A quick preface to say that a lot of people are in real poverty through little or no fault of their own, and that’s a sad thing. I would like for them to have it better, and agree that to some degree it’s worth forcing the richest to pay for them.
That said, I think that there’s way too much focus on wealth inequality, and not nearly enough on how great we have it, even at the lowest levels.
Earlier this year, I visited a couple castles in Romania. One was new and it was truly beautiful inside and out. The ceiling in the main hall was a retractable stained glass window, a happy overlap in timing of the last of the castles being built and the earliest mechanisms of that sort.
Across the country, though, I also visited an older castle. It was built some time around 1400, but was in use until 1920. Now it’s a museum, so you can see it as it was last used. And I’ll tell you– castle or not, I have a lot more luxury than that in my RV.
There was, of course, no electric lighting. There was no climate control apart from large drafty fireplaces, and no running water. Sure it was a beautiful castle, but it probably wouldn’t be that comfortable to live in.
In fact, many aspects of a homeless shelter are probably quite nice compared to the castle. Many are surely worse as well, but we’re comparing the housing of century-old royalty with the modern day homeless. Even if the royalty win, the fact that there are some points in the other column is pretty amazing.
I’m not a rich person. As you probably know, I live in a tiny RV that’s smaller than many bathrooms. I wear the same shirt and pants every day, eat sardines every day for lunch, etc.
There’s certainly an angle from which I could look at my life and feel sorry for myself. After all, there are people who have houses that are 100 times larger than mine! Some people can afford to eat at the fanciest restaurants every day, but poor little me makes the same sardine sandwich for lunch every day. Many people have walk in closets that are bigger than my home, and have enough clothes to wear something different every day of the month.
But what good does that do anyone? Does other people having amazing things make my experience any worse? It can, but only if I let it. Fundamentally the only way they can impact me is through my own jealousy.
If we can generalize a bit and take a look at the median person complaining about wealth inequality, we could maybe say that they’re a youngish person living in a nice city, with maybe too many bills to stack against a small salary. Maybe they live in San Francisco and see techies with their Teslas and Victorian houses, and they’re jealous.
To them I’d say that they have it pretty good. Maybe they’re getting squeezed out of their city, but is that really such a big deal? Kings a hundred years ago didn’t have toilets. So if you have to move to a smaller city to live comfortably, is that really such a sacrifice?
Even as someone on the bottom end of it, I actually like our income distribution. I think that the majority of people on that scale are doing very well, especially compared to the distant past, and that it’s fun to look up the scale and aspire to it a little bit. Maybe I don’t have every single thing I could want, but who says I deserve to have them? And isn’t the anticipation of working towards those things fun?
Maybe you have enough money, and maybe you don’t. The world is constantly changing, and some of those changes will go against you. That happens to everyone. If you’re not doing as well financially as you’d like to be, then focus on that in isolation. Don’t compare yourself to the richest and damn them with jealousy. It doesn’t do you any good.
Photo is an orchid from an orchid farm in Chiang Mai.
I understand that it is better for societies as a whole when wealth inequality is lower. This is written to address people feeling like victims as individuals.