Wealth and Status

WEALTH AND STATUS….Via Tyler Cowen, Will Wilkinson summarizes a new bit of research on how people adapt to changes in income and status:

Folks on the left get used to money, but not status and the reverse for folks on the right. This is funny, since I’ve been reading a bunch of papers on inequality, mostly by political philosophers on the left, and they are positively obsessed specifically with the status effects of material inequality.

This doesn’t surprise me, actually. Well, it partly doesn’t surprise me, anyway.

My guess is that lefties are generally much more class conscious than money conscious. Having money is one thing — what are you going to do, turn down a raise? — but egalitarianism is one of liberalism’s core beliefs. Probably the core belief, in fact. This makes us uncomfortable with behavior that punctures our egalitarian self-image too overtly.

Conservatives, by contrast, are basically fine with heirarchy and adapt pretty well to being at the top of the heap. Somebody’s got to be there, right? However, I confess that the money thing puzzles me. Why don’t righties adapt well to having lots of money? They sure seem to adapt just fine, don’t they?

….Oh. I see. I missed the part about this being a study of adaptation among Germans. The paper is here. That makes more sense. Great riches are not celebrated in Germany the way they are here, so it’s not too surprising that German conservatives might feel some residual levels of guilt for accumulating large sums of money. Betcha these results wouldn’t hold up in the United States.

UPDATE: In comments, y81 suggests I have this backwards. Upon more careful reading, I think that’s probably right. Basically, the research shows that, in the long run, money makes conservatives happier but has no effect on liberals. Conversely, status makes liberals happier but has no effect on conservatives. The effect is small, but nonetheless strikes me as peculiar. And it might be different in America. Still, the bottom line is that my interpretation was completely wrong. Pretend I never said it.