It is Glorious to Grow Rich

And it make you happier too.

The Easterlin Paradox is no more!

There\’s always been another, slightly more technical, argument not so much against the happiness research as against the proposed solutions.

When looking at the things about inequality that make people unhappy, the attention has always been upon differences in social status. For example, the Whitehall study did indeed find a link between ill health and lower income: but the link was much much stronger to being lower on that particular heirarchy: being of lower social status in the workplace.

Similarly across so much of the rest of it. While we can indeed use relative economic income as a proxy for that greater or lower unhappiness the links are a great deal stronger when we use social inequality.

The proposed solutions though have all been about reducing economic inequality: this would work only to the extent that economic and social inequality are the same thing. Something which might be partially true in certain societies, but is most unlikely in the UK: the class system, the social heirarchy, doesn\’t map even vaguely onto the  economic one.

Take an example: Polly Toynbee is feted as one who is at the very peak of her profession (Lord alone knows why but ….) and informed gossip suggests that she pulls down around £140,000 a year from The Guardian. This is third year pay for a mediocre investment banker: and who has the greater social status? Polly or someone we\’ve never heard of and who is, in his own heirarchy, very much the runt?

Further, even if we did in fact have greatly more equal incomes, does anyone seriously think that social status would thus be equal? We\’ve had, over the generations, in this country alone, societies where status is imparted by ability to hack at peasants with a broadsword, being born to one who was good at that, by one\’s Godliness, certainly there have been times when being of a certain birth status provided a great deal more social value than being rich (think of the sneers about "trade"). There are myriad sub-cultures where having read (but not understood of course, for no one does) Po-Mo screeds imparts status, for example, or being good at playing a video game, or a sport….if we look abroad there have been societies in which how much you have given away is the marker of status, the more the greater.

Quite why anyone thought that any and all of these heirarchies would go away if only economic incomes were more equal is beyond me: so the proposed solution wouldn\’t have "solved" the perceived problem anyway. We\’d still have social inequality and the unhappiness that this causes (in the logical construct that is) but we\’d all just be poorer given the deadweight costs of the economic redistribution.

So why did anyone ever think that it was a bright idea in the first place?

3 thoughts on “It is Glorious to Grow Rich”

  1. “So why did anyone ever think that it was a bright idea in the first place?”

    Due to the lack of comments I think the answer is no.

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    I would have thought that those who want wealth to be more “equal” actually want more money to be given to them. But because only muggers suggest that the rich ought to give them money, they join together in larger groups and claim the moral high ground. Hence, of course, the famous saying that anyone who wasn’t a socialist at twenty (when they had no money) was heartless but anyone who was still a socialist at 40 (when they have money) is a fool. Why else does everything Polly demands boil down to the Government paying for services she wants even though they tend not to benefit the poor?

    Never under-estimate the ability of people to fool themselves about their own motives.

  3. “Why else does everything Polly demands boil down to the Government paying for services she wants even though they tend not to benefit the poor?”

    For once, this is an area where the fact that Polly is paid £150k+ per year probably works in her favour and against your argument…

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