It’s much the thing to be talking about these days. How income inequality is rising, wealth inequality is going ballistic and it’s all a jolly bad thing. However, let us ponder this point of wisdom from Don Boudreaux:

Would you prefer to live in a society in which people compete for high status by earning lots of money through the creation, production, and sale of better mousetraps, or in a society in which people compete for high status by being indifferent to money but focused intently on conquering foreign territories or accumulating terrifying amounts of political power?

Assume, as we must, that human beings are status seeking animals. Most certainly for the male of the species this has always been true: higher status males have more children which is the point and aim of the entire game. And in various different societies status has been gained in many different ways.

As best we know, from the study of the remnant hunter gatherer groups, for most of our existence status has been gained by being a good hunter: both of prey and of other adult males. Yes, as far as we can tell, in socieities like that of the Yamomani murderers have more children than non-murderers. And in some such societies we’ve recorded murder as cause of death for as much as 40% of the male population.

We’ve also assigned status to people in other ways over the millenia of recorded history. Who was your Mum (and presumably there being a connection between that and who was your father) has often been popular. We’ve never quite done it but plenty of other places (the Fascists and communists come to mind) assigned status according to ideological purity: the Soviets even to the second or third generations. We in Britain have seen religious fanaticism used as a mark of status: difficult to understand the Commonwealth without that. The feudal period nominally ran on bloodlines but in reality on the male skill at crushing the skulls of the enemy.

And class and status have never, in Britian, been entirely about money. Even today they’re not. But given the alternative sets of status markers that have been used over the centuries, aristocracy, theocracy, race (useful in discussing the Saxons, Danes and Celts) wouldn’t we all start to prefer that they were? That one can gain status by having proven that you are producing something that a lot of others would like to have? For that’s what this capitalism lark is at root about. You can only accumulate if you’re performing a community service. Which sounds like a pretty good method of assigning social status to us.

Of course, we might always hope that humans will stop seeking status. But then at that point we’d not be describing the actions of the same species that we’re currently studying, would we?