Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"They are different from you and me."

Rich investors say that it takes at least $5 million to feel wealthy, according to a new investor sentiment report from UBS. Meanwhile, two-thirds of millionaires don’t consider themselves to be wealthy. They also define being wealthy not as having a certain amount of money, but having “no financial constraints on what they do.” ... [L]ess than 20 percent [of the rich] have a pessimistic view of the long-term economic outlook. That differs sharply from the general population, as half of Americans say the economy is getting worse... The country’s CEOs now make 273 times what their workers do, while incomes for the wealthiest 20 percent are eight times greater than those in the bottom 20 percent. And while wages in top-paying jobs have been holding pretty steady, those for the lowest paying jobs are falling further and further behind. While the rich worry about whether they can make enough to do whatever they want, most Americans are worrying about whether they can make their next rent payment. Three-quarters of the general population is currently living paycheck-to-paycheck with little stored away in emergency savings. Meanwhile, the American Dream has become even more mythical as the social class someone is born into heavily determines how much they’ll make later in life. A third of those who grow up in the top 1 percent will make $100,000 by age 30, while just one out of every 25 people in the bottom half of the income distribution will do so.
Even notionally meritocratic assignments in a functional distribution of labor are impossible in the face of these stultifying stratifications, not to mention many of the common structures of feeling on which solidarity and equity depend; this segregation into scarcely commensurate worlds amounts to a cognitive speciation and collective madness.


Unknown said...

In other circles, this is known as the Iron Law of Meritocracy: A set of elites who have been selected by a meritocratic system will subvert the system to favor their children, leading toward the establishment of a class system.

Dale Carrico said...

I agree that Hayes' book was not bad. It was hardly the first or last word on plutocracy, of course, tho'. And the quasi-evo cast given his thesis by your emphasis parents and their offspring seems a wee bit off -- after all, there are plenty of ways present beneficiaries of unjust distributions of authority and resources rationalize their ill-gotten or accidental good fortune, the intergenerational transmission of these maldistributions certainly exacerbate but need not exhaustively characterize the problems.

Unknown said...

The desire to see one's children do well is a nearly ubiquitous and very powerful drive, and sensible people in similar situations tend to do similar things. For example, a meritocratic test system for serious stakes tends to spawn a test preparation industry that allows people to trade wealth for "merit" (however the tests define it). It happened in China during the Song dynasty as expensive tutoring became de-facto required to succeed on the Imperial examinations. It happened in Japan, where students often follow a school day with six or more hours of cram school to prepare for the university entrance exams. Our SAT prep industry is pretty much the same thing.

Intergenerational transfer is a big part of plutocracy, since deciding whose children get which opportunities determines much of the rest of how society works.


Dale Carrico said...

Again, I don't deny the relevance of such considerations, I simply disapprove analyses that emphasize them to the exclusion of historical and sociocultural specification, and especially the obvious recent evodevo evopsycho reductive fixation on them -- not to mention the idiot tide of sweeping generalizations and rationalizations for bigotry they seem to encourage in so many of their enthusiasts.