Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Introduction to class and entitlement

Below is the first couple of pargraphs from one of my articles on class and entitlement. The cite is included for futher reading:

William and Mary Law Review
Winter, 1994
Jeffrey L. Harrison [FNa1]
Copyright © 1994 by the William and Mary Law Review; Jeffrey L. HarrisonAs soon as you're born they make you feel small By giving you no time instead of it all Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all A working class hero is something to be. [FN1]
I. INTRODUCTIONMy thesis begins with the idea of "entitlement"--not a legal entitlement, but a "sense of entitlement." [FN2] That is, a sense of deserving*446 something. For most of us, it is important to feel that we have received that to which we are entitled. In the context of an exchange, it means that we want to feel we have been treated fairly or reached a state of "compensatory justice." [FN3] Part of my thesis is that this sense of entitlement is not evenly distributed among us. As an example, suppose that two individuals are hired as entry-level law professors. Before moving to their new locations, both inquire about their employer's willingness to pay moving expenses. The response to each is, "It is our policy to pay up to $3,000." One professor responds, "But that is not enough! I cannot possibly move my family for that amount." An argument ensues. The second professor simply processes this information and uses it in arranging her move. [FN4]The difference in the responses reflects a difference in their expectations and their senses of entitlement. This difference may be explained by something quite concrete. For example, the first professor may have seen a memorandum indicating that the school traditionally had paid moving expenses for new members of the faculty. But one's sense of entitlement may also, and generally does, arise from less direct and more subtle influences. As a child the first professor may have heard repeatedly how smart, clever or attractive he was and, thus, began to feel as though he was somehow more worthy than others. Or, he may have attended a prestigious school where he was "taught" that graduates of that school are *447 somehow special. [FN5] In contrast, the second faculty member may have been treated quite differently, that is, never taught that she is somehow special and more deserving.This sense of entitlement is the cornerstone of this Article, but there are two more components. The first is that social class [FN6] is an important determinant of one's sense of entitlement. The second component is that individuals with a higher general sense of entitlement require more of whatever is at stake in an exchange, in order to achieve a state that they regard as compensatorily just, than those with a lower sense of entitlement. Together, these propositions produce the general thesis that social class and the resulting sense of entitlement have an impact on the terms of private orderings. Because individuals from higher social classes have a greater sense of entitlement, the terms of exchanges between different classes typically will favor those individuals. More generally, this means that the private orderings of people who belong to a class-oriented society will passively, though relentlessly, reinforce the existing class structure. [FN7] In essence, the source of the continual *448 societal imbalances that flow from "freedom of contract" are largely the results of the damage that class stratification has already inflicted. [FN8]

No comments: