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Posts Tagged ‘inequality’

The Situation of Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 9, 2012

From  :

Talk by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett co-authors of “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger” recorded January 8, 2010 at Hogness Auditorium, University of Washington, Seattle.

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Posted in Distribution, Life, Politics, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Malcolm Gladwell on the Situation of Equality Discourse

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 5, 2012

Malcolm Gladwell discusses America’s dramatically changing notions of wealth and income inequality since the mid-20th century. Gladwell notes that top-earning Americans faced a 91% income tax rate during most of the 1950s.

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The Situation of Social Justice

Posted by John Jost on February 17, 2012

This book review appeared earlier this week in the American Scientist:

THE FAIR SOCIETY: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice. Peter Corning. xiv + 237 pp. University of Chicago Press, 2011. $27.50.

After decades of exclusion from meaningful social and political discourse, themes of social justice are making a serious comeback. One can point to several recent examples from the disciplines of political science, economics and philosophy, including, respectively, Larry M. Bartels’s Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age (Princeton University Press, 2008), Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice (Harvard University Press, 2009) and Derek Parfit’s massive two-volume tome On What Matters (Oxford University Press, 2011). These books have arrived to coincide with the apparent awakening of the sense of injustice in popular movements from Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street.

Peter Corning, who was trained as a biologist and is now the director of the Institute for the Study of Complex Systems, joins the conversation at just the right time. His most recent book, The Fair Society, was published in early 2011, and—like Joseph Stiglitz’s Vanity Fair article “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%”—it has turned out to be remarkably prescient. Several chapters read like an annotated list of complaints made by the most well-informed campers in Zuccotti Park last fall. Corning notes, for example, that in the United States, “since the 1980s, some 94 percent of the total increase in personal income has gone to the top 1 percent of the population”; at least 25 million Americans (17.2 percent of the workforce) are presently struggling with unemployment or drastic underemployment; “close to 50 million Americans experienced ‘food deprivation’ (hunger) at various times in 2009”; and as many as 75 million Americans (25 percent of the population) live in poverty. Adding insult to injury, the top 10 percent of income earners in the United States live 4.5 years longer on average than the bottom 10 percent.

In a nutshell, Corning’s thesis is that human nature has evolved in such a way as to create a natural revulsion to states of affairs like these. In the opening chapters, he recounts various evolutionary arguments for the notion that our hunter-gatherer ancestors possessed a deep sense of fairness and developed “a pattern of egalitarian sharing” in which “dominance behaviors were actively resisted by coalitions of other group members.” He draws eclectically on studies of baboons, descriptive anthropological accounts of hunter-gatherer societies and, in a few cases, the fossil record. With this biological framework in place, Corning endeavors to show that the capitalist system as currently practiced in the United States and elsewhere is manifestly unfair. His beef is not solely with laissez-faire capitalism, however; he claims that socialism is just as unfair, although in different ways, and that efforts to develop a “third way” that avoids the excesses of capitalism and socialism have been “anemic” and “unable to confront the status quo” of class-based inequality. In place of these failed institutions, he proposes a new type of society founded on a biosocial contract, which he describes as a “truly voluntary bargain among various (empowered) stakeholders over how the benefits and obligations in a society are to be apportioned among the members” that is “grounded in our growing understanding of human nature and the basic purpose of a human society.” Such a contract, he writes, must be focused on fairness and the obligation to address the “shared survival and reproductive needs” of our species.

Corning draws most heavily on evolutionary biology, behavioral economics and anthropology, but experimental social psychology would also back him up—and quite a bit more directly. Indeed, some of his ideas seem to have been inspired by the work of Morton Deutsch, who suggested, in a well-known 1975 article in the Journal of Social Issues, that human beings are finely attuned to three major principles of justice: equity, equality and need. Corning offers a slightly modified list. He defines fairness in terms of equality (in the satisfaction of basic needs, not necessarily in outcomes), equity (or merit) and reciprocity. The core thesis of The Fair Society was also anticipated by Melvin Lerner, who argued in 1977 that a universal “justice motive” compels individuals to pursue fairness goals to rectify unfairness and—only if these routes are blocked—to engage in victim-blaming and other defensive strategies to maintain the desired belief that we live in a just world (even if we do not). Although Lerner was perhaps more sensitive than Corning to the perverse consequences of caring passionately about the appearance of justice (for instance, blaming victims of rape, poverty or illness for their misfortune so as not to give up cherished illusions about personal deservingness), the two writers share the assumption that justice concerns are an essential part of human nature.

Anyone who is capable of critical perspicacity with regard to capitalist economic systems and practices is obliged to agree with Corning’s observation that the massive upswing in economic inequality over the past 30 years is at odds with nearly every conception of justice since Plato and, in that sense, is difficult (if not impossible) to justify on normative philosophical grounds (although some conservative libertarians have tried). Let us also grant that humans are prepared to experience moral outrage in the face of unjustified inequality (or gross inequity). Even capuchin monkeys show “inequity aversion,” refusing to participate in games in which other monkeys are given greater rewards for equal effort, as Sarah F. Brosnan and Frans de Waal showed in a 2003 article in Nature. Corning connects such observations to the present socioeconomic situation, writing, “Defection is the likely response to an exploitative, asymmetrical interaction,” and “No wonder there were protests and even riots at WTO [World Trade Organization] meetings.”

