It would be agreeable to a larger extent that inequality is becoming fully entrenched in the 21st century and that developed economies are actually headed towards ‘patrimonial capitalism’ and oligarchy. To put it simply, the term meritocracy has been on the decline and what is left behind is ascribed statuses of inherited wealth. For ease of further discussion, certain terms would be defined first and later linked up to how they are largely in tuned to the statement above.
Ascribed status is better known as a position in a social system that is beyond an individual’s control. It is not earned, but rather something people are either born with or had no control over (sociology.about.com). Contrary to ascribed status is achieved status which is a position in a social system that is acquired on the basis of merit, a status that is earned or chosen and reflects a person’s skills, abilities and efforts (sociology.about.com). The former is more related to oligarchy, which means the social system of a state is under the political control of a small elite group, and patrimonial capitalism while the latter would be tied closely to meritocracy and democracy. The main argument is that the former is what is prevailing at present and this would be analysed further in this essay.
One of the central arguments raised by these economists was that ‘patrimonial capitalism’ that once dictated the world for the longest time has actually returned and would be here to stay if legislators fail to take the appropriate actions deemed necessary in order to narrow the social inequality. The term patrimonial capitalism is actually means that the economic elite more often than not acquire their wealth through inheritance rather than their own merits of entrepreneurship, perhaps. Take for example the top 10 richest Americans on the Forbes list. Four of them are Wal-Mart heirs while two are the Koch brothers. Which means that 6 out of 10 richest Americans mostly inherited their money and this spectrum would be getting larger and larger as the high earners at the top of the economy; the top 1% of the population is the ones who are getting more affluent due to the monetary gains that they have. The returns they earn from the existing capital are considerably higher than the rate of which the economy grows and this results to the all too infamous saying ‘The rich gets richer, the poor gets poorer” and the explosion of inequality. At this rate, the future, if it is already not happening, is going to be dominated by inherited wealth as capital concentrates in fewer and fewer hands thus giving the rich ever guarded power of a politics governance, which further explains patrimonial capitalism. Considering that this group of elites, those who have the ascribed status, have amassed huge wealth that brings them to buy over anything that entails them too, and that also includes buying of the state governance and politics, which is a fragile entity that could bring about negative consequences at the wrong hands.
The most relevant sociological theory on social class that applies to the situation at hand would be Karl Marx’s Conflict Theory Perspective on Class. Based in this idea, he believes that there are only two classes of people, the bourgeoisie (owners of the means of production such as factories and businesses and equipments required for the production of wealth) and the proletariat (simply put, the labourers). According to Marx’s theory, in the contemporary and capitalist world we live in today, the bourgeoisie exploit workers without them even realising it. Employees are paid adequately enough to afford food and shelter and have a misconception that they are well paid and well-to-do. But they fail to realise the difference between being in a privileged position as compared to being wealthy. With the bourgeoisies gaining from the revenues of productions and only a certain percentage going into labour income, the understanding that the middle class...
References: Appelrouth, Scott A. and Edles, Laura D. (2012). Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory. SAGE Publications.
Hirschman, Dan. (17th April 2014). ‘Piketty’s Patrimonial Capitalism and the Racial Wealth Gap’ (http://asociologist.com/2014/04/17/pikettys-patrimonial-capitalism-and-the-racial-wealth-gap/)
Hsu, Sara. (21st May 2014). ‘China, Piketty, and Patrimonial Capitalism’ (http://thediplomat.com/2014/05/china-piketty-and-patrimonial-capitalism/)
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