Prestige in America

Noam Scheiber reports that Megan McArdle thinks it’s impossible for a profession, like medicine, to be high-status in the United States without also being high paying. This is, however, possible in Sweden, which everyone knows is homogeneous:

We don’t have a unified culture. There’s no — Sweden can talk about having a Swedish culture, and to some extent a Swedish status hierarchy and Swedish values. That’s just not true of America. Everyone’s participating in about 97 different subcultures. So you can invent your own status hierarchy, but you can’t get everyone to buy into the idea that we should pay our doctors $60,000 a year and then all love them a lot because they’re doctors.

Scheiber cites my recent item on how Sweden has one of the largest immigrant populations in the world — more than in the United States.

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But you don’t need to look to Sweden to look for an example of a group of people who are esteemed out of proportion to the financial rewards they receive — just look at the officer corps of the American military. There’s a reason why the perception that Obama is at odds with General McChrystal could be politically damaging, there’s a reason why General Petraeus’ famous congressional testimony was a big deal politically, and there’s a reason why the White House was eager to release the photo above after having gotten hit for Obama not being directly engaged with McChrystal. The American military has a lot of prestige in the United States and so do military officers, all without being lavishly paid.