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November 02, 2006

Is Status a Zero Sum Game?

Will Wilkinson and Henry Farrell, both vastly more informed in this area that I, have been discussing whether status really is as much  zero sum game as is often stated.

If we have only one method of measuring status (say, wealth) then clearly the pursuit of status is indeed zero sum. I cannot move up the ladder without someone moving down it....that's actually what a rise in my status means, that I get above someone else.

I think it was David Friedman who first (in this current round of discussions at least) who made the point that we don't in fact have one such method of measuring status. To someone familiar with the intricacies of the English status system this is obvious: wealth does bring a certain type of status but then so does position at birth, your accent, how you eat your asparagus and whether you say toilet or loo, serviette or napkin.

Friedman (with Wilkinson) is stating that in a modern economy, just as we have and immense amount of division of labour, so we have an immense amount of division of status.  It is indeed, for example possible to be of low income but of very high status amongst a certain group (a poet perhaps?) and the more groups and associations (everything from the World of Warcraft  rankings to City bonuses)  we have then  the more high status positions there are: have enough such groupings and everyone can be high status in one part of their life.

That's as I understand the argument at least and here is a nice little news story to back up the fact that amongst the English at least we do appear to have more than just wealth as a guide to status.

Half of all anti-social behaviour orders are being breached by juveniles and many wear them as ''a badge of honour", new research has shown.

A survey by the Youth Justice Board (YJB) found that the parents of youngsters subject to Asbos said they were viewed as a "diploma" and boosted a child's street credibility.

The mother of three boys, all on the orders, told researchers: "Some of the friends are left out now because they're not on an Asbo. I know a boy that's hell-bent on getting an Asbo because he feels left out."

Judges and magistrates interviewed for the year-long study said they were not seen as a punishment, even though a breach was an imprisonable criminal offence

The report concluded: "High levels of breach had led some sentencers to question how much impact Asbos were having on the behaviour of individual young people.

"A considerable number of respondents alluded to the potential for the order to become 'glamorous' in the eyes of young people at risk of involvement in anti-social behaviour."

One magistrate told the YJB: "It's being used as a badge of honour."

Score one for the Friedman/Wilkinson hypothesis I think?

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"Crooked Timber" carried a list of names whose status was obviously meant to impress me, but I recognised only the two right-wingers, Beckham and Clinton.

Posted by: dearieme | Nov 2, 2006 5:18:52 PM