Who Cares if the Rich Get Richer?
When did modern humans show up? 100,000 years ago? Give or take a day or two. The point is for almost all of those people lived just above what I’d call the subsistence level. The modern fiscal equivalent of not a damn thing. About 200 years ago, this all changed. Now I’m not trying to say everyone was suddenly rich, footloose and fancy-free, but things got “betterer” for most people, at least in the west. We had a little magic called the industrial revolution.
Suddenly we had actual per capita income growth, in some cases approaching levels near .75%!! Holy smokes! Break out the bubbly! Hardly an existence for 999,800 or so years and all of the sudden people are getting richer. Everyone. Life starts to improve from one generation to the next, substantially. The phrase “when I was a kid” was born.
Jump to the 20th century and real incomes (inflation adjusted, remember that) were increasing by around 1.5%, on average.
From the late 50’s until the present we have had about 2.3% average growth! More bubbly please.
Of course 1%? 2%? Tiddly winks. Hardly.
If you plot it out, (at 2.3%, inflation adjusted) a middle class American making 50K a year, would expect their kids to be making around 89K a year and still be middle class, 89K in today’s dollars. 158K in another 25 years. So on and so forth. If the last 200 years have shown us anything, it would be that we can expect and increase in annual income growth, so these figures are useless, but on the good side of useless.
In 1900 a household would expect to haul in about 9,000 gallons of water and around 7 tons of coal. By hand. Today we have washers that can email you when your washing is done and we get pissed that we have to shovel, so the oil guy can get to the filler thing in the winter.
Don’t think your dollar is really going further? Look at cameras in 2001. For a bit of contrast, my cellphones camera is 5.0 MP and has 32 GB of storage. It also retailed for less than all the cameras reviewed on that site, that’s just 10 years.
The point is. You live better, no, most of the poorest Americans live better than the kings of just 300 years ago. The problem with deciding how much is too much and how much is not enough for each person and calling it unfair, is we are constrained by the times. 50 years from now, people living like me will likely be considered horribly poor. Really? You don’t think so?
In the great depression, America lost about 20 years of income growth. That means the average person had the rough income of their parents. It was deemed, and is still deemed almost intolerable. Even than there were few starving masses. People simply were living 20 years in the past.
50 years from now, will the internet be called a right? Will we have to provide everyone internet as some argue we must provide health care today? What is the standard of living that we must attain for everyone? How can anyone say what is too much for another?
It isn’t a new idea, I’d reference the Rule of St. Benedict, an odd choice perhaps, but a fitting one.
Each one has his own gift from God, the one in this way, the other in that. Therefore it is with some hesitation that the amount of daily sustenance for others is fixed by us.
Why is this small passage relevant? Because even 1500 years ago, this man was espousing an idea that has stood the test of time. The needs of a person can’t be set fairly by others. We are all so well off that its hard to even say what we are squabbling about when people complain about the “income gap”. (I’m not going to debate it in the comments, because I have before and it bored me almost to death.) We are certainly fascinating creatures, we humans, us.