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Is Inequality The Product Of Cognitive Biases?

DonaldMcIntyre          3 May 2015 04:46 PM

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Dahlen 3 May 2015 05:36 PM

There are many kinds of inequality; I'm assuming you mean social stratification into status groups (formal or informal hierarchy), rather than ability inequality or even strictly economic inequality.

At the core of it, I'd say no. Hierarchy arises out of an appetite for domination, that can exist as a terminal goal even among hypothetical perfectly rational beings. Whenever it works to do so, it can be justified through arguments that exploit flaws in human reasoning, but those are not a necessary condition.

By the way, this is going out on a limb, but the question can also be interpreted as whether a desire for egalitarianism, or the perception of inequality (and the need to combat it), is the product of cognitive biases.


melian 4 May 2015 02:57 PM

How people are perceived by others is an important factor. Still, cultural traditions, parental socioeconomic status and genetics are probably much more important.
Some groups (e.g., East Asian emigrants) tend to rise in almost any cultural environment, be it in Europe, Africa or Latin America. If cognitive biases were the dominant factor, success and failure would vary strongly depending on the local culture.


DonaldMcIntyre 3 May 2015 05:08 PM

My first impression regarding this issue is that yes, inequality is the product of cognitive biases, fallacies, bad heuristics, and other erroneous information packets.


Group thinking: I belong to a group and the fate of that group is my fate, therefore I need to benefit members of my group and discriminate against people of other groups.

Stereotypes: A guy with a hoodie in a dark alley must be dangerous, if he is Black or Latino even more.

Association: If I mingle with rich people I might get rich myself.

Lazy vs hard working fallacy: The poor are lazy and the rich are hard working, therefore their wealth situation is fair.

Free market for the sake of free markets: Network effects, increasing returns, corruption, unfair practices, etc. don't exist, wealth is only the product of fair market distribution.

Small or big government as opposed to sound government: Government only subtracts value or government is the only way to makes things fair.


VoiceOfRa 3 May 2015 10:48 PM

Yes, the better you are at overcoming your cognitive biases (and at instrumental rationality more generally), the higher your status is going to be.