What I found was that economic inequality doesn’t frustrate Americans at all. It is, rather, the perceived lack of economic opportunity that makes us unhappy. To focus our policies on inequality, instead of opportunity, is to make a grave error–one that will worsen the very problem we seek to solve and make us generally unhappier to boot.
Here is the full article, interesting throughout. This paragraph is right on the mark:
One of the many problems with the egalitarians’ line of reasoning is that it misinterprets the experimental evidence. The two famous studies mentioned above don’t necessarily mean, as the egalitarians claim, that people would be happier in a world of total equality. Rather, they suggest that in a world of inequality, people like having more than others and dislike having less–even to the point of neglecting their financial interests. How people would react to a miraculously equal world is something that the studies don’t attempt to address.
But there is another, more fundamental, reason that the arguments linking economic inequality to unhappiness are mistaken. If the egalitarians are right, then average happiness levels should be falling. But they aren’t. The GSS shows that in 1972, 30 percent of the population said that they were “very happy” with their lives; in 1982, 31 percent; in 1993, 32 percent; in 2004, 31 percent. In other words, no significant change in reported happiness occurred–even as income inequality increased by nearly half. Happiness levels have certainly shown some fluctuations over the last three decades, but income inequality explains none of them.
Thanks to Michael Cragg for the pointer. You might also revisit my earlier post on mobility.