How Do the Economic Elites Get the Idea That They 'Deserve' More?
The natural tendency toward discrimination and inequality
How Do the Economic Elites Get the Idea That They 'Deserve' More?
@elliotgerard
By Yanis Varoufakis / evonomics.com
Jun 22, 2016

The ‘haves’ of the world are always convinced that they deserve their wealth. That their gargantuan income reflects their ingenuity, ‘human capital’, the risks they (or their parents) took, their work ethic, their acumen, their application, their good luck even. The economists (especially members of the so-called Chicago School. e.g. Gary Becker) aid and abet the self-serving beliefs of the powerful by arguing that arbitrary discrimination in the distribution of wealth and social roles cannot survive for long the pressures of competition (i.e. that, sooner or later, people will be rewarded in proportion to their contribution to society). Most of the rest of us suspect that this is plainly false. That the distribution of power and wealth can be, and usually is, highly arbitrary and independent of ‘marginal productivity’, ‘risk taking’ or, indeed, any personal characteristic of those who rise to the top.

In this post I present a body of experimental work that argues the latter point: Arbitrary distributions of roles and wealth are not only sustainable in competitive environments but, indeed, they are unavoidable until and unless there are political interventions to keep them in check.

The laboratory experiment central to this post took place some time ago and involved 640 volunteers. It revealed that rigid hierarchies might emerge even among people who are, to all intents and purposes, identical. Of course, discrimination cannot emerge unless there is at least some distinguishing feature (e.g. some are ‘left-hookers’ or have green eyes, some are men while others are women). So, to test the hypothesis that systematic discrimination can emerge when subjects seem identical to each other, the experimental design made it impossible for one participant to discern anything other than a wholly arbitrary feature of the ‘other’; a feature that is commonly known to be uncorrelated to the character, application, intelligence, motivation or ability of the person involved. What feature? We simply assigned, at random, the colour Blue to half our subjects and the colour Red to the other half. Could such an arbitrary colour assignment seed stable conventions that discriminated terribly between the Reds and the Blues; i.e. people that were, otherwise, indistinguishable (and who knew that the colour assignments were random and, therefore, meaningless)? The answer is, contrary to anything economic theory can explain, a resounding ‘yes’. (Click here for the academic paper, published in The Economic Journal, reporting on this experiment and here for a longer chapter on the same topic, published recently in this book.)

What does this all mean? What lesson can we learn, from these laboratory experiments, about our societies? Are there insights here that can be of help to political activists and civil rights organisations struggling against systematic discrimination? Below, I (YV) offer a brief summary of the empirical findings and answer questions posed by Nick Hadjigeorge (NH) concerning the political significance of these issues for civil rights activists.

INSIGHTS FROM THE LAB – in six points

  1. Experimental evidence shows that large-scale arbitrary discrimination can be sustainable on the basis of some distinguishing feature that everyone knows is independent of personal character, skill, aggression, IQ, temperament etc. If we can reproduce rigid patterns of discrimination within an hour, in a laboratory, then feminists, anti-racists  and critics of the vast inequalities between social classes have powerful evidence that it is perfectly possible for societies to distribute the good social roles (and the wealth emanating from these) independently of the personal virtues powerful white men invoke to justify their riches and power.
  2. Given their evolutionary stability, the patterns of discrimination become institutionalized in human societies because people begin to believe that they deserve what they are getting or not getting (as part of the distribution that results from the evolved discriminatory conventions). The ideology of entitlements, in others words, follows on the coattails of arbitrary distributions of social roles and income.
  3. Members of  advantaged and disadvantaged groups behave differently based on this dynamic, expect the ‘other’ group to behave differently and, importantly, allow their ‘expectations’ to become more than predictions: to become ethical expectations (e.g. the advantaged tend to believe that it is right that they should be getting more than the disadvantaged and vice versa).
  4. Advantaged people engage more in hostile behaviour toward one another, and they feel entitled to their winnings.
  5. Disadvantaged members learned to expect less and to develop a greater capacity to act collectively and cooperatively against the logic of free-riding. As a result, even though this is not necessarily what motivates them, they manage to recoup some of the losses from being disadvantaged (in their dealings with the advantaged group) by managing to cooperate with one another.
  6. The explanation of how real power evolves, and what makes it sustainable, is to be found in the mind, and the beliefs, of the majority of the disadvantaged who succumb to the  ideological belief that they are entitled to less than the advantaged.