There is only one problem, and it is one that has given social scientists fits: What took so long? Why have U.S. citizens, for instance, put up with starkly increasing inequality and the kind of economic policies that only a dyslexic Robin Hood could embrace? There is a joke, often attributed to economist Paul A. Samuelson, which goes, “Economists have correctly predicted nine of the last five recessions.” I would say that sociologists, political scientists and others who study protest movements suffer from a similar problem, to wit: “Social scientists have correctly predicted nine of the last five revolutions.” The great political theorist Ted Robert Gurr, for instance, wrote in 1970 that “Men are quick to aspire beyond their social means and quick to anger when those means prove inadequate, but slow to accept their limitations.” If this were true in a deep psychological sense, rebellion would be far more common than acquiescence, but this is simply not the case.

My own, admittedly incomplete answer to the social scientists’ conundrum has emphasized a human motivation that is frequently on a collision course with Lerner’s justice motive and Corning’s biosocial contract, namely, system-justification motivation: the (typically nonconscious) desire to defend, justify and rationalize existing systems, institutions and widespread practices, even if (from a more objective point of view) they violate standards of justice, including equity, equality and need. Corning grants that our sense of fairness can be “easily subverted,” quotes Dr. Pangloss’s rosy rationalizations in Voltaire’s satire Candide, and touches—but only lightly—on beliefs and ideologies that blunt the sense of injustice. To my mind, the problem of system justification in U.S. public opinion about economic inequality (especially among political conservatives) is addressed far more satisfactorily in chapter 5 of Bartels’s Unequal Democracy.

Despite this conspicuous omission, much of what Corning has written is both important and accurate. The Fair Society is wide ranging and covers many areas of scholarship in a useful, integrative, insightful manner. It is an edifying book—not least because it offers a tremendous collection of memorable quotations from justice scholars over the centuries—more than a groundbreaking one. One could reasonably wonder whether his proposed biosocial model, which draws heavily on aspects of stakeholder capitalism and closely resembles that of Swedish society, is really enough of an improvement over the socialist and capitalist systems he so effectively lambastes in earlier chapters of the book. Even if one accepts Corning’s goal, there are huge obstacles standing in the way of its implementation. He recognizes, quite correctly, that “conservatives with vested interests in the status quo will no doubt dismiss the idea of a Fair Society as just another utopian scheme,” but it is far from clear how proponents of social and economic justice will ever overcome conservative skepticism. “There must be a broad political consensus that social justice is a core social value,” he writes, but this is precisely the problem; such a consensus does not exist. “How do the roughly 70 percent of us who support the principle of fairness and social justice overcome the formidable power of the 30 percent who largely control our politics and our wealth and who will fiercely defend the existing system, and their self-interest?” he asks. How, indeed? The difficulty, in my view, is that no one, including Corning himself, offers a convincing answer to this question.

At this moment in history, when our problems are so much clearer than their solutions, it is a genuine contribution to offer clearheaded analysis and moral encouragement to take much-needed steps in the direction of social and economic justice. I admire Corning’s attempt to develop a normative theory of justice that is “built on an empirical foundation”—that is, knowledge gleaned from the social and behavioral sciences, including aggregate sociological data from research on social indicators. Along very similar lines, psychologist Aaron Kay and I have advocated “naturalizing” the study of social justice, thereby integrating descriptive and normative insights gleaned from psychology, social science, philosophy, law and other disciplines.

Given the thick walls that separate academic scholarship from popular concern and policy outcomes, it is probably too much to expect rapid implementation of the specific recommendations made in The Fair Society, such as these, which address taxation: “Eliminate property tax deductions for second (vacation) homes, tax capital gains at the same graduated rate as earned income, and eliminate the expanded home equity line of credit loan provisions.” Nevertheless, one hopes that those who wish to occupy places of power on behalf of the 99 percent will heed Corning’s sage advice about what to do and—just as important—what not to do in planning for a better, more just society.

More.

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To review the full collection of Situationist posts related to system justification, click here.

Posted in Altruism, Book, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Ideology, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Choice and Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 17, 2011

Since the early 2000s, much of Jon Hanson’s (and other Situationist Contributor’s) research, writing, teaching, and speaking has focused on the role of “choice,” “the choice myth,” and “choicism” in rationalizing injustice and inequality, particularly in the U.S.  (e.g., The Blame Frame: Justifying (Racial) Injustice in America).  That work has helped to inspire a significant amount of fascinating experimental research (and, unfortunately, one derivative book) on the topic.   Over the next couple of months, we will highlight some of that intriguing new research on The Situationist. 

Here is an abstract and excerpts from a fascinating article (forthcoming, Psychological Science – pdf of draft here) co-authored by Situationist friend Krishna Savani (Columbia) and Aneeta Rattan (Stanford).  Their article examines how “a choice mindset increases the acceptance and maintenance of wealth inequality.”

