The Universal Law of Interpersonal Dynamics

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Every once in a while I realize something with my conscious mind that I’ve understood implicitly for a long time. Such a thing happened to me yesterday, while reading a post on Stalin, by Amritas. It is this:

S = P + E

Social Status equals Political Capital plus Economic Capital

Now, if someone were to have just shown me that equation, I would probably have been unimpressed. It seems like a definition, a tautology, a pseudo-mathematical formulation of the expression “socioeconomic status”. What I suddenly realized, though, is that this formula has tremendous explanatory power. So much so, that I want to call it the “Universal Law of Interpersonal Dynamics”. Now, I am not a psychologist, sociologist, or anthropologist, and I am not familiar with the literature, so I don’t claim that it’s an original idea. I’m sure that such a thing must have be expounded upon by someone before me. But I’m a fairly well-educated person, and I’ve never encountered such a thing in any popular forum. Assuming that it more-or-less stands after it is posted, it deserves to be popularized.

Here’s an example of its explanatory power: If we assume that a major human drive is to maximize S, we can predict that people with high P will attempt to minimize the value of E (since S-maximization is a zero-sum game). And so we see. Throughout history there has been an attempt to ennoble P while stigmatizing E. Conversely, throughout history, people with high E use it to acquire P. Thus, in today’s society we see that socially adept people, who have inborn P skills, tend to favor socialism or big government – where their skills are most valuable, while economically productive people are often frustrated by the fact that their concrete contribution to society is deplored.

Now, you might ask yourself why the reverse isn’t true, why people with high P don’t use it to acquire E, while people with high E don’t attempt to stigmatize P? Well, I think that is true. But, while the equation is mathematically symmetrical, the nature of P-talent and E-talent is not. P-talent can be used to acquire E from the E-adept, but the E-adept are no match for the P-adept in the attempt to stigmatize P. Furthermore, P is endogenous to the system, while E is exogenous. In other words, the P-adept have the ability to manipulate the system itself to make P-talent more valuable in acquiring E, while the E-adept have no ability to manipulate the external environment to make E-talent more valuable in acquiring P.

Of course not all people fall neatly into one of these two categories. Some people are naturally both P-adept and E-adept, while others, unfortunately, are neither. This, too, is asymmetrical in its implications, since the both-adept have a choice of pursuing either P-strategies or E-strategies (indeed, there are many real-world applications which leverage both), but the neither-adept have no choice but to support a P-strategy, since cooperation of this kind is itself a P-strategy (libertarianism, by contrast, would get them neither P nor E).

Put another way: Socialism is all about taking the “economic” out of “socioeconomic status”, meaning that gaining social status becomes a purely political game. Which is why it appeals to both the socially adept and the economically inadept. They both hate status that is based on dirty economics. Those boors don’t deserve it.

Now, I don’t think that this is a new phenomenon at all. Back in hunter-gatherer times, I have no doubt that there were already people who gained social status through P-strategies. But the social systems were so small, and the harsh economic realities to obvious, that it probably took a lot of political-talent units to equal one economic-talent unit. Now, however, societies are very large and complex, and the sources of economic productivity are not well-understood. The playing-field has tipped dramatically toward the socially adept, the merely economically adept now often, endearingly, termed “losers”.

I leave it as an exercise to the reader to show how the Universal Law of Interpersonal Dynamics predicts the following:

  1. All institutions will tend to be dominated by the P-adept
  2. All institutions that have no in-built exogenous criteria for measuring its members’ status will inevitably be dominated by the P-adept
  3. Universities will inevitably be dominated by the P-adept
  4. Within a university, humanities and social sciences will be more dominated by the P-adept than natural sciences
  5. Within a university, humanities and social sciences will politically dominate the natural sciences
  6. People who work in universities and the government will tend toward socialism
  7. Libertarians will tend to be found among the socially inadept
  8. Unmarried women will tend toward socialism
  9. Hard-working, upwardly mobile people will tend away from socialism (even when their absolute status is low)

(Cross-posted on Rishon Rishon.)

14 Comments

  1. I assume this is somewhat tongue in cheek as it grossly underestimates the power and sheer day to day practical utility in being rich.

  2. it grossly underestimates the power and sheer day to day practical utility in being rich 
     
    Obviously, you have to compare equal orders of magnitude. If by “rich” you mean top 1% of society, for example, then you have to compare with the top 1% of the politically enabled. It’s not clear to me which has more power and practical utility.

  3. some points… 
     
    1) First, your model must refer to a closed system where all people know each other – since I don’t care about social status of people far away from me (eg. in eastern Nepal) 
     
    2) To be a bit more exact, you should write: 
     
    S = aP + (1-a)E 
     
    where a and (1-a) are coefficients that either vary in society in general BUT are same for all individuals OR they vary from person to person. Nevertheless, you seem to imply that we can have various “Value systems” that weigh P and E differently in social status. 
     
