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Social Status: The Last Bastion of Discrimination

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

Despite the increasing inequality between rich and poor, there is resistance towards proscribing discrimination on the basis of socioeconomic status. This resistance is marked in Anglophone countries, namely, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, the US and South Africa, countries that are located in the high inequality/low mobility extreme in terms of socioeconomic status. This article argues that the resistance is associated with the embrace of neoliberalism, a political value system that extols the free market, individualism and profit maximisation. The commitment to competition policy necessarily produces inequality in contradistinction to equality, which informs the philosophical underpinnings of anti-discrimination legislation. Even in the comparatively few jurisdictions where legislation on the basis of social status or a cognate attribute exists, the legislative model is restrictive and the number of complaints minuscule. Most notably, an overview of the Anglophone countries reveals that there is a dearth of complaints involving national and multinational corporations, the primary wealth creators of the neoliberal state that are also major employers. Although employment generally gives rise to the preponderance of discrimination complaints on grounds such as race and sex, it is suggested that the resistance to social status discrimination serves to protect private corporations from scrutiny.

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Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

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