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Monday, May 23, 2016

The Son Also Rises: Part 1

I am reading this book (by a Princeton researcher of social mobility) at present - Click HERE. Its contents blow my mind and disturb me. So, I feel compelled to blog about it as a way of exorcising my own demons of cognitive dissonance. The book basically says the same thing as this article HERE (about Italian research into social mobility).

Florence, Italy
Researchers compared tax data from 1427 and compared it to tax data collected in 2011 and found that families who were wealthy in 1427 were also wealthy in 2011. In between 1427 to 2011, Florence passed from Medici rule towards republican rule. The city was then conquered by Rome. After that, it was conquered by Napoleon. After that, Mussolini came into power, allowing a Nazi occupation of Italy. Then, Italy burst into economic growth known as the "miracle economic italiano".

Every time a conqueror takes over, there is social upheaval. Despite multiple shake-ups and social turbulence where rich people's wealth were taken away and given to others, 600 years later, the families that were wealthy in 1427 tended strongly to also be wealthy in 2011.

Researchers compared the data on (1) those who passed the Qing dynasty imperial examinations and (2) those who are currently found in the modern elites in China today. They found that families prominent in the Qing dynasty are today high Nationalist officials (2.24 times over represented), prominent professors of elite universities (1.88 times over represented), chairs of company boards (1.62 times over represented) and central government officials (1.46 times over represented).

3 of these prominent families are surnamed Gu, Shen and Qian. Anecdotally, we have the infamous Gu Kailai, who was politically powerful before she was convicted of murder. We also have Sim Ann (who really should not be mentioned in the same paragraph as Gu Kailai because she is NOT evil) whose surname in Chinese is pronounced "Shen".

The descendants of families who were wealthy and powerful hundreds of years ago are still part of societies' elites (no matter in China nor in Singapore today). This is so DESPITE the fact that between 1905 and today, China went through social upheavals of incredible ferocity and brutality. Between 1946-1953, 43% of the farmland was taken away from the wealthy and redistributed to the poor. 800,000 landowners were executed. Next, the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, relatives of former landlords and prominent entrepreneurs were sent by the hundreds of thousands to the countryside for hard labour, so that they could be poor too. The total death toll of such privileged people has been estimated as 10 million. 10 million people who were elite or had ties to the elite were killed.

Yet, despite concerted attempts to dispossess the wealthy and put poor people on top, political, business and intellectual elites today in China, are still comprised of a preponderance of individuals who come from the same families already prominent, when China was under Imperial rule.

United States of America
Researchers found that white people with French surnames were over-represented in the low socio-economic stratum. Conversely, people with Japanese family heritage were over-represented in the high socio-economic stratum.

It turned out that due to a quirk of history, the French people who moved down from Quebec to North America went there to work as low cost labour in factories. Conversely, the Japanese who migrated to the United States of America did so at a time when Japan was poor and the elites were the only ones who could leave for better pastures.

My Thoughts
It seems that people find their own levels in society no matter whether they go to a new world or stay in their own. It seems that people find their own levels in society no matter whether there are social upheavals or not. Human societies seem to have the same properties as a mixture of oil, water and sand.

If all this research is to be believed, then it really does not matter what we do to increase social mobility, right? Isn't this depressing? The researchers do not go into the possible REASONS why the family heritage is so strong.

In my next blogpost, I will advance my own ideas. Of course, I am just doing this as a matter of conjecture. I don't think this line of research is sufficiently explored to venture any definitive conclusions.

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