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Ladeies and Lords: The Official Class System

Kowtowing for Honours

Research in New Zealand, published in 2014, has drawn attention to one way in which the honours system can distort normal behaviour.

A study by two European academics suggests that some New Zealand business chief executives ran their businesses in ways that increased their own chance of being made a dame or knight, instead of doing what was best for the business.

It was possible to make a comparison because between 2000 and 2009 the honours were abolished. And because foreign-born chief executives were not eligible for honours, their performance could be compared to that of the New Zealanders.

When a feudal honour was possible chief executives were less likely to reduce reduce staff numbers in order to boost the bottom line. This found favour, the study says, with both government and the public.

This consequence of the honours system in New Zealand may have been good or bad, depending on your point of view. But it could have worked the other way if the government had favoured leaner businesses.

The broader implication is that those who long for a feudal honour may more easily be bought by the state. That is rarely a good thing.

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