Must-Read: Barry Ritholtz: Are the Poor [Today] Better Off than King Louis XIV?
Must-Read: In my view, the fact that the poor in America today are in many dimensions better off then the very rich of previous centuries is part of a complex of facts that does not militate against worrying a great deal about inequality. Aristoteles of Stagira could make the case that his society was so poor that massive inequality was necessary to give some the leisure to think and guide humanity–that, until and unless we somehow acquired the stone servitors of Daedalos or the self-guiding catering carts of Hephaestos, large-scale slavery was not only a good thing but necessary and essential for civilization.
Are the Poor [Today] Better Off than King Louis XIV?: “On Fridays… I like to highlight misguided, faulty or just plain dumb analysis…:
…The latter is our subject today: a dishonest and disingenuous argument that is technically correct, but cynical and misleading…. Richard Rahn of Cato Institute with the headline, ‘Common folk live better now than royalty did in earlier times’… a fatuous and politically inspired attempt to minimize the issue of income inequality, because after all, the poor today live better than kings did centuries ago! There, all problems solved…. Let’s set about fisking this intellectual detritus:
Progress Is Humanity’s Default Setting…. Of course we are much better off than people who lived centuries ago…. All Temporal Arguments Are Two-Sided… think about what the poor will enjoy a few centuries from now…. None of the poor think to themselves: ‘Huzzah! I am wealthier than French King Louis XIV!’ Nor do any lament, ‘Alas! I am enjoying less technological advantages than even the poorest schlump to be born in the year 2415… woe is me.’… Wealth Is Relative…. Mencken, only partially tongue-in-cheek, defines wealth as having $100 more than your brother-in-law….
Bad Ideas, Bad People and Bad Organizations Are What Disrupt Human Progress: One last statement of Rahn’s demands some elucidation: ‘The only thing that will stop human progress is bad government.’ There are many things that have disrupted human progress over the eons, and they tend to fall into one of those three categories…. Today, one of the biggest impediments is simple ignorance and slavish devotion to ideologies. Whether it’s irresponsible opponents of childhood vaccination or the global-warming denialists, the single most threatening force to human progress is relentless stupidity. Unfortunately, that is the one thing that progress hasn’t overcome.