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The poorer we feel, the more meat we eat

What it means: Some Australian scientists recently did a bunch of experimentsand found that when people feel poor, they want to eat more meat. While studies like this, which mainly worked with university students, should always be taken with a pinch of salt (and some brown sauce), the researchers' conclusion that people treat meat as a status symbol does match up with previous studies that find people lower down the socioeconomic food chain are more likely to buy big status items, like flashy cars.

It’s now pretty widely accepted that lots of meat eating (especially red meat) is bad for our health and our environment. Sicker people and a sicker planet have knock-on effects on our economy. Ill people are unhappier, and work less. Lots more ill and out-of-work people requires lots more government money to be spent on healthcare and welfare. Animal farmland destroys the habitats of wild species. Climate change (partly caused by burping cows) causes weather that damages property and hurts people: flooding, stronger hurricanes, droughts, etc.

So if people do eat more meat the poorer they feel, economists and governments have an extra incentive to stop people feeling poor. Which in practice probably means doing something about wealth inequality, because people tend to judge how well-off they are by looking at other people around them. And they might want to get on that sharpish, because at the moment most people think wealth inequality is growing around the world.

Read our explainers on social mobility and environmental economics.

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Reader Comments

  • RW

    Your right to a degree. You mentioned “the wandering Jew”.

    I elaborate that the Jewish people, historically have tended to migrate almost exclusively to locations that are economically and culturally vibrant already. I would speculate that Jews have thrived in these places and have often improved the bounds of their economies and knowledge base.

    You can also ask; how many massive entertainment conglomerates, Nobel winners or billionaires has Isreal developed? If Jews are so capable, why isn’t Tel Aviv the Rome of our time?

    Jews are successful because they value education, maintain a strong social cohesive, they actively monitor and have a good sense for Zeitgeist wherever they are and they carefully choose the places they settle and congregate themselves heavily in these choice locations.

    But most importantly (haulocaust increased the importance of this aspect), they actually designed their culture for success. They not only attend Harvard, they use what they learned to better the group as a whole. With as much, they studied intricate networking systems, adapted to it and in many cases improved upon them. (See how Japan acquired Aegis warships and made them better).

    Of course there is nothing wrong with any of this. It’s when you elaborately gain disproportionate power in any society where you would stand out, you must take care when attempting to make a society better (Civil Rights movement) and rewriting that society all together (mass immigration). Ask blacks in China, Mexico, Philippines or India how much opportunity they have? Go to businesses owned by their American diaspora and see how many blacks they hire. Go to Silicon Valley and see how many East or South Asian tech workers wish they could work with more black people. California might work as a state, but as a nation, I think your rolling the nuclear dice here. I hope we can succeed as a tolerant pluralistic superpower but at this stage in human societal development, it’s a pipe dream.

    And if Jews really are the icon for success, they would see that fundamental human successes happen over generations. Just look at the rest of the planet? Are we ready?