Tag Archives: wealth

Ancient Wisdom

“The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity.” – Epicurus

The Rich and Society

French Aristocrats are considering fleeing again. Unlike the last time, they aren’t threatened with being beheaded, just with having to pay their fair share in taxes. To save a little money, they’re thinking about abandoning their country and living somewhere else.

To me, this is additional evidence that the very rich aren’t members of the society they live in; they’re parasites on it.

Whose Pile Is Bigger?

John Barnes makes some good points about relative wealth. (Nor surprise; he’s a very clever fellow.)

Once you get above bare subsistence level, relative wealth is all that matters. There was a study done some years back that asked people if they would rather make $50,000 or $80,000 per year. Assuming the dollar is worth the same in both cases. The catch? In the world where they’re making $50,000, the average income is $40,000. In the world where they’re making $80,000, the average income is $100,000. In other words, “Would you rather be objectively better-off, but poorer than your neighbors; or poorer, but richer than your neighbors?

Most people chose the $50,000 option. They’d rather live in a world where they were poor, but most other people were poorer than one in which they’re well-off, but most people are even better-off.

People would rather have a pile of pennies that’s bigger than everyone else’s than a pile of dollars that’s smaller. (You may, at this point, write your own penis joke. Go ahead; I know you’re thinking of one.)

I think most Americans would rather be medieval nobility than lower-middle-class Americans. The life of a modern American of even modest means is objectively better than that of a medieval Count in almost every respect. Better entertainment options, more comfortable houses and furniture, better food, infinitely better health care. The medieval noble has one insurmountable advantage, though; he’s better-off than nearly everyone else in his society.

The Count may live in a miserable, drafty, barn, with uncomfortable furniture and no indoor plumbing, his children may suffer appalling infant mortality rates, he’ll probably die before he sees sixty years, he may experience terrible pain from any number of medical conditions (and the so-called cures popular at the time), and his diet may be poor and unappetizing to modern palates, but by god he gets to lord it over the peasants.

But that’s what wealth is all about; being able to lord it over the peasants. Everything else is secondary. This is why the destruction of the middle class is a good thing…for the people whose wealth isn’t wipied-out. More people for them to be richer than.

We can’t talk about it that way, though. Certainly not in the national debate about wealth and taxes. I mean, which soundbite do you think is going to play better on the evening news:

A: “Give me an extra $150,000 a year so I can look down on even more of you peasants.”


B: “Give me an extra $150,000 a year and I might give you a job.”

You’ll hear some variation on B a lot. Just remember that what they really mean is A.