The following question takes place in Medwedia, my fictional country populated by anthropomorphic bears. Medwedia is an ultraconservative totalitarian militaristic ultranationalist dictatorship that is disguised as an authoritarian one-party semi-democracy (mock elections and everything; however, those who cast the wrong votes disappear within 24 hours, etc...). Basically, anything that is beyond communal level is tightly controlled by the state. The technology is modern. However, some laws are archaic (flogging is a widespread punishment, those who steal an apple will have their hands amputated, etc...).

To fit with the "conservative" part, I want to severely reduce social mobility, e.g. the ability to (usually) raise one's social status. However, I want to do that without imposing a legal aristocracy with too many privileges as this would exclude the bourgeoise and the economical upper class. The main reasoning for this would be pure traditionalism coupled with the belief that "those who know their place and don't litter their heads with the desire to become rich will work harder".

The following measures have been enacted in various points in Medwedian history (Note: girls usually don't attend a Gymnasium or university and are instead prepared to become housewives, regardless of social class. Women can't vote or drive cars and must obey their husbands. Girls are usually kept at home or attend girls' schools.):

  • Education:

    • Attendance of a "Gymnasium", an academically oriented school, is required in order for a person to go to university (Look up the German Gymnasium). Good grades are of course a requirement; however, it is mandated that "Those who wish to send their children to the Gymnasium must show a certain level of financial credibility and be ready to sacrifice money for their son's education." Various fees must be paid prior to enrollment and important examinations; even the minimal monthly tuition fee as imposed by the state exceeds the yearly salary of a factory worker.

    • Same thing with universities. A price floor is enacted for universities that is not problematic for the majority of those who could send their children to a Gymnasium. However, the tuition fees for some of Medwedia's elite universities (an elite university degree makes one's life easier in many ways) are very high and the tax which has to be paid to send one's child to a foreign university makes even the rich shudder. Note: parents usually pay for their child's university education.

    • While a Gymnasium teaches one academic excellence, life skills and the topics covered are variable and interesting, the "Community School", "Elementary School" or "Professional School" (name varies by province), which is free or has low tuition fees affordable by everybody, limits the skills given to basic arithmetics required for monetary calculations, reading and writing and various manual skills (woodworking, etc...) which are replaced with sciences in the Gymnasium. Those who go to a "Professional School" are not able to go to university and are mandated to seek a low–qualification profession or an apprenticeship.

    • Some provinces require that parents who want to send their children to a Gymnasium must have attended such a school by themselves or even have an university degree.

    • Of course, the schools themselves may impose their own limits if they wish (and are encouraged to) such as "parents must have at least $1M to send their child here".

    • Many private or even state-owned boarding schools with very high tuition exist. Rich parents are encouraged to send their children here so that their children will grow up in a protected and closed society. Those schools prepare children for a life that includes many responsibilities but is luxurious: in some schools, children have servants, often poorer kids from a nearby village who attend a "Professional School" in the evening or on some weekdays only and have to support their family by working during the day.

    • Those who are sent to "Professional Schools" are told that they will contribute to society as manual workers just like doctors or politicians do and that one can be always proud to serve his country and fulfill his duty if he works excellently. They are told that a country where everybody is rich is damned to collapse.

    • On the other hand, those who are sent to a Gymnasium are told that they are privileged and will enjoy a luxurious life that will be coupled with higher responsibilities. They will be taught to feel a sense of material superiority.

  • Career and Taxation:

    • The tax rate is relatively flat with only slight variations based on a person's salary or economic status. It benefits the rich. In some provinces, those who did NOT go to university must pay an additional tax.

    • Men who continue the profession of their father if they do not go to university are rewarded. Women who become housewives are rewarded.

    • Men are drafted at the age of 18 for 2 years' worth of military service. Exempt are university students and some apprentices or those who can "buy themselves free". An university degree is required to become an officer. People who do not have an university degree but still choose to sign a lifelong contract to become soldiers or policemen are rewarded. In fact, over 5% of the Medwedian population (the total population is approximately 242 millions) consists of soldiers and policemen.

