Sorry Polly, This Shows That Inequality Is A Good Thing, Not Bad

Polly Toynbee has one of her pearl clutchers today, it seems that where people do actually have a meritocracy and its associated inequality then people are just fine with meritocracy and the associated inequality. Given that Polly thinks inequality is bad, d’ye see, this means that there must be some malign influence. Instead of, well, peoples’ lived experience leading them to a conclusion about how they’d like their lives and country to be. You know, in opposition to how Polly would impose it upon us.

Why don’t people rebel? The wonder of decades of rising inequality across the west is how placidly people put up with it. UK wages are still below 2008 levels, and a growing sector of jobs are nasty: non-unionised, achingly hard, with workers treated worse, the boot on the employer’s foot despite low unemployment. You might call Brexit a kind of protest, but that can be overdone. The vote was swung largely by comfortable older Tory voters in the shires, led – or misled – by privileged ideologues. Those on the progressive left have been perplexed that rising social injustice hasn’t led to much sign of the oppressed rising up, either at the ballot box or through more physical acts of protest. New research out on Wednesday suggests some explanations – though these will be of precious little comfort. Looking at surveys across 23 western countries since the 1980s, Dr Jonathan Mijs of the London School of Economics International Inequalities Institute monitors how, as countries become less equal, attitudes of the majority shift in the wrong direction.

Note that moral insistence with the “wrong”. We might also note that inequality fell in the recession, as inequality does fall in recessions. Complaining that incomes are still below and also about inequality isn’t really being joined up logical therefore. But, Polly, you know.

The report is here:

Unequal societies, where the poorest and wealthiest in society tend to live separately, create conditions where inequality is more likely to be accepted, new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has found. The research shows that belief in meritocracy, the view that success depends on hard work rather than social structures, strengthens with rising inequality. Additionally, concerns towards levels of inequality are also shown to be much lower in societies where popular belief in meritocracy is high. The research highlights that inequality in the United Kingdom is rising, a trend which is repeated across developed nations, where the top 10 percent of households on average take home a third of all income, and own two-thirds of all wealth. It notes that inequality is often marked by greater social distance amongst citizens; children tend to live their lives in either poor or wealthy neighbourhoods, have friendships from the same background as them, and attend different schools to those from other income groups. Citizens are also more likely to have relationships in their own circles, and work in increasingly polarised labour markets.

In a society where effort and talent enable different outcomes – a meritocracy – people are happy with the resultant inequality.

And?

Well, actually, there is an and here. From the paper itself:

Inequality is on the rise: gains have been concentrated with a small elite, while most have seen their fortunes stagnate or fall. Despite what scholars and journalists consider a worrying trend, there is no evidence of growing popular concern about inequality. In fact, research suggests that citizens in unequal societies are less concerned than those in more egalitarian societies.

The and being, well, people are happy with the rising inequality so therefore nothing need be done about the rising inequality. This is a democracy, right?

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Quentin VoleRhoda KlappswannypolPatJonathan Harston Recent comment authors
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Jonathan Harston
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Jonathan Harston

If the Guardian believed in meritocracy, Polly would be out of a job. I’ve just checked, and I’m surprised I haven’t been banned for pointing this out in the comments.

Pat
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Pat

Citizens in unequal societies are less concerned than those in egalitarian societies.
Maybe. Maybe not. Is academia egalitarian in practice?
But if so could it be that societies tend towards the condition desired by the people of whom they consist.

swannypol
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swannypol

If she vehemently believes inequality is wrong, then as one “above the average” she should follow the strength of her convictions and do what she personally can to resolve the problem as quickly as possible. I urge her not to wait for government enforced redistribution but instead donate much of her wealth and income to charities. I could suggest a few if she can’t think of any… In my experience that tends to silence the “inequality is bad” brigade.

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

Inequality is what the progressives went for once absolute poverty was eliminated. It’s a daft concept. My well-being is not affected when Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos makes another billion. It is affected by more personal factors. And I recognise that that prime responsibility for my well-being is…mine.

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

I’d argue that it could be the inverse. Take away all Bill’s money and redistribute it amongst the world’s population, ~$10 per head. That’s not going to change anyone’s life, not even in DRC, where it’s about 5 days worth of GDP/head. But by using his vast wealth intelligently, Bill has probably saved more lives than the UN and all the world’s governments combined. And Elon Musk may get us to Mars (probably not, but at least he’s trying).

Felipe Grey
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Felipe Grey

Most normal people accept that we can’t all be James Dyson, a Nobel Laureate, an Alan Sugar, David Beckham or the Queen and don’t get all hot and bothered about some people having more than they have because they are more talented or better educated. Most do not envy inherited wealth either and recognise that for the most part, there is equality of opportunity for all. Most people just try to get on with the business of surviving by earning enough to put food on the table for ourselves and our families. It’s only the likes of Tuscan villa owners… Read more »