Status and Contract
By Arnold Kling
progress necessarily involves freeing individuals from their status stations — freeing persons from stations assigned by circumstances such as skin color, family name, genitalia, sexuality, nationality — and thereby allowing individuals to determine as best as each can his or her own course through his or her own voluntary choices — that is, through contract
Without denying the value of this insight, which Boudreaux credits to Henry Sumner Maine, I am skeptical that we shall ever be free from focusing on status. That is, a lot of what we try to accomplish through voluntary choice is an attempt to create status differentials.
For example, if you look at the salary structure in a corporation, you may see greed. There is that, but there is also what I would call a male dominance hierarchy, with salary constituting an important indicator of one’s place in that hierarchy.
If you look at an academic department, with the emphasis on individual ranking and on the ranking of the department relative to similar departments in other universities, you may see pursuit of knowledge. There is that, but there is also another male dominance hierarchy.
If you look at politics, you may see good guys and bad guys, and you vote for the good guys. There is that, but there is also a male dominance hierarchy.
I would rather see men channel their drive for dominance into market behavior than political behavior, for reasons that Adam Smith first articulated. Competition often works for my benefit in the market. In politics, it seems to work toward achieving ever-greater concentration of power with little marginal benefit from my perspective.
Incidentally, if you do not like the pop sociobiology implied by my use of the term “male dominance hierarchies,” feel free to think instead of gender-neutral dominance hierarchies.