Relative Affluence: Elite Perception of Inequality in Mexico

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Alice KROZER, Centre of Development Studies, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
Results from interviews with members of the Mexican elite show that their perceptions of inequality condition their response to the problem, in terms of perceived urgency and policy space for action. Thus, elites and the perceptions they hold feature prominently in both 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 a “wealth delusion”: an alienation from society at large, and distorted view of “reality” as experienced by other socio-economic groups. Members of the elite interviewed consistently underestimate their own socio-economic position as well as the extent of poverty from the masses, decreasing 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. The observation that personal experience of immediate environments tends to condition the general perception of the state of, and often also trends in, distributional dynamics, can be understood as “relative affluence” (as analogous to relative poverty). 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, overwhelmingly limited to demands for better education and extreme poverty relief. Other key topics addressed in interviews include: considerations as to the perceived origins, potential consequences of, and means to deal with inequality; inequality's relation with corruption, impunity and violence; interviewees' “ideal” society and their take on the state of socio-economic affairs in the country.