    3) When talking about adeptness, you imply that people have initial endowments of P and E, and that they possibly aquire more by education and experience. So let’s write 
     
    P = Pi + Pq 
    E = Ei + Eq 
     
    where i=initial and q=aquired. Then let’s say people decide to divide their time T to either aquiring a mix of Pq and Eg 
     
    Maximize S under constraint “Time = Pg + Eq”, where Time is fixed. 
     
    4) You imply that E gives you P but not other way around, right? 
     
    Pq = f(E) where f() is increasing, perhaps with negative 2nd derivative. 
     
    Now my personal maximisation looks like this: 
     
    Max S = a[Pi +(Pq + f(Ei + Eq)) ] + (1-a)[Ei + Eq] 
     
    And since Time = Eq + Pq, we substitute 
     
    Max S = a[Pi +(Time-Eq + f(Ei + Eq))] + (1-a)[Ei + Eq] 
     
    derivating by Eq:  
     
    -aPi + aPif’(Ei + Eq) +(1-a)Eq = 0  
     
    aPi[f'(Ei+Eq) - 1] + (1-a)Eq = 0 
     
    Where solving Eq shows how much to invest to Eq, and it clearly depends on Pi, Ei, a, and the form of f(). The marginal return to Pq is a, and the marginal return to Eq is more than (1-a), depending on f(), but if f”0.5 then surely all investment goes to Eq, since it’s marginal return is always higher. 
     
    Now to derive any general patterns one must assume a certain distributions for Pi and Ei. 
     
    5) Now how is parameter “a” determined in people’s minds? You claim that P-Adept can manipulate the parameters a. Uhh.. so lets go: 
     
    a = g(collective investment to Eq) 
     
    So, if we assume a is a social parameter accepted by all, it may be a function of collective investment to Eq. There’s one funny problem with that though – since collective investments are not taken into account in personal maximisation, it will have no effect on the results..  
     
    6) So, to justify all this, you seem to imply that the social value system (practically parameter “a”) is synonymous with libertatianism/communism, and that either of these is supposedly good, or?? 
     
    7) 
     
    1. All institutions will tend to be dominated by the P-adept 
    2. All institutions that have no in-built exogenous criteria for measuring its members status will inevitably be dominated by the P-adept 
    3. Universities will inevitably be dominated by the P-adept 
    4. Within a university, humanities and social sciences will be more dominated by the P-adept than natural sciences 
    5. Within a university, humanities and social sciences will politically dominate the natural sciences 
    6. People who work in universities and the government will tend toward socialism 
    7. Libertarians will tend to be found among the socially inadept 
    8. Unmarried women will tend toward socialism 
    9. Hard-working, upwardly mobile people will tend away from socialism (even when their absolute status is low) 
     
    All of this is Way, way, way too far out. You need to get the model working first. Then it needs to be empirically tested and justified (which may be VERY hard). Then the model would need to include “institutions” etc etc. 
     
    People may and will ridicule your theory, but in Economics people do this kind of stuff. You might actually be very excited by these books: 
     
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0521894751/sr=8-6/qid=1151490636/ref=sr_1_6/102-4916945-4278503?ie=UTF8 
     
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0674537513/qid=1151490707/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/102-4916945-4278503?s=books&v=glance&n=283155

  4. “but if f”0.5 then surely” 
     
    should be  
     
    “but if a < 0.5 then surely”

  5. Economist, thank you! 
     
    I don’t have time right now to go through your equations in detail, but I do want to comment on this: 
    When talking about adeptness, you imply that people have initial endowments of P and E, and that they possibly aquire more by education and experience. So let’s write 
     
    P = Pi + Pq 
    E = Ei + Eq 
     
    where i=initial and q=aquired. Then let’s say people decide to divide their time T to either aquiring a mix of Pq and Eg 
    I am indeed assuming that people have differing initial P and E, but for most people it is more important that they have differing aptitudes when it comes to acquring more P and E. In other words, Pq = f(t), Eq = g(t) but f and g are different for different people, and that’s the biggest variable.

  6. Bordieu uses a similar concepts by graphing interests and cultural items by cultural and economic capital.

  7. The reason political capital holds more cache is because it is qualitative and can’t be accurately estimated. Therefore, it’s often analyzed at it’s logical extreme.  
     
    For example, the governor’s political capital will be perceived much higher than it is because he CAN give you a contract, position, grant, etc. even though it’s unlikely that he will. Therefore, you will accord him a level of deference as though he would, in the hopes that he might.  
     
    With a millionaire, however, you are better able to realize the odds of him giving you something as tangible as money and therefore you pay him a more reasonable deference. 
     
    I think you’ve identified the the quantitative aspect of social status (political capital) and the qualitative aspect of social status (economic capital). If this is the case, Political capital may not add to Economic capital but rather qualify it.

  8. Inherited wealth is partly political and partly economic.

  9. and look around you- most times high P is used to usurp E as well

  10. Equations, feh. But that’s just me.

  11. I’ve watched a man struggle between keeping social status (your S) and Political Capital (P) vs. $20mil of (E). He was an insurance salesman in Nevada whose grandfather had farmed 160 newly valuable acres in a growing community. He liked to speak from the standpoint of the owner of the land when addressing the City Council (S). 
     
    He cashed his check last year.

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