Envy pollution

Greg Mankiw considers Brad DeLong’s view that the presence of the rich makes the poor worse off.  Jane Galt discusses Cindy Crawford.  I will add the following:

1. Often the rich make us feel we are worse off when we fill out questionnaires, but the quality of experienced life doesn’t go down much from their existence.

2. Consider food.  If I hear of other people visiting El Bulli, I might downgrade the quality of my own eating life on a survey.  But I don’t enjoy my Sichuan Chili Chicken or my Silpancho any less.

3. "…its a great testament to economic progess that, walking round the city
center these days, say, it’s very hard to differentiate the rich and the
poor in the first instance. In this sense, things have indeed become a
lot more egalitarian."  That is from one of Greg’s commentators.

4. Envy tends to be local.  Few Americans resent Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.  The real definition of a wealthy man is one who earns more than his wife’s sister’s husband.

5. Greg Mankiw suggests that perhaps we segregate the rich into places like Nantucket and Aspen, so as to minimize the envy of the poor.  That won’t get at the root of the problem, as expressed in #4. 

What we need to do is tax gatherings of extended family and other like-minded people.


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