Mexican Elites and the (Re-)Production of Inequality

Saturday, June 25, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:00 PM
89 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Alice Krozer, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom; University of Stanford, Palo Alto, CA
The aim of this paper is twofold: on the one hand, it is to examine the perceptions of influential members within the elite on inequality, and its potential remedies, in Mexico. This could contribute to understanding the astonishing persistence of inequality in the country, and help formulate policy reactions in a way “acceptable” to the elite, to ensure their (institutional) support for such demands. On the other hand, it is to show that their detachment from common life as experienced by the remainder of society has profound implications on their standing vis-à-vis inequality in general, the estimation of their own (socio-economic) position within society, and hence understanding of what inequality looks like in the country. How do those in positions of institutional influence perceive unequal distributions in the country? What are their views on recent inequality trends, what are their projections for the future? Which, if any, do they consider adequate policy measures to address the issue? And how do the resulting power asymmetries enable or hinder (egalitarian) economic and social development in the country? These are some of the questions this paper aims to start answering.

ANTICIPATED FINDINGS: Analyzing the data obtained from the interviews I expect to find supporting evidence for the impact of elites on inequality along two mutually reinforcing dimensions: the production, and reproduction of inequality. Their privileged position fosters a voluntary segregation from the top, i.e. the retreat of elites from public life as experienced by the majority, both in terms of physical spaces, cultural and intellectual spheres, and usage of public goods such as healthcare, education, transport etc. This leads to an alienation from society at large, and eventually to a distorted view of “reality” as experienced by other socio-economic groups. As such, the interviews show that members of the elite consistently underestimate their own socio-economic position as well as the dimension and extension of poverty from the masses, which might translate into diminishing feelings of responsibility and/or decreased perceived urgency to act against inequality. Differences between them and other, poorer population groups are often amplified by insistence on different “cultures” (language, leisure activities, interests), appearance, education and aspirations between groups. Personal experience of immediate environments tends to condition the general perception of the state of, and often also trends in, distributional dynamics. Despite the general worry about inequality in the abstract, interviewees largely share a feeling of entitlement that justifies their own position as “deserving” and shapes their preferred policy reactions to inequality, which tend to limit themselves to demands for better education and extreme poverty relief. Other key topics addressed in interviews include elites' take on: inequality trends; considerations as to the origins of inequality; potential consequences on society and the economy that they attribute to inequality; means to deal with inequality (or not); as well as demographic/personal data allowing for some conclusions on their perception of the social state of the country, but also their “ideal” society – modeled variably on the Nordic countries or US American ideology.