The Big Think

January 9, 2015

The Uncomfortable 1%

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:26 am

Yes, You’re Rich, and It’s Time You Admit It:

“If you’re reading this article, chances are that you are in the top 1 percent of global income. And chances are also that you really don’t feel like a tycoon.

The cutoff for the global 1 percent starts quite a bit lower than the parochial American version preferred by pundits. I’m on it. So is David Sirota. And if your personal income is higher than $32,500, so are you. The global elite to which you and I belong enjoys fantastic wealth compared to the rest of the world: We have more food, clothes, comfortable housing, electronic gadgets, health care, travel and leisure than almost every other living person, not to mention virtually every human being who has ever lived. We are also mostly privileged to live in societies that offer quite a lot in the way of public amenities, from well-policed streets and clean water, to museums and libraries, to public officials who do their jobs without requiring a hefty bribe. And I haven’t even mentioned the social safety nets our governments provide.

So why don’t we feel like Scrooge McDuck, rolling around in all of our glorious riches? Why do we feel kinda, y’know, middle class?

Because we don’t compare our personal experiences to a Tanzanian subsistence farmer who labors in the hot sun for 12 hours before repairing to his one-room abode for a meal of cornmeal porridge and cabbage. We compare ourselves to other Americans, many of whom, darn them, seem to have much more money than we do.”

As Instapundit put it, traditionally, envy was regarded as a sin.

It’s easy to live as a middle class (i.e. globally “rich”) Westerner among the Super-wealthy elite. It makes the super-wealthy an easy target for jealously and envy, with demands for “social change” as a tasty side dish. But I wonder what would happen if those Tanzanian subsistence farmer suddenly started picketing all of those iPhone/MacBook wielding protesters: the members of the “99%”. Would the protesters be willing to give up their Western comforts to spread the wealth around? Take on a few dozen roommates? I think not.

Ultimately it comes down to the viability of relative systems. If your society is structured around opportunities for advancement and personal success based on hard work then your society will tend to attract people that are willing to strive for their own future benefit (as well as the predictable gathering of lampreys that prefer to sponge off of the hard work of others, but that’s the inevitable friction of any successful economic system). If, however, your society rewards graft, personal connections, and the unfair application of laws and regulations based on who-you-know, then there will be a limit to how much your society can advance economically.

Once a society breaks out into entrepreneurialism, the trick is to keep regulations and graft from choking it to death. In the meantime, protesting about “the wealthy” while making calls on an iPhone and sipping your Starbucks is the height of hypocrisy.

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