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Abstract: Wealth inequality has significant psychological, physiological, societal, and economic costs. We investigate how seemingly innocuous, culturally pervasive ideas can help maintain and further wealth inequality. Specifically, we test whether the concept of choice, which is deeply valued in American society, leads people to act in ways that maintain and perpetuate wealth inequality. Choice, we argue, activates the belief that life outcomes stem from personal agency, not from societal factors, leading people to justify wealth inequality. Six experiments show that when choice is highlighted, people are less disturbed by facts about the existing wealth inequality in the U.S., more likely to underestimate the role of societal factors in individuals’ successes, less likely to support the redistribution of educational resources, and less likely to tax the rich even to resolve a government budget deficit crisis. The findings indicate that the culturally valued concept of choice contributes to the maintenance of wealth inequality.

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Wealth inequality has substantial negative consequences for societies, including reduced well-being (Napier & Jost, 2008), fewer public goods (Frank, 2011; Kluegel & Smith, 1986), and even lower economic growth (Alesina & Rodrik, 1994). Despite these well-known negative consequences, high levels of wealth inequality persist in many nations. For example, the U.S. has the greatest degree of wealth inequality among all the industrialized countries in terms of the Gini Coefficient (93rd out of 134 countries; CIA Factbook, 2010). Moreover, wealth inequality in the U.S. substantially worsened in the first decade of the 21st century, with median household income in 2010 equal to that in 1997 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011), although per-capita GDP increased by 33% over the same period (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2011), indicating that all of the gain in wealth was concentrated at the top end of the wealth distribution.

A large majority of Americans disapprove of a high degree of wealth inequality (Norton & Ariely, 2011), for example, when the top 1% of people on the wealth distribution possess 35% of the nation’s wealth, as was the case in the U.S. in 2007 (Wolff, 2010). Instead, people prefer a more equal distribution of wealth that includes a strong middle class, such as when the middle 60% of people own approximately 60% of the nation’s wealth, rather than only the 15% that they owned in the U.S. in 2007. If people are unhappy with wealth inequality, then policies that reduce this inequality should be widely supported, particularly in times of increasing wealth inequality. However, Americans often oppose specific policies that would remedy wealth inequality (Bartels, 2005). For example, taxation and redistribution—taxing the rich and using the proceeds to provide public goods, public insurance, and a minimum standard of living for the poor—is probably the most effective means for reducing wealth inequality from an economic perspective (Frank, 2011; Korpi & Palme, 1998). However, most Americans, including working class and middle class citizens, have supported tax cuts even for the very rich and oppose government spending on social services that would mitigate inequality (Bartels, 2005; Fong, 2001). What factors explain thisinconsistency between a general preference for greater wealth equality and opposition to specific policies that would produce it? We investigate whether people’s attitudes toward wealth inequality and support for policies that reduce wealth inequality are influenced by the concept of choice.

Choice is a core concept in U.S. American culture . . . .

Recent research suggests that the concept of choice decreases support for societally beneficial policies (e.g., a tax on highly polluting cars) but increases support for policies furthering individual rights (e.g., legalizing drugs; Savani, Stephens, & Markus, 2011). Historical analyses also suggest that Americans often use the concept of choice to justify inequality, arguing that the poor are poor because they made bad choices (Hanson & Hanson, 2006; see also Stephens & Levine, 2011). Building upon this work, we theorized that the assumption that people make free choices, when combined with the fact that some people turned out rich and others poor, leads people to believe that inequality in life outcomes is justified and reasonable. Therefore, when people think in terms of choice, we hypothesized that they would be less disturbed by wealth inequality and less supportive of policies aimed at reducing this inequality. . . .

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You can download a pdf of the draft here.

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You can review hundreds of Situationist posts related to the topic of “choice myth” here or to the topic of inequality here.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Distribution, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

A Call for More Research on the Psychology of Inequality

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 9, 2011

Last spring, I had the pleasure of participating in the 2011 PLMS Conference: The Psychology of Inequality.  As chronicled on this blog (and elsewhere), it was a tremendous group of speakers and many of the talks have continued to resonate as issues of inequality have continued to boil up, particularly in the form of the Occupy movement.

One of the issues that is particularly interesting to me is how people react when confronted with evidence of inequality.  The psychology is complicated because people’s reactions are contingent on numerous situational variables.  For one thing, different people seem to have very different tolerances for inequality.  For another, it seems to matter whether the context is one of system threat or general optimism.

A number of mind scientists are busy at work documenting and sorting out these details and in the process we are learning a tremendous amount about how inequality is perpetuated.  One of the things that researchers have discovered is that those who are motivated to do so are incredibly adept at minimizing even the starkest data.

On Monday, for example Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist with the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics at U.C. Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, pointed out that according to the 2011 Forbes 400, five children and one daughter-in-law of the founders of Wal-Mart have a total combined worth of $69.7 billion, which is equivalent to the total wealth of the bottom 30% of American families.

To me, that is absolutely staggering information.  Read it again: six people on the Forbes list have equivalent wealth to roughly one-third of all American families taken together.  To me, this is a clear sign that the need for reform is urgent.  But for other people, this isn’t troubling at all.  It’s not that they are being facetious; they genuinely view the data differently than I do.

Because of this divergence, I would argue that before we can make any sort of the changes that would address the growing inequality in the United States (which I believe we must do as a society from a both practical and moral perspective), we need to spend more time and energy understanding why some people don’t see a problem in the first place.

