Inequality, 'silver spoon' effect found in ancient societies

Oct 29, 2009

The so-called "silver spoon" effect -- in which wealth is passed down from one generation to another -- is well established in some of the world's most ancient economies, according to an international study coordinated by a UC Davis anthropologist.

The study, to be reported in the Oct. 30 issue of Science, expands economists' conventional focus on material riches, and looks at various kinds of , such as hunting success, food sharing partners, and kinship networks.

The team found that some kinds of wealth, like material possessions, are much more easily passed on than social networks or foraging abilities. Societies where material wealth is most valued are therefore the most unequal, said Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, the UC Davis anthropology professor who coordinated the study with economist Samuel Bowles of the Santa Fe Institute.

The researchers also showed that levels of inequality are influenced both by the types of wealth important to a society and the governing rules and regulations.

The study may offer some insight into the not-too-distant future.

"An interesting implication of this is that the Internet Age will not necessarily assure equality, despite the fact that its knowledge-based capital is quite difficult to restrict and less readily transmitted only from parents to offspring," Borgerhoff Mulder said.

"Whether the greater importance of networks and knowledge, together with the lesser importance of material wealth, will weaken the link between parental and next-generation wealth, and thus provide opportunities for a more egalitarian society, will depend on the institutions and norms prevailing in a society," she said.

For years, studies of economic inequality have been limited by a lack of data on all but contemporary, market-based societies. To broaden the scope of that knowledge, Borgerhoff Mulder, Bowles and 24 other anthropologists, economists and statisticians from more than a dozen institutions analyzed patterns of inherited wealth and economic inequality around the world.

The team included three others from UC Davis - economics professor Gregory Clark, anthropology professor Richard McElreath and Adrian Bell, a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Group in Ecology.

They focused not on nations, but on types of societies - hunter gatherers such as those found in Africa and South America; horticulturalists, or small, low-tech slash-and-burn farming communities typical of South America, Africa and Asia; pastoralists, the herders of East Africa and Central Asia; and land-owning farmers and peasants who use ploughs and were studied in India, pre-modern Europe and parts of Africa.

Source: University of California - Davis

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User comments : 22

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Sean_W
2.4 / 5 (9) Oct 29, 2009
How dare those evil people try to bestow the fruits of their labor on their own children instead of spreading it around to other people's children - especially those who don't work as hard. I guess the hate crime of refusing to live at an equal level of lifestyle as the laziest and most mentally ill is an old one.
marjon
4.7 / 5 (6) Oct 29, 2009
Did they find that those born with 'silver spoons' who don't know how to work for the wealth, won't keep it long?
Thrasymachus
5 / 5 (8) Oct 29, 2009
Yeah! Because God knows nobody has every created a fortune to pass on to their kids through slavery, extortion or outright fraud. And even if they did, it's not like our economy is full of evil people willing to sell painted lead like subprime mortgage derivatives as the gold of AAA rated securities. Or use their wealth to unbalance the scales of justice in their favor.

Seriously, this article says that societies that value ability and knowledge over material possessions are more equal because those things are harder to pass to your kids than material stuff, and you think it's some subversive call to communism or something. I guess only a socialist would value the ability to make a Mercedes Benz over the Mercedes Benz itself.
Skepticus
3 / 5 (2) Oct 29, 2009
yawn...slow news these days for this sector of this insignificant galaxy.Just the usual bickering amongst the herds of Homoerectus descendants.
WithOneT
1 / 5 (7) Oct 30, 2009
Sounds like socialist propaganda. Why is being successful enough to provide to your offspring suddenly considered evil?
frajo
4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 30, 2009
Why is being successful enough to provide to your offspring suddenly considered evil?

Because a society will become dynamically unstable if there's a growing subset of silverspoon owners without merit. It's one of the disadvantages the Neolithic Revolution brought forth.
3432682
1 / 5 (7) Oct 30, 2009
Wealth is wonderful. Virtually all of humanity is engaged in the greatest period of general prosperity in history. The socialists and greenies hate it, and are fabricating a new pessimism, now that Marxism has proven to be complete crap.
otto1923
1 / 5 (1) Oct 30, 2009
Because a society will become dynamically unstable if there's a growing subset of silverspoon owners without merit. It's one of the disadvantages the Neolithic Revolution brought forth.
Whaaat?? Disparity is only a problem when theres not enough of the basics for everybody. There were certainly haves and havenots in prehistory- those who were good hunters and fighters survived- those who werent suffered and died. We are overevolved and prone to deterioration from gen to gen. Without the cleansing fire of war and catastrophe, disparity can only grow. Augustine said it well- only the crucible of hardship can separate wheat from chaff. In so many words.
marjon
2 / 5 (1) Oct 30, 2009
Why is being successful enough to provide to your offspring suddenly considered evil?

Because a society will become dynamically unstable if there's a growing subset of silverspoon owners without merit. It's one of the disadvantages the Neolithic Revolution brought forth.

Who will hire those with 'ability'?

Henry Ford didn't have a high school education and after becoming rich stated he could hire all the smart people he needed.
ryanf
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 30, 2009
The problem isn't that people work hard for their possessions and pass those onto their kids. There's nothing wrong with accumulating wealth. The problem is when this becomes a structural issue and people who haven't had to work for a thing maintain power and status while those born into poor families work as hard as possible with no chance of reward due to structural limitations imposed by those who already have power. This is a structural condition, not an individual issue.

I'm not saying this is necessarily the case in our society, but that's the real issue. It has nothing to do with communism or socialism, but rather the sense of opportunity and social mobility upon which capitalism and the american dream are based.

