In 2019 a British man in the audience of the BBC show Question Time, criticised the UK Labour party’s plans to tax the top 5% of incomes – insisting he would be hit by this tax despite being "nowhere near even the top 50%" of earners. As it turned out, he was earning £80,000: firmly in the top 5% of incomes. How could he be so misguided as to his socio-economic status?
Studies show it’s not absolute income that drives us, but relative income to our peers. You can feel poor in the top 5% if your mimetic rivals are in the top 1%. The friendship paradox worsens the effect. Most people’s friends have more friends than they do, because the most popular people are friends with everyone; and being rich makes you popular. Negative social judgment causes a spike in stress 3x higher than non-social stressful situations, and receiving a compliment activates the same regions of the brain as enjoying chocolate.
This explains why children of wealthy parents aren’t happy. If you were destined to inherit millions just by being born, the rest of the people you grew up with were also likely baby millionaires. You don’t have the luxury of friends of lower socio-economic status to keep you grounded, like your parents may have. So instead you develop luxury beliefs: ideals that would be costly for someone who couldn’t afford to adopt them. For example championing polyamory, casual drug use, or neo-communism: the same ideals that are frowned upon when adopted by the working class. When these ‘mind viruses’ get copied by the lower classes, they’re abandoned as the rich move on.
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