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The Situation of Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 2, 2011

From TEDTalks:

We feel instinctively that societies with huge income gaps are somehow going wrong. Richard Wilkinson charts the hard data on economic inequality, and shows what gets worse when rich and poor are too far apart: real effects on health, lifespan, even such basic values as trust.

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The Situation of the Inequality Getting Inequalitier

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 1, 2011

From

Financial gains over the last decade in the United States have been mostly made at the “tippy-top” of the economic food chain as more people fall out of the middle class. The top 20 percent of Americans now holds 84 percent of U.S. wealth, as Paul Solman found out as part of a Making Sen$e series on economic inequality.

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Susan Fiske’s New Book

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 26, 2011

Situationist Contributor Susan Fiske’s latest book, Envy Up, Scorn Down: How Status Divides Us, is a must read!  Here’s a description.

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The United States was founded on the principle of equal opportunity for all, and this ethos continues to inform the nation’s collective identity. In reality, however, absolute equality is elusive. The gap between rich and poor has widened in recent decades, and the United States has the highest level of economic inequality of any developed country. Social class and other differences in status reverberate throughout American life, and prejudice based on another’s perceived status persists among individuals and groups. In Envy Up, Scorn Down, noted social psychologist Susan Fiske examines the psychological underpinnings of interpersonal and intergroup comparisons, exploring why we compare ourselves to those both above and below us and analyzing the social consequences of such comparisons in day-to-day life.

What motivates individuals, groups, and cultures to envy the status of some and scorn the status of others? Who experiences envy and scorn most? Envy Up, Scorn Down marshals a wealth of recent psychological studies as well as findings based on years of Fiske’s own research to address such questions. She shows that both envy and scorn have distinctive biological, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral characteristics. And though we are all “wired” for comparison, some individuals are more vulnerable to these motives than others. Dominant personalities, for example, express envy toward high-status groups such as the wealthy and well-educated, and insecurity can lead others to scorn those perceived to have lower status, such as women, minorities, or the disabled. Fiske shows that one’s race or ethnicity, gender, and education all correlate with perceived status. Regardless of whether one is accorded higher or lower status, however, all groups rank their members, and all societies rank the various groups within them. We rate each group as either friend or foe, able or unable, and accordingly assign them the traits of warmth or competence. The majority of groups in the United States are ranked either warm or competent but not both, with extreme exceptions: the homeless or the very poor are considered neither warm nor competent. Societies across the globe view older people as warm but incompetent. Conversely, the very rich are generally considered cold but highly competent. Envy Up, Scorn Down explores the nuances of status hierarchies and their consequences and shows that such prejudice in its most virulent form dehumanizes and can lead to devastating outcomes—from the scornful neglect of the homeless to the envious anger historically directed at Tutsis in Rwanda or Jews in Europe.

Individuals, groups, and even cultures will always make comparisons between and among themselves. Envy Up, Scorn Down is an accessible and insightful examination of drives we all share and the prejudice that can accompany comparison. The book deftly shows that understanding envy and scorn—and seeking to mitigate their effects—can prove invaluable to our lives, our relationships, and our society.

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To read more about the book or order your copy, click here.

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Posted in Abstracts, Distribution, Emotions, Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Unequal Juries

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 24, 2011

Wendy Parker posted her article, “Juries, Race, and Gender: A Story of Today’s Inequality” (Wake Forest Law Review, Vol. 46, pp. 209-240, 2011), on SSRN.  Here’s the abstracst.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 was supposed to be a victory for employment discrimination plaintiffs – a dramatic expansion of their rights. Twenty years later, however, we are told that the news for employment discrimination plaintiffs has gone “from bad to worse.” This essay, a reflection on the twenty-year history of the 1991 Act, explores how just how bad it is. In doing so, this essay discovers some optimistic news (but not much): Plaintiffs today are more likely to win at trial than before the 1991 Act. This is likely because of the 1991 Act’s expanded right to a jury trial. Yet, this is not a story of optimism – or equality – for all plaintiffs. The essay’s original study of 102 jury trials reveals that some plaintiffs do much worse than other plaintiffs. African Americans and Latinos claiming race discrimination, for example, have the lowest jury win rates. Many who study jury behavior would have predicted this outcome. From this, the essay argues that the evidence is strong that the status quo is not race neutral, and neither are juries.

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SALMS Lecture – Tonight

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 29, 2011

Jon Hanson Evening Lecture and Reception

On Tuesday, March 29th, Professor Jon Hanson will give a lecture entitled “Law, Psychology, and Inequality” at 6PM in Harvard Law School’s Austin East.  A reception with free food and drink will follow!

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Psychology of Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 25, 2011

Elaine McCardle wrote a terrific review of last month’s Fifth Annual PLMS Conference.  Her article is the spotlight piece on the Harvard Law School website and includes several excellent videos, photos, and links.  Here’s the story.

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While equality is a fundamental principle of American law and the bedrock of the national psyche, inequality has actually increased in the past four decades in the distribution of wealth, power, opportunity, even health. Yet the topic of inequality has received relatively little attention from legal theorists, and, for the most part, it is ignored in the basic law school curriculum.

