Every once in a while I realize something with my conscious mind that I've understood implicitly for a long time. Such a thing happened to me yesterday, while reading a post on Stalin, by Amritas. It is this:
S = P + E
Social Status equals Political Capital plus Economic Capital
Now, if someone were to have just shown me that equation, I would probably have been unimpressed. It seems like a definition, a tautology, a pseudo-mathematical formulation of the expression "socioeconomic status". What I suddenly realized, though, is that this formula has tremendous explanatory power. So much so, that I want to call it the "Universal Law of Interpersonal Dynamics". Now, I am not a psychologist, sociologist, or anthropologist, and I am not familiar with the literature, so I don't claim that it's an original idea. I'm sure that such a thing must have be expounded upon by someone before me. But I'm a fairly well-educated person, and I've never encountered such a thing in any popular forum. Assuming that it more-or-less stands after it is posted, it deserves to be popularized.
Here's an example of its explanatory power: If we assume that a major human drive is to maximize S, we can predict that people with high P will attempt to minimize the value of E (since S-maximization is a zero-sum game). And so we see. Throughout history there has been an attempt to ennoble P while stigmatizing E. Conversely, throughout history, people with high E use it to acquire P. Thus, in today's society we see that socially adept people, who have inborn P skills, tend to favor socialism or big government - where their skills are most valuable, while economically productive people are often frustrated by the fact that their concrete contribution to society is deplored.
Now, you might ask yourself why the reverse isn't true, why people with high P don't use it to acquire E, while people with high E don't attempt to stigmatize P? Well, I think that is true. But, while the equation is mathematically symmetrical, the nature of P-talent and E-talent is not. P-talent can be used to acquire E from the E-adept, but the E-adept are no match for the P-adept in the attempt to stigmatize P. Furthermore, P is endogenous to the system, while E is exogenous. In other words, the P-adept have the ability to manipulate the system itself to make P-talent more valuable in acquiring E, while the E-adept have no ability to manipulate the external environment to make E-talent more valuable in acquiring P.
Of course not all people fall neatly into one of these two categories. Some people are naturally both P-adept and E-adept, while others, unfortunately, are neither. This, too, is asymmetrical in its implications, since the both-adept have a choice of pursuing either P-strategies or E-strategies (indeed, there are many real-world applications which leverage both), but the neither-adept have no choice but to support a P-strategy, since cooperation of this kind is itself a P-strategy (libertarianism, by contrast, would get them neither P nor E).
Put another way: Socialism is all about taking the "economic" out of "socioeconomic status", meaning that gaining social status becomes a purely political game. Which is why it appeals to both the socially adept and the economically inadept. They both hate status that is based on dirty economics. Those boors don't deserve it.
Now, I don't think that this is a new phenomenon at all. Back in hunter-gatherer times, I have no doubt that there were already people who gained social status through P-strategies. But the social systems were so small, and the harsh economic realities to obvious, that it probably took a lot of political-talent units to equal one economic-talent unit. Now, however, societies are very large and complex, and the sources of economic productivity are not well-understood. The playing-field has tipped dramatically toward the socially adept, the merely economically adept now often, endearingly, termed "losers".
I leave it as an exercise to the reader to show how the Universal Law of Interpersonal Dynamics predicts the following:
(Cross-posted on Gene Expression.)Posted by David Boxenhorn at June 28, 2006 07:22 AM | TrackBacks