Saturday 26 November 2011

Inequality gets too bad a press


Interesting point from a note I was sent by Plamen Monovski, CIO of Renaissance Asset Managers

The richer the society, the more its citizens seem to be affected by inequality. Every day, the pulpiteers in the press produce irate editorials about the gargantuan pay discrepancies between management and workers of western corporations. Research has shown time and again that human beings are much more stirred not so much by their absolute standard of living, but by how much it differs from their immediate peers. Positioning in the social order seems to be the major determinant of happiness. Huge differences in wealth then are offensive, as they relegate the majority to lower strata of society. Like in the animal kingdom, low social status is an evolutionary dead end. Hence, it is of paramount importance to present oneself credibly in society without the shame and stigma of apparent poverty. Advertisers and consumer goods companies play on that insecurity and ballyhoo conspicuous consumption as proof of self-worth. Thus purchases say more about the identity of the individual than the good itself; second-rate goods reflect second-rate people. 
The rise of anxiety and its associated depression are at the same time accompanied with levels of self-promotion unseen in history. According to an influential study on the subject, in 1950 10% of teenagers agreed with the statement “I am an important person”. These days that number had risen to more than 80%. The meteoric rise of reality shows, with their the promise of instant fame and where judgments on one’s abilities are passed swiftly, are laying bare the character of a generation of narcissistic nervous wrecks. This “cortisol”-laden tribe reports extreme stress levels driven by low social status and loneliness (aka. lack of friends).
Perhaps this loneliness results from the collapse of communities where an individual used to pass his or her life surrounded by the same people, to an altogether different mode of existence. The rapid rise of urbanisation, the uprooting of communities, means that one’s life is spent in the company of strangers who need to be impressed on the spot.
Does inequality make people unhappy? Or the combination of advertising, celebrity gossip, affluence and an official ideology of meritocracy and equal opportunities. these things make people who do not get on feel either like failures or victims. I wonder if more deferential, hierarchical societies are not happier.

He goes onto talk about the loneliness and alientaion of modern life - this can be explained by social fluidity, the decline of religion, mass immigration and in many other ways. But egalitarianism is the ruling ideology of our age.

But perhaps my backward looking nostalgia like all political stances is an expression of my psychological state. 

Actually I think there is a  great deal of happiness around in England and Romania - and probably most places. Obviously except Hungary.

1 comment:

  1. True, Paul, ignorance is bliss. Hierarchical societies with no mobility mean that people will eventually be happier with the status quo. But what we have now is a lot of information floating around, which reveals a lot of inequality. And the more you learn about it, the more frustrated you are. But going back in time is not possible nor would I want for that to happen. Information calls for problems to be solved. And crass inequality is a problem. Why shouldn't we be raised thinking that merit and hard work will get us somewhere? What else should? Stealing and sleeping with people? Or rather, be raised thinking you'll never get out of the slum? The MDC, UNDP, etc are trying to make the world a better place. In order for that to happen, individuals need incentives to better themselves. To go to school, to set up ethical businesses, to contribute to society. To end war. And merit for now is the best way to incentivize people to do that. And why not MOVE FORWARD? Why look back? Why not take action versus accepting the status quo and not doing anything?

    The way you think of philosophical and social concepts like happiness and inequality reflects what you do in your own life, which is contemplate but not take action. Accept, but not try to change. Furthermore, be opposed to changes.