How much is status worth?

If a rich and noble Khitan citizen wishes to bind his head in a turban [as a symbol of high status], then he pays [to the government] seventy head of oxen and camels, and a hundred horses, and he is given a Khitan title, which is called sheli.

Wu Gui, Miscellaneous Notes on the Lands North of Yan, 1061 (source)

One response to “How much is status worth?

  1. Handle May 25, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    The same could be said for various periods and locations in Europe with Sumptuary taxes.

    There are three categories of regime:

    1. Ostentation was banned outright.
    2. Conspicuous consumption was tolerated but penalized with a ‘luxury tax’.
    3. No holds barred.

    Maintaining the regime is hard, because the objects which display status change with time, and it can be difficult to disaggregate the purely positional character of a good from its cardinal utility. You may be building that mansion either purely to show off, purely for your own enjoyment and indifferent to what the rest of the world thinks, or anywhere in between. The classic target of sumptuary laws was clothing and apparel, but that would be laughable today.

    One sumptuary tax I’d like to see is on attributed ‘charitable’ giving. All giving should be strictly anonymous, but if you really want people to know that you gave money away, then you can pay a 50% tax to get your name on the foundation or building or press release.

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