A conference last month at HLS, “The Psychology of Inequality,” presented by the Project on Law & Mind Sciences (PLMS), stepped into that vacuum, bringing together scholars, law students, and others to examine inequality from the standpoint of the latest research in social science, health science, and mind science, and to reflect on the implications of their findings for law. The HLS Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS), together with a group of roughly 20 students, were instrumental in organizing the conference.

“Inequality matters in ways that are not commonly understood, including in how people see and make sense of the world,” saysJon Hanson, the Alfred Smart Professor of Law and Director of PLMS. “Indeed, the way people respond to instances of inequality – either by equalizing, or by rationalizing – appears to be a very significant factor in how they view markets, regulation, and many important policy and social issues. So when we engage in policy debates, mustering all our best arguments and evidence in favor of a given policy conclusion we shouldn’t be perplexed when our opponent doesn’t budge,” says Hanson. “Such recalcitrance on both sides of a discussion often reflects, not the inadequacy, but the irrelevance, of the reasons being exchanged. Behind it all may be a conflict between largely subconscious urges: some people would rather rationalize inequality while others lean toward equalizing.”

Hanson was one of more than a dozen scholars who spoke at the Feb. 26 conference, the fifth annual conference by PLMS, founded by Hanson six years ago to promote interdisciplinary exchange and collaboration between the mind sciences and the l

egal community. PMLS supports research, writing and conferences in order to dislodge the prevailing “dispositionist” approach of law – which holds that human beings, for the most part, make rational choices based on logical preferences – in favor of a “situationist approach.” Situationsim recognizes that social sciences and mind sciences, including social psychology, social cognition, and cognitive neuroscience, have repeatedly demonstrated that human behavior is influenced by countless factors ignored by the dispositionist approach, which collectively are known as “situation.”

Jaime Napier, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University, presented her research on the ways in which high-status and low-status groups differ in their rationalizations of inequality. High-status people tend to place blame on individuals for their lot in life, while low-status people tend to see theirs as the natural order of things. Eric Knowles, an assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine, discussed his theory of “malleable ideologies,” through which different groups with a same core ideology – say, “life is sacred” – can come to different outcomes on issues such as abortion or the death penalty. Adam Benforado ’05, a former student of Hanson’s and an assistant professor at the Earl Mach School of Law at Drexel University, presented on the mind-body connection in decision-making, including how seemingly innocuous environmental influences such as room temperature might have significant influence on decisions made by juries and judges. Ichiro Kawachi, a Professor of Social Epidemiology and Chair of the Social/Behavioral Sciences Department at the Harvard School of Public Health, discussed research showing that people of lower social status lead shorter, sicker lives, while other speakers discussed ways that social disparities influence health, how even young children favor high-status individuals, and the drive among humans to view the world as essentially fair.

In addition to national experts in the areas of health, psychology, and mind sciences, a number of HLS faculty contributed to the discussion from their areas of expertise in a panel discussion (see video below), including John Palfrey ’01, the Henry N. Ess III

Professor of Law and Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources, an expert on the internet; Lucie White ’81, the Louis A. Horvitz Professor of Law, who specializes in poverty law and international economic and social rights; Robert C. Bordone ’97, the Thaddeus R. Beal Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program; Stella Burch Elias, a Climenko Fellow and Lecturer on Law and Andrew Woods ’07, a Climenko Fellow and Ph.D. candidate in politics at Cambridge University.

In that discussion, Hanson shared some provocative ideas. The good news, he said, is that humans have an egalitarian impulse, so that inequality causes them discomfort; some resolve the conflict by redistributing so that there is more equality, while others rationalize with reasons that explain the inequality. The bad news, Hanson added, is that it’s not terribly hard to move someone away from the equalizing impulse.

“When you experience fear and threat – personal threat, group threat, system threat – you become a hardcore dispositionist,” said Hanson, snapping his fingers, “just like that!”

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Posted in Distribution, Education, Embodied Cognition, Events, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Legal Theory, Situationist Contributors, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Harvard Women’s Law Association Conference

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 10, 2011

Panels

Health & Equality

There is a burgeoning awareness that access to health care is an equality issue.  With inadequate resources to access basic health services, women around the globe are impaired from functioning at the highest level.  At the same time, health disparities perpetuate other disparities, leaving women who lack these resources behind their counterparts elsewhere.  Women’s reproductive health needs make this question all the more stark.  Our panel brings together leading experts in legal and nonlegal fields, who have a holistic perspective on health that grounds legal answers in community-based approaches.

Equality & Economics

Economic inequality influences people’s choices and shapes their worldviews.  As such, it is necessary to continually interrogate the changing role of women in the economy. This panel brings together women who have broken through social and cultural barriers to begin to equalize economic environments.  Coming from different fields in the public and private sector, each panelist has a unique perspective on what it means to equalize the workplace, as well as the broader economy.

Equality on Both Sides of the Bench

Women represent a rapidly rising percentage of litigators and judges.  However, courtrooms remain one of the least gender-balanced arenas.  In this panel, we have brought together leading judges and litigators who have been experience in breaking through inequality on both sides of the bench. We hope that a conversation between litigators and judges will lead to a broad and fruitful discussion about what it means to be a woman in the courtroom, and how we can work to build off of their foundational work to eliminate gender discrimination in courtroom settings.

