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It doesn't have to be, but the key is to reduce the competition for status.  This competition is more intense where there is greater economic inequality, because individuals have to compete ever harder to maintain relative position.  See what's happened as higher education has been reduced to an exercise in credentialing by which people are able to justify why they should have leadership roles.  The qualifications for jobs are subject to escalation, so that where a secondary degree may have been sufficient to enter the civil service previously, a university degree is now required.  So increasing portions of one's life are spent in school, of which a decreasing portion is acutally dedicated to the teaching of skills that are useful in the workplace.

The key is to reduce economic inequality, so that the intensity of positional competition is driven down, and the portion of the economy dedicated to material needs is increased.  Doing so may reduce gross economic output (even so much so at to create negative economic growth rates), but improves social welfare and makes the economy more sustainable in the long term.  The impact on environmental economics is profound.  

Consider the pursuit of the country house as something that shows "you've made it", which I understand has led to rampant urban sprawl as Ireland has grown wealthy.  Everyone wants a house in the country, but the process of building houses in the country turns it into suburbs that are neither city, because they lack walkability and public service, nor countryside, because you're surrounded by cookie cutter houses.  So you have building extend further and further out until you have people driving (!) 60-70 kilometers each way each day to work.  So you have a massive increase in the use of gasoline without an increase in social welfare.  It's insane.  If you can ratchet down the positional competition, you can have people live in cities, and substantially reduce the use of gasoline.

This case is particularly notable, because cheap gasoline allows the elite to abandon large portions of the city, and avoid the consequences of their actions.  If everyone who lives around you is from your own class, how are you to know that the economy is shit for the people on the bottom.  Urban diffusion reduces the social relevance of phenomena like the Paris suburb riots, because the fear factor for the elite is reduced.  They can go own and fuck over the poor some more, because it isn't like the backlash is going to reach their country house.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 11:08:38 AM EST
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