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Inequality, Social Respectability, Political Power, and Environmental Devastation

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  • Jon D. Wisman

Abstract

Although healthy societies may require a degree of material inequality, higher levels of inequality have been linked to negative social consequences ranging from poorer health to lessened democracy. However, the greatest contemporary threat of excessive inequality might be its contribution to increased environmental degradation. This article explores the manner in which inequality augments consumption, by drawing upon Thorstein Veblen's theory of consumer behavior whereby in societies in which fluid social mobility is believed possible, inequality encourages households to seek social certification through consumption. The ideology, institutions, and behavior generated by this focus on consumption reduce the potential for people to achieve certification of value through more environmentally friendly domains such as work and community. This article also addresses the manner in which inequality impedes responses aimed at reducing environmental damage by augmenting the political power of those whose interests would be most harmed by measures to protect the environment.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by M.E. Sharpe, Inc. in its journal Journal of Economic Issues.

Volume (Year): 45 (2011)
Issue (Month): 4 (December)
Pages: 877-900

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Handle: RePEc:mes:jeciss:v:45:y:2011:i:4:p:877-900

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Web page: http://www.mesharpe.com/mall/results1.asp?acr=jei

Related research

Keywords: community; conspicuous consumption; ideology; social status; work quality;

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References

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  1. Samuel Bowles & Yongjin Park, 2003. "Emulation, Inequality, and Work Hours: Was Thorsten Veblen Right," Department of Economics University of Siena 409, Department of Economics, University of Siena.
  2. Boyce, James K. & Klemer, Andrew R. & Templet, Paul H. & Willis, Cleve E., 1999. "Power distribution, the environment, and public health: A state-level analysis," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 127-140, April.
  3. Princen, Thomas, 1997. "The shading and distancing of commerce: When internalization is not enough," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 20(3), pages 235-253, March.
  4. Morgan Kelly, 2000. "Inequality And Crime," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 82(4), pages 530-539, November.
  5. Torras, Mariano & Boyce, James K., 1998. "Income, inequality, and pollution: a reassessment of the environmental Kuznets Curve," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(2), pages 147-160, May.
  6. J. Solnick, Sara & Hemenway, David, 1998. "Is more always better?: A survey on positional concerns," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 373-383, November.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Jon D. Wisman, 2013. "Government Is Whose Problem?," Journal of Economic Issues, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., vol. 47(4), pages 911-938, December.
  2. Jon D. Wisman & Aaron Pacitti, 2013. "Ending the Crisis With Guaranteed Employment and Retraining," Working Papers 2013-12, American University, Department of Economics.
  3. Jon D. Wisman & Matthew E. Davis, 2013. "Degraded Work, Declining Community, Rising Inequality, and the Transformation of the Protestant Ethic in America: 1870–1930," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 72(5), pages 1075-1105, November.
  4. Maria S. Floro, 2012. "The Crises of Environment and Social Reproduction: Understanding their Linkages," Working Papers 2012-04, American University, Department of Economics.

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