Status Signals All the Way Down

At every socioeconomic level there are choices set out for us.

At lower income or entry-level socioeconomic tiers there are choices like these:

Should I buy Tide detergent? Or should I buy All at a 40% lower price point?
Should I buy regular chicken or pay double for organic, free-range, cruelty-free chicken?

As you work your way up the socioeconomic ladder, the questions change shape a little bit:

Should I buy another Honda Civic, or am I ready to step up to a BMW? Or am I the kind of distinctive person who drives an Audi, or a Jaguar?

At still higher socioeconomic levels you can ask yourself things like:

Should I live in Summit, NJ or am really a Basking Ridge kind of person?
Should I send my child to private school? Should I consider Hotchkiss or Choate?
Should I consider the Rolex? Or am I ready for the Patek Philippe?

No matter how high you go, these aspirational questions never end.

Should buy a pied-à-terre in SoHo, or on the Upper East Side?
Should I winter in Miami? Or Turks and Caicos? Or Buenos Aires? After all I'm quite an international person.

It shouldn't surprise us to find aspirational tiers for megayachts, private jets and major professional sports teams. Remember: billionaires like Larry Ellison and Paul Allen are status-signalling primates too.

As you read though this post, it’s entirely possible that these choices quickly begin to sound ridiculous to a person who happens to be far removed, socioeconomically speaking, from the upper tiers.

Then again: do you think a wealthy person cares about the type of detergent they buy? These "games" appear ridiculous from both angles.

And yet people still believe they need to make whatever choices there are at their level. And, worse, as we move up the ladder (if we are fortunate enough to do so), we effortlessly start to make decisions that used to seem ridiculous, but somehow don't any more because our brains adjust so easily to new levels of wealth, comfort and status.

Now, if you play the money game right and save and invest properly over the course of your life, rest assured: you will be facing decisions at tiers far above where you are now.

The question is, will you make these decisions from a place of self-awareness? Will you understand the greater game being played around you that structures these endless signals, these endless aspirational products? Or will you be a checkers player, obediently and enthusiastically choosing the Patek Philippe watch when it's your turn to do so?

Eventually, if you’re lucky, you’ll recognize that a system has set out the frame, the structure, of these choices across your whole life. This system "allows" you to make a series of choices from a series of pre-set menus.

Once you realize these are all pre-chewed choices that aren’t really choices at all, you escape the system. You start avoiding making these decisions at all, saving you time, mental effort... and an absolute shit-ton of money. Ironically, this simply accelerates your move up the socioeconomic ladder.

The only way to win this game is not to play.

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Unknown said...

Great post!

JCS said...

That shows you how professors are paid. You lost me at the chicken. BMW? lol.