The Political Economy of Status

The Political Economy of Status

Superstars, Markets and Culture Change

Theodore Koutsobinas

In this timely book Theodore Koutsobinas explores the system of status markets and their social effects including inequality. He explains how media fascination with superstars and luxury consumption goods amplify positional concerns for all, distort the aspirations of the middle class and cause relative deprivation. Building on themes first identified by Veblen and Galbraith, Koutsobinas analyses extensively the behavioural evidence from modern interdisciplinary research and contributes constructively to a new genre of economic analysis. The Political Economy of Status compels us to consider seriously redistributive culture change policies targeted to assist the underprivileged. This book will be a valuable and lively reading resource for academics in various fields including economic theory, political economy, sociology, social psychology and cultural studies.

Chapter 9: The political economy of status and culture change policy

Theodore Koutsobinas

Subjects: economics and finance, behavioural and experimental economics, cultural economics, economic psychology, political economy, politics and public policy, political economy, social policy and sociology, sociology and sociological theory


Policies about positional markets can involve to a great extent a form of cultural engineering. In this connection, moral leadership is an important issue in social policy formulation and implementation. When moral leadership is weak, few social projects that require substantive changes will be undertaken because the voluntary support of people for them will also be weak. In our post-modern environment, individualism causes poor social participation and becomes the main source of individual emotional rewards. For example, people may prefer to derive satisfaction and positive emotions by identifying with branded products rather than by participating in voluntary work. However, the social costs of positional feel-good lifestyles have been underestimated because we live in a world of intense commercialization. Thus a different form of leadership than the one that we observe nowadays is required to overcome pessimistic considerations with regard to political costs and campaign financing. Today there is growing recognition of the problems that result from both unmitigated self-interest and impulsive choice. In this framework, the support of norms is an important movement to strengthen trust in order to eliminate attitudes associated with positional markets. These attitudes involve often opportunism or prejudice. Yet culture change leadership policies can be adopted that discourage the gratification of emotional branding. Naturally, public intervention may not prove an easy task. Difficulties may arise during the implementation of policies imposing social norms.

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