Pray That All Their Pain Be Champagne
Well I do, anyway.
The economist Justin Wolfers tweeted an interesting poll result yesterday, from Kaiser (though I’m having trouble finding it at the moment):
As far as you are concerned, do we have too many rich people in this country (31%), too few (21%), or about the right amount? (42%)
As far as I am concerned, 73% of the country appears to have lost its mind. I’d like everyone to be rich, which means, obviously, that we have too few rich people.
Failing that, I’d like to select some random non-rich person, and, without changing anyone else’s wealth, make him or her rich. And I’d repeat that operation as many times as I was allowed to. Wouldn’t you?
Here’s my question: On what theory is it preferable to go around doing the opposite — taking one rich person at a time, and, without changing anyone else’s wealth, making him or her poor? I can only think of one, and that’s if the rich person in question got rich by committing a crime.
So what explains the poll result? Do 31% of the people in the country really think both that some or all of the currently rich got that way through crime, and that none (or at least, fewer) of the currently non-rich deserve to be rich? (The former, that some rich people are criminals or otherwise rich through some sort of unfairness, seems obvious and inarguable. The latter, though, that no one or very few who are now non-rich deserve to become rich, just seems absurd to me.)
Note that if we define wealth in positional terms, the question has no meaning: We can never put more than 1% of everyone into the wealthiest 1%, and the question isn’t asking about simple population growth. It’s only if we define “rich” in absolute terms — say, a real income of $200,000 per year — that the question has any meaning at all.
I’d like to give everyone a real income of at least $200,000 per year. Why don’t you? I’m really, truly boggled here.