Equality for Girls

When envisioning the future we want to see, it is imperative to think about how the next generation of women will be educated and nurtured.  Continual efforts to eliminate gender discrimination in the schools and on the streets for girls around the world represent the best chance to positively affect the change we wish to see.  Our girls panel brings together the women who are doing exactly this: influencing the lives of young women around the globe through legal, social, economic, and cultural means.

More details here.

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The Unequal Situation of Seperation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 5, 2011

From Rice News (by Mike Williams):

However much people choose to live in a segregated society, the trend is a losing proposition for all.

That was the takeaway message delivered by Rice’s Michael Emerson in a presentation to the Houston Association of Hispanic Media Professionals (HAHMP) last week. Members came to campus to hear him discuss select results from the Houston Area Survey, particularly as they relate to housing preferences among blacks, whites and Hispanics.

Emerson, the Allyn and Gladys Cline Professor of Sociology and co-director of the university’s new Institute for Urban Research (IUR), gave a brief summary of segregation in Houston based on the 2000 Census that showed distinct separation between black and white neighborhoods, with Hispanics somewhat more integrated but still dominating many neighborhoods of their own.

“People make their own decisions, their own incomes, and they’re all trying to get the best house and neighborhood they can get. How does it end up they live so segregated by race?” he asked.

Emerson said he hears two common answers. The first: “It’s not race; it’s class.”

“In fact, that’s not the answer,” he said. “There is a range of incomes within any racial group, and when we look at where people live by income level, (they’re) still segregated by race. Segregation by race is substantially greater than segregation by income.”

The second answer — “People like to live with people like themselves” — is somewhat more accurate, he said, but still not the answer. “What we have found is that in current times, many people want not to live with certain people — people they think will drive down their property values, raise crime and lower the quality of local education. They use race to decide these other factors.”

Emerson’s own neighborhood is a good example of what has befallen not only Houston but also major cities nationwide. “When I moved there, it was mixed with many racial groups, but now it’s 99 percent black and Hispanic,” said the professor, who is white. He noted that in 21st-century America, he’s “totally convinced we have to live in integrated neighborhoods, so my family and I choose to do so.”

Too few are so committed to diversity, according to the most recent Houston Area Survey.

A “factorial experiment” of African-Americans, Hispanics and whites, 1,000 each, revealed important results. Individuals were first asked if they’d buy a house that had everything they were looking for, was close to work and within their price range.

“Everybody hears that,” Emerson said. “Then there was a part that was computer-generated (with parameters that changed for each phone call): Checking on the neighborhood, you find the property values are increasing/decreasing, the crime rate is high/low, the schools are of high/low quality, and the neighborhood is X percent respondent’s own race and X-to-100 percent of another racial group.

“This is a lot to remember,” he said. “That’s exactly what we want, because we’re looking to see what people key on. For example, if I hear ‘crime rate is increasing,’ that’s what I’ll remember, and I probably won’t buy that home.”

Emerson said the results showed, as expected, sensitivity among all groups to high crime rates and low-quality schools. Blacks and whites were more sensitive to home valuation than Hispanics.

“Are there still racial-composition effects? If what people tell us is true, they should go away,” he said. Race is indeed less of an issue for Hispanics, at least in Harris County. But for whites, “you get a different story. They are highly sensitive to percent black and percent Hispanic.

“Even if you take a neighborhood that has low crime, high-quality schools and rising property values and you say it’s 30 percent black, in almost every single case, the white respondent will say, ‘Not likely to buy the home.'”

And the more educated whites are, the more likely they are to live in highly segregated neighborhoods, he said. “Again, this is not an income effect; it’s an education effect.

“What we find is that we can have diverse neighborhoods; we just can’t have whites in those diverse neighborhoods for very long because of their racial preferences.”

Similarly, he said, African-Americans in Harris County proved less interested in neighborhoods where the percent of Asian residents was on the rise.

Why does neighborhood segregation by race matter? The fourfold increase in the national gap between net worth of white and black families — demonstrated in an “incredibly detailed” study of 2,000 families followed over 24 years from 1984 to 2007 — is telling, Emerson said. The study, he said, “shows most middle-class Americans generate their wealth through their homes, and white neighborhoods, due to higher demand, rise in value more than in other neighborhoods. So it’s a big deal where people live. We must find ways to stop giving benefits along racial lines. As most Americans believe, benefits should go to people by merit, not race.”

Emerson said he and his IUR colleagues are anxious to see the results of the 2010 Census when they become available next year. He hopes to find Houston neighborhoods that have been integrated for 20 years or more. “We will attempt to understand why they are stably integrated and what the consequences are, positive and negative, for people who live there,” he said.

“People give all kinds of reasons why it’s OK to have segregation and to have inequality by class and race, never actually trying to face it,” he said. “That’s what we’ve really got to push on. Why is it OK? Who is it OK for? Who gets hurt by it?

“The fact is,” he said, “the society our children inherit will suffer and the society our grandchildren inherit will suffer even more if we don’t address racial segregation and the resulting increasing racial wealth gap.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Choice Myth, Distribution, Education, History, Ideology, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Register Now for the 2011 Conference

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 22, 2010

The Fifth Law and Mind Sciences Conference: “The Psychology of Inequality”

At this year’s conference, leading social scientists and legal scholars will present and discuss their research regarding the  psychological causes and consequences of social inequality.

