Thursday, May 25, 2017

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett write about the psychological and social harms arising out of inequality:
Members of species that have strong ranking systems need social strategies for maximising and maintaining rank while avoiding the risk of attacks by dominants. Although there are many variations in the way ranking systems work in different species, what we might call the ‘pure’ logic of ranking systems is that position in the dominance hierarchy determines who has precedence over whom in access to scarce resources; orderings are based on strength and power, and disputes are resolved by trials of strength; you show respect and deference to superiors and treat inferiors with impunity and disdain.

This contrasts sharply with the social strategies that in more egalitarian societies replace rank as the main determinant of access to resources. These include social accounting systems based on reciprocity, sharing and cooperation, in which trust and trustworthiness are essential. People who seem to be more trustworthy, generous and kind will be preferred as mates and as partners in cooperative activities. But as well as selection for pro-social characteristics, Boehm shows that there was also deselection for anti-social characteristics: Selfishness and anti-social behaviour in hunting and gathering societies would result in people being ridiculed, ostracised or even killed (Boehm, 2012).

Because the contrast between the behaviour appropriate in each of these two systems is so great, it is important to match one's behaviour to one's setting. Generosity and selflessness are valued and rewarded among friends and in egalitarian settings but would simply be taken advantage of and exploited in a dominance hierarchy. Similarly, the naked pursuit of self-interest and self-aggrandisement appropriate to a rank ordered society would have led to ostracism in a typical hunting and gathering society. It is therefore crucial for behaviour to be sensitive to how hierarchical or egalitarian a society is.

This leads us to expect the pattern of differences in behaviour that we see between more and less egalitarian societies (egalitarianism as judged from the distribution of material resources or income). As we shall see, in more unequal societies, status becomes more important, status anxiety increases and self-serving individualism and self-aggrandisement increase. Community life, rooted in trust, reciprocity and public spiritedness, declines; bullying and violence increase. Of course, rather than using one social strategy or another, everyone uses a mix of dominance and affiliative strategies in different areas of life. Our hypothesis is simply that the balance between these strategies shifts depending on the level of inequality.
- Ann Pettifor discusses how democracy is suffering due to the failures of neoliberal economics. And the Kansas City Star points out that Donald Trump's choice to follow Sam Brownback's failed prescription only stands to make matters worse for most people.

- Alex Collinson points out how increased borrowing has replaced wage growth as a major support for consumer spending. And Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider comment on the stresses caused by income volatility.

- Freddie Deboer examines how the U.S.' exclusive private universities exacerbate inequality - particularly as public universities face severe government cutbacks. And Colette Shade laments the reality that the Smithsonian and other cultural institutions are serving to provide prepackaged corporate messaging rather than neutral or public-focused content.

- Finally, the Star's editorial board asks all levels of government to make sure that social housing is maintained and retained, rather than being allowed to crumble.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:13 a.m.

    Wilkinson & Pickett may write about 'it', till the cows come home- you too, Greg, for that matter.
    I live it. Daily. Joyfully & serenely, as well.