Recently Jason Collins and two colleagues at the University of Western Australia ... have made the case that sexual selection explains civilization itself. ... "as females prefer males who conspicuously consume, an increasing proportion of males engage in innovation, labor and other productive activities in order to engage in conspicuous consumption. ...."I suggest you read the entire Ridley article.
Psychological evidence points the same way. In one experiment, men who were shown pictures of women promptly expressed more extravagant desires for expensive luxuries, whereas women showed no such effect after seeing pictures of men.
***Moreover, Michael Shermer, in his book "The Mind of the Market,"argues that you can trace anticapitalist egalitarianism to sexual selection. ***If so, this might explain why it is relative, rather than absolute, inequality that matters so much to people today. In modern Western society, when even relatively poor people have access to transport, refrigeration, entertainment, shoes and plentiful food, you might expect that inequality would be less resented than a century ago—when none of those things might come within the reach of a poor person. What does it matter if there are people who can afford private jets and designer dresses?
But clearly that isn't how people think. They resent inequality in luxuries just as much if not more than inequality in necessities. They dislike (and envy) conspicuous consumption, even if it impinges on them not at all. What hurts is not that somebody is rich, but that he is richer.
This is a classic statement of sexual selection. It isn't the peacock with the big-enough tail that gets to mate; it's the peacock with the biggest tail.
Jason Collins' research paper that prompted Ridley's Wall St Journal article is available here for free as a PDF.