  • Government:

    • There is of course only a partial or fake democracy, which means that the opinion of the masses is rarely taken into account prior to governmental decisions. When it comes to a fake vote, all men older than 33 may vote. However, voting rights are based on taxation: citizens are separated into 10 "Taxation Classes" that correspond to the number of votes they have.

    • Those who wish to become politicians must have an university degree, a Gymnasium degree may be enough in communal politics. They also must show that they are "financially credible", e.g. poses a certain amount of money. Almost every member of the leadership caste has served or is serving in the military or in the police (which is a paramilitary organization and only differs from the military due to the fact that it is a subject of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, not the Ministry of Defence).

  • Economy:

    • Those who wish to found a company must show a degree of education, usually a Gymnasium or even an university degree.

    • Those who do not have a Gymnasium degree, if founding or inheriting a company or firm, must stick to "the profession of their father or a comparable profession". It should be for example no problem for the son of a farmer to inherit the farm.

    • A certain amount of money and an academic degree is required to own certain amounts of land or poses firms of certain size. Sometimes, farmers who accumulate too much land and wealth are partially evicted and the land is sold to a rich landowner to prevent the farmer from becoming one.

What do you think of these measures?

Can you suggest more measures that openly or not decrease social mobility?

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ There is a lot of unnecessary detail in here which is distracting to your question for anybody not willing to spend half an hour on reading a single question; I strongly suggest reducing this. $\endgroup$
    – iAdjunct
    Jul 28, 2016 at 12:41
  • $\begingroup$ tl;dr. You can split up the bullets into individual questions and ask them over the course of a few days. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Jul 28, 2016 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ all bears are equal, but some are more equal than others... :) just kidding, a well - explained question...wordy, but thorough. $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Jul 28, 2016 at 15:21
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Why do they bother with this pretence of democracy? Getting the population to back the conservative regime should be quite easy with full control of the media. Instituting a restrictive system of social classes will then get people to perpetuate the system for you. It doesn't have to be a "legal aristocracy" if breaking with the social system is sufficiently outrageous. $\endgroup$ Jul 28, 2016 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ What exactly do you define conservatism as? Do you mean conservative, as in conserving your resources? Because that is the only definition that could be at least partially accurate based on your description. $\endgroup$ Aug 15, 2016 at 4:20

5 Answers 5


You're working hard to prevent the rise of the poor here, but you've neglected to prevent the fall of the wealthy.

The British aristocracy always had a percentage of impoverished nobility, who for whatever reason, still had titles but no longer had any money. The way they often dealt with this was to marry one of the children off to a family with money but no title. This meant that the children of the merchant inherited a title and the noble family once again had money.

Allow a small amount of social mobility, let a merchant join the elite once in a while, so their children's inheritance can refresh the wealth of the existing ruling class. Let the occasional gentleman farmer get rich and marry his daughter off to the local lord. It keeps everyone on their toes and keeps the money where it belongs.

  • $\begingroup$ I fully agree. Make sure people still have hope. They will work eve harder, and support the system even more, as long as they have the illusion of a chance for a better life. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Jul 13, 2017 at 7:57

I'd say that the economic measures you've enforced are a bit too explicit in its attempt to suppress economic mobility. The downsides of such an explicit methodology are that it would be too culturally obvious to the working class to be stable.

Instead of explicitly limiting workers by partial eviction and mandating education, I'd recommend a more implicit conservatism. For example, a flat tax rate (promoted as egalitarian, but otherwise stifling the working class) and the ownership of working equipment by the upper class would stifle economic mobility. Ultra-conservatism must have a core ideology that it promotes, instead of simply being diabolical, for it to be sustainable. Instead of mandating education for loans/land-ownership, have an interview process that relies heavily upon "moral character," which is heavily reliant upon the conditions of a citizens' upbringing. Form an ideology for the conservative state, and from there form policies that undermine the working class but also uphold certain core beliefs.