The conference will be held on February 26, 2011 at Harvard Law School.  To register for the conference, click on the image above or here for the online registration.

For more information about the conference, click here.

Posted in Distribution, Education, Events | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Inherited Situation of Racial Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 15, 2010

Professor Palma Joy Strand recently posted her important paper, “Inheriting Inequality: Wealth, Race, and the Laws of Succession” (forthcoming in the Oregon Law Review) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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The article begins by documenting deep inequality in the form of Black-White wealth disparities: While the overall wealth distribution in the United States is highly unequal from both historical and international perspectives, racial wealth disparities are particularly acute, with median Black net worth approximately a tenth of median White net worth (as compared to median Black income that is approximately two-thirds of median White income). Next, the article ties the perpetuation of this inequality to current inheritance law. It then confronts this inequality as a civil rights issue in terms of its social effects, its historical causes, and legal avenues for attacking it. Finally, the article proposes two changes in our laws of succession to address this contemporary manifestation of White advantage and Black disadvantage. First, the article explains how civil rights considerations support existing proposals that inheritances be taxed as windfall income to those who receive them (as are lottery winnings currently). Second, the article identifies a need for revising intestacy law to provide heirs with clear title to assets, especially homes belonging to families of modest wealth whose wealth is primarily the value of those homes.

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Download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Consuming Merit, Gatekeeping, and Reproducing Wealth,” “Black History is Now,Examining Why Estimated “Costs” of Racial Inequality Vary by Race,” Even monkeys know when they’re being treated unfairly,” A Discussion about (In)Equality,” “The Interior Situational Reaction to Inequality,”The Situation of Mortgage Defaults,” The Situation of the Mortgage Crisis,” and “The Interior Situation of Intergenerational Poverty.”

Posted in Abstracts, Deep Capture, Distribution, History, Ideology, Law, Life | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Legal-Policy Situation of Continued Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 12, 2010

Judge Michael Wolff posted his article “Stories of Civil Rights Progress and the Persistence of Inequality and Unequal Opportunity 1970-2010” (forthcoming in William Mitchell Law Review) on  SSRN.  Here is the abstract.

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In this article, Missouri Supreme Court Judge Michael A. Wolff, who also is distinguished visiting professor at St. Louis University School of Law, outlines the judicial and legislative victories and failures of civil rights advocates over the last forty years at both the federal and state level. He details the reform efforts through personal anecdotes of many of his own cases that he pursued as a legal services lawyer and has seen as a judge. Judge Wolff’s stories focus on the rights that legal services programs fought for and obtained and the battles that continue to be lost. In particular, he looks at both racial and economic inequality in the education system and the penal system. He explores the results of inadequate state funding such as the absence of affordable educational institutions for its citizens. In looking at the penal system, he examines the increasing criminalization of previously non-criminal conduct and the resulting incarceration and its dramatic effect on minority populations. He also discusses the expanding inequality among the United States population as the rich are given disparate tax breaks. Judge Wolff concludes by advocating for continued support of both public education and public health systems and supportive civic institutions.

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Download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Racial Prejudice in Real Estate Markets,” Leaving the Past,”Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” Black History is Now,”Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” – Video,” Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health,”  The Toll of Discrimination on Black Women,” and “The Racialized Situation of Vandalism and Crime,”

Posted in Abstracts, Distribution, Education, History, Law | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Political Situation of the Economic Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 6, 2010

In Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer – And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, Jacob S. Hacker of Yale and Paul Pierson of Berkeley argue that America’s money-addicted and change-resistant political system is at the heart of the enormous and rapidly growing income inequality that they say is undermining America’s economic and political stability.

Posted in Book, Deep Capture, Distribution, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Discussion about (In)Equality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 2, 2010

The following (51 minute) video contains a worthwhile discussion from Agenda about how much inequality is too much.

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Participants Include:

Richard Wilkinson is co-author of The Spirit Level and Professor Emeritus at the University of Nottingham Medical School and honorary professor at University College London. He has played a formative role in international research and his work has been published in 10 languages. He studied economic history at the London School of Economics before training in epidemiology.

William Watson is the Chair of the Economic Department at McGill University.

Lane Kenworthy is a sociologist at the University of Arizona where he studies the causes and consequences of poverty, inequality, mobility, employment, economic growth, and social policy in the United States and other affluent countries.

Bob Rae is the Liberal foreign affairs critic, MP for Toronto Centre, and a former premier of Ontario. Visit bobrae.ca.

Sylvia Bashevkin is principal of University College, and a professor in the Department of Political Science, at the University of Toronto. She is the author of Toeing the Lines: Women and Party Politics in English Canada.

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For a sample of related Stiuationist posts, see “The Situational Effects of (In)Equality,” The Situational Consequences of Poverty on Brains,”Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health,” The Interior Situation of Intergenerational Poverty,” Rich Brains, Poor Brains?,” Jeffrey Sachs on the Situation of Global Poverty,” “The Situation of Financial Risk-Taking,” “The Situation of Standardized Test Scores,”The Toll of Discrimination on Black Women,” The Physical Pains of Discrimination,” The Depressing Effects of Racial Discrimination,” and The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions.”

