How status symbols work

Status symbols act like flags or markers to show how much skill or resources someone has, allowing you to spend more time with the people who would give you a higher return.

When someone walks in wearing an expensive suit and with a handcrafted Swiss watch on their wrist, you might get the feeling that the person is more important than someone who is wearing a torn blue overall. Status symbols are usually more expensive than their non-luxury mundane counterparts.

Status symbols are a way for people to signal towards each other that they are successful and/or have a high status. It only makes sense that people who have more money are more likely to afford more expensive possessions and have a stronger business. It just makes sense that someone who seems to have more money to spend would be a more successful business person/entrepreneur/sales person. As a general trend people who earn higher salaries or have more wealth are better educated and have a more refined sense of culture. Paying more than the intrinsic value for a status good is justified if you rephrase it as purchasing a flag or badge that you use to signal to other people in what social class you are.

If status symbols were to disappear it would be much harder to do business and have social interactions. You would have to get to know every person individually before deciding whether to interact or not; a whole layer of pre-selection would disintegrate. Instead of rejecting interaction with some people based on sight, potentially from beyond hearing distance, you would have to walk right up to the person and talk to them. You might spend 15 minutes chatting with someone before finding out that they are unemployed and so will definitely not be able to go on an overseas tour with you.

In ancient times things were quite a bit less complex. There was no way for someone to “fake” an expensive coach or a country manor staffed with servants; if they possessed any of those status symbols, it was a given fact that they had the wealth to buy it, or they inherited it from their family.

Now there is China (feels as if everything is produced there nowdays) and plastic that looks like gold. Synthetic diamonds and mass production have created an immense surplus of many goods. In some cases this allows people to easily fake a level of financial wealth that is far above their actual income. It also changed many previous status symbols’ value; making it effectively worthless as a status symbol.

Like most things that humans have constructed it works far from perfectly, but well enough for people to keep using it. Many times people try (and succeed) in gaming the system. So someone has a lot of status, but cannot deliver nearly as much value as someone who has a lot less status and provide immense value. Often status and value do not correlate very well, but there is enough of a relationship between the two for people to keep using them.

Credit towards my father, Quintus Marais for helping me to articulate and formulate my thoughts.

To happiness, and beyond!


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