  • $\begingroup$ Mandatory education is a very useful tool for setting up this kind of system though. It's much easier to keep control of the lower classes when they've been taught from an early age that the ruling class just wants what's best for them and should be trusted implicitly. Also, the key to the tax scheme, however you arrange it, is that it should tax people who are building fortunes heavily, and people who already have fortunes lightly. Easiest thing to do is just hand out lots of tax credits and exemptions. Say they're for everyone, but structure them so they go mostly to the upper class. $\endgroup$
    – Perkins
    Jul 13, 2017 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Perkins You don't even need to really structure them: just look at the boondoggle of tax credits in a lot of Western countries right now. Anybody with a non-trivial tax return (see: basically anybody who runs their own business or invests in such) is likely to need an accountant just to file their taxes correctly. Crack down hard on misfiled taxes as "tax evasion" by the lower classes, make accountants and tax software too expensive for small business to use without eating up their profits, and you shut down their efforts to join the wealthy in a rather subtle way. $\endgroup$
    – Palarran
    Sep 11, 2018 at 3:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Palarran Ah, but they are structured! It's just so subtle most people don't notice. The progressive tax rates are on "earned income." People who are trying to build fortunes get taxed at high rates (plus the incidental expenses you mentioned to avoid jail). People who already have fortunes pay the relatively low "capital gains" rate. Also, most of the tax credits get handed out to people so poor that they don't pay significant taxes anyway, or to people in industries where certain government officials are heavily invested and/or part owners. And don't even get me started on regulations. $\endgroup$
    – Perkins
    Sep 11, 2018 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ flat tax rate can't be bad $\endgroup$ Oct 30, 2021 at 12:32

Instead of eviction based on amount of land, institute a high land tax. Make it less cost effective to own farm beyond a certain size unless you're also rich enough to buy sufficient machinery, or hire enough people. This keeps upstart hicks from threatening the rich.

Same with firms, put in fees in specific places. Ensure that firms beyond a certain size meet additional requirements, while these are waived for larger corporations (e.g., tax breaks).

Limit judicial access, add fees for legal processes to discourage frivolous litigation.

Most importantly,

  1. Limit access to credit, or at least increase the costs
  2. Restrictive copyrights/patents to stifle innovation
  • $\begingroup$ Can you clarify your thoughts on "Restrictive copyrights/patents"? I'm imagining copyrights that make the product more exclusive would drive innovation due to high profits from a monopoly. $\endgroup$
    – Kys
    Jul 28, 2016 at 17:31
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Unless you have patent trolls that patent everything their invention might imply regardless of whether it's been achieved or not. Or in some cases, something that's part of their prototype by default rather than design. Rounded rectangles, anyone? Or patents on Basmati rice? Edison and Tesla would be an example of just how the system works against the weaker party. $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Jul 28, 2016 at 18:01
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Secondly, restrictive copyrights on research publications means the publisher can make you pay through the nose for access. Unless you are part of an institution with a subscription, getting access might well be out of your reach. As the question indicates, most people in lower social classes will not get access to public research institutions or universities. So, unless they're working for a private corporation, they have no chance of building on other peoples' work. And guess who gets the profits $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Jul 28, 2016 at 18:38
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Kys: mismanaged monopolies can stifle innovation. The classic example is the Wright Brothers, whose patents tried to claim a monopoly over the very concept of a controllable aeroplane. They also wanted to charge heavy license fees. US courts backed this. European courts did not: they treated the patents as applying to the specific means of controlling aircraft described, but not the concept. The result was that Europe had a great outburst of innovation in aircraft from about 1906-1914, and the US did not. When the USA started to participate in WWI, they could get no US aircraft worth using. $\endgroup$ Jul 28, 2016 at 20:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JohnDallman: Well stated. I tend to go on rants about this. $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Jul 29, 2016 at 11:03

I second what nzaman said. Limit access to credit, loans, mortgages, etc. Who can even buy a place without a mortgage, everyone would be leasing forever (except the wealthy) and not gain capital through property ownership. You can also impose a tax on assets in savings (as part of an economic stimulus push), making it impossible for someone to save up enough to buy property. The rich of course would own property and not face the asset tax since their money is not in savings.

