Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Status of Marxists

This post is inspired by an article by Kevin Simler that appeared on Ribbonfarm, entitled The Economics of Status. Simler's piece is long, complex and interesting--I will not try to summarize it here. Read the whole thing.

Marxists rarely talk about status at all. They view it as immaterial, and therefore derivative to the more essential economics. I think this is backwards--status is all about sex, and serves as a proxy for reproductive fitness. High status individuals are sexy; low status ones are not. Thus I think status is more important to the individual than economic well-being.

Simler's principle thesis is that status can be transacted--that is status has some properties that we attribute to money. In some cases this is explicit, as when a star athlete trades status for cash by making a product endorsement. In other cases it is a simple courtesy. "Please" and "thank you" are words that transfer a small amount of status to the recipient--kind of like a tip.

So I notice that my college's president is effusive in his "pleases" and "thank yous." And why shouldn't he be? He has a high status and it costs him almost nothing to spread a bit of that around. He is happy to convey status to janitors and cafeteria workers. Not only will it (slightly) reward them for their efforts, but it is also an indirect investment in the president's own future status (he'll be known as a "nice guy"). On the other hand, many low-level workers and students are much less generous with the courtesy words--they don't have status to share.

My status has gone down since I got "fired" from my administrative position. A "thank you" from a mere professor carries a lot less weight than that from a dean. In my former role a simple word would suffice, but now people want me to actually return the favor. True celebrities, such as Bill Clinton, often forget that people work for money--they occasionally think that a mere "thank you" will cover lunch at the local diner. And often it probably does.

The primary difference between economic success and status is that wealth is not zero-sum. In economics, a rising tide lifts all boats--everybody in a society can get richer. But status is a zero-sum game. No rising tide will turn my 10 ft rowboat into your 100 ft yacht. If your status goes up, it's only because mine goes down.

I've always thought about status as "the ability to get laid." Now that's probably too narrow a definition, but it brings up the point I want to discuss in this post. That is, men and women are in separate status competitions, and only rarely compete with each other. In the modern world I am in economic competition with women--for jobs and money--but not in a status competition. My economic competition with female colleagues is nowhere near as brutal as my status competition against other men. Regards status, the battle of the sexes does not exist.

So my definition of status--the ability to get laid--applies mostly to men. This has some interesting implications. First, while women are not competing against men, they are the arbiters of male status. Men are rewarded for having traits women like: tall, dark, handsome, brave, intelligent, rich, courteously dominant, passionate, manly, etc. Conversely, weak-willed, cowardly, short, effeminate, poor men have lower status.

There is a correlation between money and status. Being rich will accord you some status, and some men--Donald Trump comes to mind--have acquired status by becoming rich. But in most cases the cause-effect arrow goes the other way. Pro sports figures have high status, and get rich as a result. Saul Bellow never sought wealth, but his high status brought him money. Steve Jobs regarded money as just a way of keeping score--the game he played was a status game, not a wealth game.

Some men have high status without a lot of money. The burly construction worker (assuming he's healthy) can have substantial status, as does the special forces soldier. There are many college professors who parlay charm, intelligence and good looks into status, without it ever becoming money. Marxists have it wrong--money does not make the world go round. It's male competition for female favor that sustains rotation.

The hard-charging, risk-taking, manly daredevil can be high status--think Ernest Hemingway. Or as Woody Guthrie put it, "there are a lot of good ideas in a pint of whiskey, but not too many in a quart." The bad boy act is successful, unless and until you fall over the cliff. The difference between the high status bad boy and the homeless, derelict bum is one drink too many. Status can plunge dramatically--just ask Mr. Hemingway.

There is a status competition among women as well, and fashion is certainly part of it. Trotskyists, in the person of Evelyn Reed (here and here), argue that women are forced by the patriarchy to engage in degrading fashion competitions to attract men. They do it all for men, is how the argument goes. And it's completely wrong. Men are not attracted to fashionistas--they're too skinny, too tall, and above all, too expensive. The fashion thing is an intra-female competition for status that has nothing to do with men at all.

So who is a high-status female? I'll posit that such a lady is like Cinderella. She's beautiful, of pure character, highly moral, and ignored by society. Yet she inspires a handsome prince, aka high-status male, to fall madly and helplessly in love with her. There are any number of romance novels and chick-flicks along the same theme. The movie Maid in Manhattan comes to mind--that is the Cinderella story for the modern age.

Hillary Clinton, who remains the love of Bill's life, is a high-status woman. (His transgressions ironically probably enhance her status.) Monica aspired to be high status, but failed miserably. This is why women find Hillary so admirable, while men are mostly unimpressed. Feminists think this is just hopelessly retrograde, which of course it is, harking back to stone-age, human nature. They also conflate money and power with female status. They're wrong--Hillary's status has nothing to do with either.

Further Reading:

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