(No, don’t worry, I’m not turning into a political blogger, here.)
But I did read an interesting little hypothesis which means I may need to revise my little internal guess as to what the Empire’s Gini coefficient, or your preferred measure of income inequality, is. (I say internal guess because, well, in-world, no major public body bothers computing any of those measures. As economic statistics goes, it falls into that category labeled “thoroughly uninteresting”.)
Said internal guess, by the way, has generally been “in the range that makes professional egalitarians blanch and cross themselves”; it’s just that in a society where the most “poor”, “oppressed”, “miserable” people you can find (as a group) live in what would be McMansion-equivalents (if one could strip the term of the implications of both inferior design and construction, and pseudoaristocratic contempt for the parvenu), own multiple cornucopia machines and autominions, and travel to other star systems for business and pleasure, it’s hard to work up too much outrage about teh ebil rich without embarrassing yourself. Even if the directors of the “Big 26″ starcorps and their peer group are using personal lighthugger staryachts to travel between their private vacation moons.
Anyway, money quote:
Now for the fun part. Imagine people become more egalitarian, to the point where they heap scorn on the rich and successful. What is the effect on inequality? By the previous logic, the effect is directly counter-productive. The more you scorn rich people, the more people you scare away from high-income professions. The more you scare away, the lower their supply. And the lower their supply, the higher their income!
Lesson: If you really want a materially more equal society, stop beating up on the 1%. Do a complete 180. Smile upon them. Admire them. Praise them. Sing songs about how much good they do for the world. The direct result will be to raise their status. But the indirect result will be to pique the envy of status-conscious people, increasing the competition among the top 1%, and thereby moderating income inequality.
On the other hand, if you want to increase material inequality, by all means heap scorn on the rich and successful. Try to fill them with guilt and self-loathing. The 1% who remain will find that living well is the best salve for their consciences.
…which argument has some interesting consequences for a society which loves, honors, and near-worships excellence, success, and yes, wealth in the way that the Imperial mainstream does. I may need to trim back that Gini a bit after all.
(Of course, the effect would be rather less marked than in an equivalent human society, simply because one of the major psychological differences between eldrae and humans is that the former are not hard-wired to obsess over primate relative status hierarchies.
But then, thinking in terms of absolute status rather than relative status – and therefore not being inclined to practice the negative-sum games in which you can improve your position by worsening those of other people – is one of the reasons why their society has the attitudes it does in the first place, this one included.)