June 28, 2006

The Universal Law of Interpersonal Dynamics

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:

  1. All institutions will tend to be dominated by the P-adept
  2. All institutions that have no in-built exogenous criteria for measuring its members' status will inevitably be dominated by the P-adept
  3. Universities will inevitably be dominated by the P-adept
  4. Within a university, humanities and social sciences will be more dominated by the P-adept than natural sciences
  5. Within a university, humanities and social sciences will politically dominate the natural sciences
  6. People who work in universities and the government will tend toward socialism
  7. Libertarians will tend to be found among the socially inadept
  8. Unmarried women will tend toward socialism
  9. Hard-working, upwardly mobile people will tend away from socialism (even when their absolute status is low)

(Cross-posted on Gene Expression.)

Posted by David Boxenhorn at June 28, 2006 07:22 AM | TrackBacks
Comments & Trackbacks

Neat! However, I'm stuck with exercise 8. Did you mean unmarried *mothers*?

Posted by: Tom Robinson at July 5, 2006 02:06 AM Permalink

Did you mean unmarried *mothers*?

No, I meant what I said. It is an empirical observation that unmarried women are a lot more socialist-leaning than married women. Also, women tend to be more socially adept than men. My proposal would explain this if married women change their politics to take into account their husband's abilities, but the politics of unmarried women reflects their own abilities.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at July 5, 2006 12:11 PM Permalink

Living in the U.S., I really have to disagree. People buy P-status with E-status here all the time. Look at the number of multimillionaires going into politics: indeed, (almost) only they can afford to. Ned Lamont, Joe Lieberman's challenger, is the latest example -- a J.P. Morgan heir! So far from being considered "losers," people with E-talent are among the most admired in American society. Also admired are those who manage to parlay a creative or social talent (book writing, preaching, marriage counseling, acting) into E-status, which may be followed in turn by P-status (viz., actors from Ronald Reagan to Clint Eastwood going into politics).

Posted by: amba at July 21, 2006 02:37 PM Permalink

Amba, you are agreeing with me, as I said: "Conversely, throughout history, people with high E use it to acquire P." What they don't so is attempt to stigmatize P, the way the P-adept have to a large extent stigmatized E.

(When you think P, think office politics, or social climbing, vs. E: people who are actually productive. Most of us don't play at the rarified heights of multimillionaires and international politics.)

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at July 21, 2006 03:45 PM Permalink