  • $\begingroup$ Don't do it as a tax. People can see that. Do it via inflation of the money supply. This reduces the value of anything denoted in units of currency, and there's no government paperwork to fill out or any hope of evading the tax man. Bonus points for teaching all the poor people's children that inflation is good and deflation is bad. $\endgroup$
    – Perkins
    Jul 13, 2017 at 16:28

The key to curbing social mobility and making it stable is to make it look like you're "helping" the poor. That way anyone who protests can immediately be branded a monster who just wants children to starve.

Mandatory education is a good first step. Make sure the ruling classes control what's taught. Make sure what is taught always boils down to "Without the ruling class, you'd all be eating poison while working 120 hours a week in some rich man's honey factory."

Then you start throwing more on top of it, all to "help the poor."

Start with a minimum wage. Everyone thinks it will be awesome for the poor since they'll all get paid more. Especially where that's exactly what the schools teach everyone from a young age that it does. In reality it means that anyone who produces less than that amount per hour at a particular job will never be hired for that job. Set it high enough that menial labor jobs are almost never worth hiring someone to do. Now those few people who aren't successfully herded into the schools for indoctrination won't have the skills necessary to ever get any kind of job, and so won't be able to afford to pay for education and training without going to a government-run school where you can control what they're taught. Be sure to spin this into another reinforcement of how wonderful the ruling class is for providing education opportunities to people who would never, ever have been able to afford to pay for it themselves. If people catch on to the minimum wage not actually making things better, then go for mandatory paid vacation, sick leave, health insurance, and whatever other extras you can think of that will drive up the cost of hiring unskilled labour, but that the quasi-illiterate masses won't think of in terms of dollars and cents.

This doesn't keep the poor from starting their own business and hiring out their labour that way though, so the next step is business licensing. Claim that this is to protect the general public from fraudsters so they'll accept it as necessary, and be sure to instill a pathological fear of unlicensed businesses in schoolchildren from a young age. ("If the health department didn't license and inspect restaurants, why they'd just charge you a high price for half-rotten roadkill and you'd die of food poisoning! Aren't you so lucky we're here to protect you?") Set the basic license costs and paperwork levels such that an aspiring businessperson can expect to spend more time on government busywork than on serving customers and pay more in license fees than they bring in in income for the first several years. This will dissuade the majority of lower-class people from attempting to get off the dole.

Oh, by the way, have a strong welfare system. Advertise it as a way to make sure that nobody starves or goes hungry just because they don't have a job. Scale the benefits such that a person on the dole can live more comfortably than someone with a minimum-wage job, and make sure that any attempt to earn extra income results in a decrease of benefit that is larger than the extra income earned. Eventually this will result in the very poorest people not even bothering to look for extra work. Then use the threat of taking away their "benefits" to coerce them into voting the way the ruling class wants them to so as to maintain the illusion that the system is a democracy.

Make sure to regulate every major sector of the economy as tightly as possible. Talk to the major players in each sector when you're setting this up and get their input about what the regulations should be. Ignore the small and medium players. The big players should be sufficiently intelligent to recommend regulatory measures that will have a high, fixed cost of compliance. They can afford to pay it and still make a profit, but make sure the small-timers are unable to and get forced out. That's how you know it's at the right level to prevent anyone who doesn't have the sponsorship of the ruling class from entering the field. Again, spin this as "protecting the consumer from corporate greed."

Introduce a strongly progressive income tax code to "make the rich pay their fair share." Make sure you calibrate it to match the diminishing marginal value of money in your culture as closely as possible. (For the non-economists, DMVM refers to the fact that the more money you have, the less you value any individual unit of it. If someone is considering working extra hard to earn more money to try to improve their social class, you want to be taxing enough more of the new income away that they decide it's not worth it. Working twice as hard for twice as much people might be willing to do. Working twice as hard for only a 50% boost is much less appealing.) Be sure to offer tax breaks and exemptions to those who do what the ruling class wants. There's no better way to bribe someone than by simply letting them keep their own money. Make sure everyone is taught that giving tax breaks is necessary to boost the economy, but be certain to never give the lower and middle classes both a tax break and a regulation reduction at the same time. That would let them maybe actually do something interesting. If something interesting does slip through and start to take off, regulate it as soon as possible, preferably in a way that forces everyone but the ruling-class' favorites out of the business.