Posted in Distribution, Video | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situational Effects of (In)Equality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 29, 2010

Here is an intriguing (40-minute) interview with Richard Wilkinson co-author of the book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger and co-founder of The Equality Trust.

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For a sample of related Stiuationist posts, see “The Situational Consequences of Poverty on Brains,” For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health,” The Interior Situation of Intergenerational Poverty,” Rich Brains, Poor Brains?,” Jeffrey Sachs on the Situation of Global Poverty,” “The Situation of Financial Risk-Taking,” “The Situation of Standardized Test Scores,”The Toll of Discrimination on Black Women,” The Physical Pains of Discrimination,” The Depressing Effects of Racial Discrimination,” and The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions.”

Posted in Book, Conflict, Distribution, Ideology, Video | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Interior Situational Reaction to Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 25, 2010

From EurekAlert:

The human brain is a big believer in equality—and a team of scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, has become the first to gather the images to prove it.

Specifically, the team found that the reward centers in the human brain respond more strongly when a poor person receives a financial reward than when a rich person does. The surprising thing? This activity pattern holds true even if the brain being looked at is in the rich person’s head, rather than the poor person’s.

These conclusions, and the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies that led to them, are described in the February 25 issue of the journal Nature.

“This is the latest picture in our gallery of human nature,” says Colin Camerer, the Robert Kirby Professor of Behavioral Economics at Caltech and one of the paper’s coauthors. “It’s an exciting area of research; we now have so many tools with which to study how the brain is reacting.”

It’s long been known that we humans don’t like inequality, especially when it comes to money. Tell two people working the same job that their salaries are different, and there’s going to be trouble, notes John O’Doherty, professor of psychology at Caltech, Thomas N. Mitchell Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, and the principal investigator on the Nature paper.

But what was unknown was just how hardwired that dislike really is. “In this study, we’re starting to get an idea of where this inequality aversion comes from,” he says. “It’s not just the application of a social rule or convention; there’s really something about the basic processing of rewards in the brain that reflects these considerations.”

The brain processes “rewards”—things like food, money, and even pleasant music, which create positive responses in the body—in areas such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and ventral striatum.

In a series of experiments, former Caltech postdoctoral scholar Elizabeth Tricomi (now an assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers University)—along with O’Doherty, Camerer, and Antonio Rangel, associate professor of economics at Caltech—watched how the VMPFC and ventral striatum reacted in 40 volunteers who were presented with a series of potential money-transfer scenarios while lying in an fMRI machine.

For instance, a participant might be told that he could be given $50 while another person could be given $20; in a second scenario, the student might have a potential gain of only $5 and the other person, $50. The fMRI images allowed the researchers to see how each volunteer’s brain responded to each proposed money allocation.

But there was a twist. Before the imaging began, each participant in a pair was randomly assigned to one of two conditions: One participant was given what the researchers called “a large monetary endowment” ($50) at the beginning of the experiment; the other participant started from scratch, with no money in his or her pocket.

As it turned out, the way the volunteers—or, to be more precise, the reward centers in the volunteers’ brains—reacted to the various scenarios depended strongly upon whether they started the experiment with a financial advantage over their peers.

“People who started out poor had a stronger brain reaction to things that gave them money, and essentially no reaction to money going to another person,” Camerer says. “By itself, that wasn’t too surprising.”

What was surprising was the other side of the coin. “In the experiment, people who started out rich had a stronger reaction to other people getting money than to themselves getting money,” Camerer explains. “In other words, their brains liked it when others got money more than they liked it when they themselves got money.”

“We now know that these areas are not just self-interested,” adds O’Doherty. “They don’t exclusively respond to the rewards that one gets as an individual, but also respond to the prospect of other individuals obtaining a reward.”

What was especially interesting about the finding, he says, is that the brain responds “very differently to rewards obtained by others under conditions of disadvantageous inequality versus advantageous inequality. It shows that the basic reward structures in the human brain are sensitive to even subtle differences in social context.”

This, O’Doherty notes, is somewhat contrary to the prevailing views about human nature. “As a psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist who works on reward and motivation, I very much view the brain as a device designed to maximize one’s own self interest,” says O’Doherty. “The fact that these basic brain structures appear to be so readily modulated in response to rewards obtained by others highlights the idea that even the basic reward structures in the human brain are not purely self-oriented.”

Camerer, too, found the results thought provoking. “We economists have a widespread view that most people are basically self-interested, and won’t try to help other people,” he says. “But if that were true, you wouldn’t see these sort of reactions to other people getting money.”

Still, he says, it’s likely that the reactions of the “rich” participants were at least partly motivated by self-interest—or a reduction of their own discomfort. “We think that, for the people who start out rich, seeing another person get money reduces their guilt over having more than the others.”

Having watched the brain react to inequality, O’Doherty says, the next step is to “try to understand how these changes in valuation actually translate into changes in behavior. For example, the person who finds out they’re being paid less than someone else for doing the same job might end up working less hard and being less motivated as a consequence. It will be interesting to try to understand the brain mechanisms that underlie such changes.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Robin Hood Motives,” “Martha Fineman on the Situation of Gender and Equality,” “The Blame Frame – Abstract,” “The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,” and “The Situation of Inequality – Guns, Germs, and Steel.”

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Distribution, Emotions, Neuroeconomics, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

 
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