Read the rest of the article via Evonomics.com

4.3 ·
3
Trending Today
How Norway Avoided Becoming a Fascist State
George Lakey · 14,229 views today · Instead of falling to the Nazi party, Norway broke through to a social democracy. Their history shows us polarization is nothing to despair over.
Stunning Small Homes Form Part of a Communal Compound for Best Friends
Lighter Side · 11,280 views today · If you’re lucky enough to have longtime friends even as an adult, then you know probably already know how much it means to be able to spend time together. Maybe you even have a...
Globalization Makes No Sense
Chris Agnos · 11,270 views today · When I lived in San Francisco, I often would marvel at the movement of goods through the ports across the bay in Oakland. Full container ships would enter the bay one after...
Where the Term "Redneck" Came From
15 min · 7,706 views today · If you don't know this story, you'll never look at the word the same again.  This is just a window into the sometimes shocking, subversive and untold history of the United...
The Fire Within
Words by Sophie Scholl - Illustrations by Gavin Aung Than · 6,024 views today · Sophie Scholl (1921-1943) was a German activist who is famous for speaking out against the Nazi regime. Scholl was a member of a protest group called The White Rose, which...
Without Saying a Word This 6 Minute Clip From Samsara Will Make You Speechless
6 min · 5,027 views today · Can you put this video into words? It's a clip from the phenomenal documentary Samsara, directed by Ron Fricke, who also made Baraka.  If you're interested in watching...
The Most Astounding Fact about the Universe
3 min · 4,933 views today · This is Neil Degrasse Tyson's response when asked to describe the most astounding fact about the universe. Background music is the cinematic orchestra - To build a home.
The London Anarchist Group Squatting Mansions to Fight Homelessness
6 min · 4,932 views today · London squatting activists ANAL (Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians) are squatting empty multi-million pound buildings and opening them up to the homeless.
Voices of Standing Rock
49 min · 3,921 views today · Short stories told by water protectors at Standing Rock, North Dakota. Part 1 - Introduction: Since mid-August 2016, thousands have set up camp near the Standing Rock Sioux...
Redneck Revolt Presents: A Message to the Patriot Movement
6 min · 3,195 views today · Over the past few weeks, Redneck Revolt has been communicating with a former member of a III% Patriot Militia based out of Ohio. Peter made contact with our organization after...
The Foiled Bomb Plot in Kansas That Didn't Make Trump's Terror List
5 min · 3,066 views today · When a plot by a pro-white militia to bomb a Somali mosque in Kansas was foiled by the FBI last October, the aborted conspiracy received little national coverage - nor did it...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 2,789 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Proof of Evolution That You Can Find on Your Body
4 min · 2,370 views today · Vestigial structures are evolution's leftovers — body parts that, through inheritance, have outlived the context in which they arose. Some of the most delightful reminders of...
The Lessons of Standing Rock
Michael Emero · 2,067 views today · In mid-November of 2016, I was a Water Protector at Standing Rock. At first my goal was to play investigative journalist; documenting then writing about every detail for my...
10 Words Every Girl Should Learn
Soraya Chemaly · 1,993 views today · "Stop interrupting me."  "I just said that." "No explanation needed." In fifth grade, I won the school courtesy prize. In other words, I won an award for being polite. My...
To Change Everything, Start Everywhere
8 min · 1,627 views today · To Change Everything, Start Everywhere! The case for complete self-determination—a guide for the furious, the curious, and the pure of heart. To Change Everything: An...
From Sanctuary City to Liberated City
Frank Lara · 1,204 views today · In just one week, with several strokes of a pen, Trump unleashed upon the working class in the U.S. an attack not seen in decades. From his attack on the flawed Affordable Care...
How a Lack of Touch Is Destroying Men
Mark Green · 1,201 views today · Why Men Need More Platonic Touch in their Lives
Charles Eisenstein: The Two Great Stories That Give Meaning to Our Lives
6 min · 1,172 views today · What matters in life? Who are we? Every culture has answers to these questions. And the way we answer them has profound effects on the health of people and planet. This is a...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,028 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
How Do the Economic Elites Get the Idea That They 'Deserve' More?