Status for status sake is a fact of political life

by rockthecasbah1 min read18th Aug 202011 comments

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Social StatusTribalismPoliticsWorld Modeling
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Epistemic status: Exploring a new area (new to me)

Recently I was listening to Political Scientist Bruce Bueno De Mesquita on the Econtalk podcast. BdM had just established that Jefferson Davis, when offered the presidency of the confederacy, already knew the South would lose the war. In fact, he publicly stated that they would lose in 6 months.

The economist then asked "well, if he knew he would lose, why did he take the position?" BdM made the mistake of giving a convoluted answer about the material advantages of fame and respect. Perhaps a bettering answer is just "people strongly desire status".

People have a revealed preference for status. Why did Donald Trump decide to take a stressful 12-hour-a-day job in his mid seventies? Why did Kruschev kill Beria? Why did Huey Long use a lackey to control both Louisiana's senate seat and governorship? Why do representatives stay for decades in the powerful US senate, but give up after every term in Jordan's powerless parliament?

A game theorist cannot tell you why the utility function of nearly every politician is "become more loved by everyone and have more power". That is a question for psychologists and evo psych and cultural anthropologists. What we do know is that this preference is widespread and strong enough to drive a levelheaded man to lead a doomed rebellion. And we know a lot about how they compete for status.