When inequality is what the people want

Do people mind inequality? Or is it really fairness they seek, so that if the inequality they see around them they understand to have been fairly achieved, people are actually OK with it? It is only unfair inequality to which people object?

(This last is one way to understand so why many well-meaning writers converge on social mobility as their mantra, even though, strictly speaking unless you’ve got growth overall, mobility means that those going up only push down yet others around them.)

In some situations, people might actually like a little inequality, especially if it’s in their favour. Social psychology finds that people are constantly comparing themselves with others around them. Inequality associated with relative advantage can appeal. Knowing one’s income is higher than a neighbour’s brings, for some, a warm glow of happiness. As a famous author once said, “Everytime a friend succeeds, I die a little.”

If all this is right, public policy seeking to lower inequality is misdirected. Instead, public policy should be working to increase fairness, and leave inequality to come out how it may.

Why People Prefer Unequal Societies
Why People Prefer Unequal Societies

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