Saturday 18 August 2012
ls Inequality the Natural State of Affairs?
Many theories about the hierarchy in society start with an assumption that inequality is somehow a natural state of affairs and beneficial to us. The argument usually suggests that it bestows efficiencies, motivates innovation and increases the likelihood of survival.
But what if the opposite were true? It seems highly likely that our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer societies must have relied on collaboration and sharing to a considerable degree. I am sure that co-ordinated groups had better results in the hunt than lone individuals. We see this kind of ‘pack’ organisation in all sorts of mammals to this day.
In an demographic simulation led by Deborah Rogers at Stanford University, the team found that rather than imparting advantages to the group, unequal access to resources destabilised and raised the chance of group extinction in stable environments. They modelled inequality as a multi-tiered class society or what economists call a Pareto wealth distribution – in which as with our 1% of super-rich today – the top tier get the lion’s share of wealth. For more data, see here: http://bit.ly/QtCza9
In the modelling the fact that inequality was so destabilising led to migration in search of further resources, much as we see today with the influx of immigrants into the richer countries. This in turn puts more pressure on under-funded social systems and we get the kind of overload at schools, hospitals and on transport that we see every day. In a paradoxical fashion the search for individual improvement generates a huge social cost that demands more central funding for social systems – extremely unpopular with the Tory administration and which now has even the Left kow-towing to the idea of shrinking the state.
In other words inequality does not spread from society to society because it is a better system for survival, but because it creates demographic instability which drives migration and leads to the cultural extinction of more egalitarian societies. It happened to Rome and is exactly the situation in the UK since the 1970’s, with the right complaining endlessly about the dilution of UK society that is multiculturism.
Egalitarian societies may have encouraged selection at the group level for collaboration, altruism and low fertility which leads to a more stable population, while inequality might drive selection on an individual level – for high fertility, competition, aggression and other selfish traits.
We cannot assume that because inequality exists it is somehow beneficial. It is a cultural choice and who could not fail to be uplifted by the exuberance and collaborative spirit of the recent London Olympics. We are indeed, better together!
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Baum had this to say: “London, you didn’t half do a decent job. These Olympics had Sydney’s vibrancy, Athens’s panache, Beijing’s efficiency, and added British know-how and drollery. With apologies to Sydney, they might just represent a new PB [personal best] for the Olympics. They were superbly organised. The Olympic Park’s setting, in one of Britain’s poorest boroughs, proved inspired. Some Olympic sites become wasteland after the Games. This one began as wasteland and is now full of possibilities.” http://bit.ly/PQdlSy
Posted by roy at 12:44 pm. No comments
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