The debate should not be whether or not we should take the hard earned capital from the rich and give it to the poor. The debate is whether or not we are living in a society that allows those born without silver spoons to some day acquire one.
frajo
1 / 5 (1) Oct 30, 2009
Henry Ford didn't have a high school education and after becoming rich stated he could hire all the smart people he needed.

We are talking here about a different combination of personality traits: silverspoon=yes, merits=no.
KBK
5 / 5 (2) Oct 31, 2009
Silver spoon mentaility originates in a lack of depth of thought and lack of depth of character, with regard to emotions and self created limits (via those emotions) creates an environment of 'me' over 'them'. Ie, low empathy.

It's not a socialism against capitalism issue, it's a 'specific individual formentative mindset as created/erected against/via a backdrop of specific individual physiological design' issue.

Look deeper (for once), and maybe the answers might finally emerge. empathy is the originator of social cohesion and actually is the core concern that allows for any sort of society and culture that expands and arises in a humane way.

Capitalism is rooted in the low empathy exploitation of such. Calling social considerations of workable cohesion and cohabitation, ie "basic socialism" (with regards to a social aspect of basic operation).. a 'dirty filthy marxist, etc' thing is a prime example of capitalism as a exploitation system -attempting to hide and protect itself.
KBK
not rated yet Oct 31, 2009
All this exploitation is tied to the creation of fiat currencies and that which surround them (mentality as a main backdrop).

This occurred, insofar as CURRENT records go..back into Sumerian culture.It apparently goes back as far as 12,000 years. I'd say it is not the root and causal point but merely an erection of those who feed off societies.

The problem lies much deeper.

Note that the theories arsing around the origins of secret societies (which involve such mentalities) go back to these Sumerian times - and even further. What we are talking about here, is a very stable and solid, highly evolved system -- of secret ways and methodologies of exploitation -- on many levels.
twasnow
not rated yet Nov 01, 2009
Yeah, there are lazy families today who raise their kids to be factory workers and general labourers, there were lazy families 6000 years ago who did the bare minimum to survive.

Money is not the only thing that is passed down. While the internet may help middle class (in all societies) there will ALWAYS be those that don't strive for anything better and won't use the resources available to them.. Just like it's been for the last 10,000 years.
marjon
1 / 5 (1) Nov 02, 2009
The problem isn't that people work hard for their possessions and pass those onto their kids. There's nothing wrong with accumulating wealth. The problem is when this becomes a structural issue and people who haven't had to work for a thing maintain power and status while those born into poor families work as hard as possible with no chance of reward due to structural limitations imposed by those who already have power. This is a structural condition, not an individual issue.

I'm not saying this is necessarily the case in our society, but that's the real issue. It has nothing to do with communism or socialism, but rather the sense of opportunity and social mobility upon which capitalism and the american dream are based.


Yes, it is about socialism.
marjon
1 / 5 (1) Nov 02, 2009
Henry Ford didn't have a high school education and after becoming rich stated he could hire all the smart people he needed.

We are talking here about a different combination of personality traits: silverspoon=yes, merits=no.


Henry Ford was born with a silver spoon in his mouth? I think not. He earned his wealth.
OdinsAcolyte
not rated yet Nov 02, 2009
"the poor are with us always."; Joshua, son of Joseph (Lat.; Jesus). A bit of truth. No matter the social organization this shall be true. Capitalism is still the best. At least one has a shot at something better.
frajo
3 / 5 (2) Nov 02, 2009
Henry Ford didn't have a high school education and after becoming rich stated he could hire all the smart people he needed.

We are talking here about a different combination of personality traits: silverspoon=yes, merits=no.


Henry Ford was born with a silver spoon in his mouth? I think not. He earned his wealth.

Yes. And therefore he does not meet the criterion of this article. And therefore you are OT.
marjon
not rated yet Nov 02, 2009
frajo:
"Because a society will become dynamically unstable if there's a growing subset of silverspoon owners without merit. It's one of the disadvantages the Neolithic Revolution brought forth."

How do you judge merit? People who earned their wealth can keep it as long as they don't pass it along to their offspring? They can't put silver spoons in their childrens' mouths?
frajo
1 / 5 (1) Nov 02, 2009
frajo:
Because a society will become dynamically unstable if there's a growing subset of silverspoon owners without merit. It's one of the disadvantages the Neolithic Revolution brought forth.


How do you judge merit? People who earned their wealth can keep it as long as they don't pass it along to their offspring?
In your own words: Someone who earns his wealth (in a legitimate way).
They can't put silver spoons in their childrens' mouths?

Obviously they can. The question is if this is wise.
marjon
1 / 5 (1) Nov 04, 2009
frajo:
Because a society will become dynamically unstable if there's a growing subset of silverspoon owners without merit. It's one of the disadvantages the Neolithic Revolution brought forth.


How do you judge merit? People who earned their wealth can keep it as long as they don't pass it along to their offspring?
In your own words: Someone who earns his wealth (in a legitimate way).
They can't put silver spoons in their childrens' mouths?

Obviously they can. The question is if this is wise.

Who decides if it is wise and what should be done about it?
frajo
1 / 5 (1) Nov 04, 2009
frajo:
Because a society will become dynamically unstable if there's a growing subset of silverspoon owners without merit. It's one of the disadvantages the Neolithic Revolution brought forth.


How do you judge merit? People who earned their wealth can keep it as long as they don't pass it along to their offspring?
In your own words: Someone who earns his wealth (in a legitimate way).
They can't put silver spoons in their childrens' mouths?

Obviously they can. The question is if this is wise.

Who decides if it is wise and what should be done about it?

The society decides if and what should be done. History then decides if that decision was wise. Obviously, the Mayas' decisions were not wise. Obviously, the Romans' decisions neither.
OTH the cultural identities of the Chinese and of the Greek still are around after thousands of years.