[p2p-research] The dynamics of social inequality.

Ryan rlanham1963 at gmail.com
Tue Nov 3 20:46:24 CET 2009

  Sent to you by Ryan via Google Reader: The dynamics of social
inequality. via Deric Bownds' MindBlog by mdbownds at wisc.edu (Deric
Bownds) on 11/3/09
Borgerhoff Mulder et al. show that wealth inequality in 21 historical
and contemporary "small-scale societies" is determined by the
intergenerational transmission of different types of assets. From the
editor's summary:
Wealthy contemporary societies exhibit varying extents of economic
inequality, with the Nordic countries being relatively egalitarian,
whereas there is a much larger gap between top and bottom in the United
States. Borgerhoff Mulder et al. build a bare-bones model describing
the intergenerational transmission of three different types of
wealth—based on social networks, land and livestock, and physical and
cognitive capacity—in four types of small-scale societies in which
livelihoods depended primarily on hunting, herding, farming, or
horticulture. Parameter estimates from a large-scale analysis of
historical and ethnographic data were added to the model to reveal that
the four types of societies display distinctive patterns of wealth
transmission and that these patterns are associated with different
extents of inequality.Here is the article abstract:
Small-scale human societies range from foraging bands with a strong
egalitarian ethos to more economically stratified agrarian and pastoral
societies. We explain this variation in inequality using a dynamic
model in which a population’s long-run steady-state level of inequality
depends on the extent to which its most important forms of wealth are
transmitted within families across generations. We estimate the degree
of intergenerational transmission of three different types of wealth
(material, embodied, and relational), as well as the extent of wealth
inequality in 21 historical and contemporary populations. We show that
intergenerational transmission of wealth and wealth inequality are
substantial among pastoral and small-scale agricultural societies (on a
par with or even exceeding the most unequal modern industrial
economies) but are limited among horticultural and foraging peoples
(equivalent to the most egalitarian of modern industrial populations).
Differences in the technology by which a people derive their livelihood
and in the institutions and norms making up the economic system jointly
contribute to this pattern.
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