Once you've got things going nicely, expand minimum wage laws so as to forbid volunteer labor except for government approved organizations or as part of a government approved school curriculum. Pitch this as "preventing greedy businesses from taking advantage of the young and inexperienced." In truth you're just cutting off the last possibility of people learning a trade without being thoroughly indoctrinated in one of the government schools. Make sure they never suspect this.

Encourage self-destructive behaviours among the lower classes. Do not teach them how to write a budget. Do teach them how to apply for credit cards. Make sure that everyone thinks spending their entire life in debt is normal. Do your best to stigmatize saving, or even the very idea that saving up to buy something or start a business instead of going into debt is a viable way to do it.

Institute heavy property taxes. Preferably let the people vote for them in order to fund certain projects, but make sure that the majority of the voters don't actually own any property. Calibrate the quantity of projects (and therefore the rate of taxation) so that farmers and businesses that need property to make their living cannot make enough profit to be able to expand (except very slowly.) Make sure anyone who complains about their high property taxes gets painted as a "rich person" who should be paying "their fair share". Or, even better, as uneducated hicks.

Institute heavy estate taxes ("It's not fair that the children of rich people start their lives out rich! They should have to work for it just like everyone else!") Make payment due within 30 days of death. The goal is that whatever small businesses do manage to crop up among the lower class should have to sell at a substantial loss in order to pay the tax bill on time rather than being transferred to the next generation. If the children of a successful entrepreneur inherit anything other than personal trinkets of sentimental value you're doing it wrong. Make sure there are ways around this for people rich enough to hire expensive tax accountants. (Obviously tax accountants should be heavily regulated so you can weed out the ones who try to help "the wrong kind of people.")

Make sure there are plenty of credits, subsidies, and other assorted treats to hand out to the government's favorites (namely, those organizations that make large campaign contributions.) If some upstart tries to move into the upper crust, don't hesitate to levy a new tax on the industry, and then subsidize all the established players. You can always claim that leaving the newcomer out was "an oversight" but make sure the paperwork to get it corrected drags on long enough that they have to close up shop.

Make the legislation complex enough that nobody can avoid breaking some rule somewhere. Have contradictory requirements in different sections if necessary (and disguise the fact by making the legal code so large that nobody can actually hope to ever read the entire thing in a single lifetime.) The goal is to be able to remove any politically dangerous individual without it looking like it's being done for political reasons.

Keep a list of mentally unstable individuals (especially ones who don't appear unstable upon cursory inspection). Leak them superficially convincing but ultimately false information on occasion so that there are so many conspiracy theories flying around that anyone who even mentions the real conspiracy is immediately labeled as a crank.

Mentally unstable individuals are also handy for assassinations if you just drop the right suggestion in the right bar at the right time. Keep the list handy, you can probably use it in the next bit.

Whenever people start questioning the system, come up with some "existential threat" that "will kill us all if we don't all band together under the benevolent leadership of the government." Don't hesitate to exaggerate some minor threat and then go bomb a third-world country, the dunces you're turning out of your "education" system won't ever bother to look into it. If that's not convenient, then just use some of those mentally unstable individuals to stage a few terrorist attacks. It's even better if you can first talk them into doing it, and then step in and thwart it at the last moment to show the people what kinds of things you're protecting them from. Keep the masses more scared of other things than they are of you, and they'll never question the system.

Finally, if all this doesn't seem to be working, split the ruling class into two or three factions that have the same ultimate goal (maintaining their own power) but have them publicly fight each other over relatively inconsequential details. Just make sure they're never so acrimonious that they won't team up to gang-beat any outsider who tries to move into the ruling class himself.

But, above all, do not teach any history that has not been modified to make life before the institution of the new system look as horrible and undesirable as possible, and do not teach critical thinking of any form. Doublethink and oblivious apathy are what you want from your people.


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