the human condition.

It\’s a fundamental mistake to look at the consequences of inequality of social status and claim that equality of income will solve them. What really surprises me about said mistake is that this is done in England, a place which for centuries had a class, and thus social status, system which was not based on money at all.

One comment on “Status and Income Redistribution

  1. You are assuming that there needs to be a connection between a Polly-esque diagnosis of a problem and the Polly-esque proposed solution.

    That strikes me as being a fairly fundamental error. 🙂

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