My latest research interest, which compared to the other two projects is still more in its infancy, is how economic elites are often expected or pressured to consider forms of commitment to society in order to mitigate opposition to their position. This follows from the observation that even if socioeconomic inequality appears an inherent part of human society, societal concerns about inequality and the pursuit of equality and fairness are virtually always present.
To counter concerns, elites rely for a large part on ideologies justifying and/or obscuring inequalities and wealth, such as discussed by Thomas Piketty in his 2020 Capital and Ideology. Yet alone these appear not sufficient. Regardless of ideologies, elites are often expected or pressured to respond to societal demands to provide support to the poor, or healthcare, or to pay higher taxes, and so on. What they commit to in return functions as an index of their awareness about society, e.g. the noblesse oblige. Yet elite commitments contribute to explaining the maintenance of inequality too, as they may mitigate societal opposition to wealthy actors’ advantages. Even in the case of ideologies that openly sustain degrees of inequality, reference to commitments to the common good still appear essential. The praise of self-interest made famous by Adam Smith, and seen in concepts such as Homo economicus or in the ‘trickle-down’ economics principle, functions insofar as it presupposes that self-interest eventually benefits society at large. It is seldom the case that wealthy elites publicly admit that they are purely egoistic or insensitive to society or to the plight of others. By investigating the formation and impact of such elite commitments to society in more detail, the aim of this project is contribute to the development of theory on the workings of inequality.