The Wealth Gap is a Scapegoat

A lot of news recently has been dedicated to pointing out the wealth inequality gap. Some say it’s the highest it’s ever been (debatable). Either way, the gap between the 1% and the 99% is vast. There’s no denying that. But how does this affect you?

Answer: it doesn’t. Not really. Even though Elon Musk is raking in the dough, this fact has no effect on your life or anyone else’s. In other words, the wealth gap is a scapegoat.

The (Rough) History of Wealth

Mankind started in the Stone Age. We used sticks and rocks to hunt and fight for our survival. We lived in caves and were largely dependent on our environments to live. In time, we got a little bit smarter and learned how to craft sophisticated weapons. We also discovered how to more efficiently use the minerals around us to heighten our quality of life. Our ancestors fought with all their might just to stay alive. We were all relatively equal.

Eventually, we discovered metal and how to use it for weapons and tools. Enter the Bronze Age. Humankind building communities instead of following the herd for food. We established systems of trade as well. With trade comes wealth. The Bronze Age made our communities closer, but also introduced this idea of inequality. Some people provided more value to the community. These people were compensated as such. The more wealth we got, the more technologically advanced we became.

Photo by Sébastien Goldberg on Unsplash

We started getting very sophisticated with our technology and headed towards the Iron Age. People became more specialized in their skills and these skills were passed on through their lineage. Sons of blacksmiths would be blacksmiths. Daughters of princesses would be princesses. For hundreds–perhaps thousands–of years this system existed. You were either born into greatness or poverty. There was no way to get around it. People just didn’t have access to the information to better their lives.

Jump to today–the Information Age. We live in the most prosperous time in human history. The quality of life is better now than it ever has been across the globe. We can have food delivered directly to our door within an hour. In less than a minute, we can connect with someone across the globe. There is a world of knowledge right at our fingertips, and yet there is so much complaint about wealth inequality.

Times of Inequality

It’s true that the wealth gap is vast and rapidly increasing. But is this really a problem? Jeff Bezos is worth roughly $200 billion, but what does that mean for the average person?

I would argue that it means absolutely nothing to the average person. Jeff Bezos could be worth $1 billion or $500 trillion and it wouldn’t make a difference to you.

Compare your life to a person in the Stone Age–where inequality was at an all-time low. All people were equal because they literally had to fight to survive. Everyone had to team up to fight the lions and tigers and bears (oh, my!) or the whole tribe would be decimated.

Now, look at your life. Even if you are homeless and reading this publication at your local library, you are miles ahead of where people were 10,000 years ago. You no longer have to fight off wild animals to survive. Through charity and government support, you have the access to food and water without having to put your life at risk to get it.

Now compare your life to the people in the Iron Age. They had much less to worry about than our Stone Age ancestors, but there was still very little opportunity to transcend wealth classes. The son of a carpenter was a carpenter. The son of a king was a king. There was no opportunity to move up, and people at the top were protected from moving down.

Today, if your father was a carpenter, you could be a lawyer. If your mother was a secretary, you could become a doctor. With the amount of information and access to education today, you control your own destiny more than ever before.

Constantly Increasing Standard of Living

I think of it like this:

The gap between the highest and the lowest may be increasing, but that’s not because life is getting worse. Our baseline is continually improving as well. Life is getting better for everyone as a whole. In this study conducted at Stanford University, the minimum standard of living is continually increasing across the world.

By most measures here, the rates of change in the less developed countries in
the last half-century have substantially exceeded those in the historical experience
of western Europe. If there are limits to growth in the standard of living—an
imminent stationary state—it is not evident in the historical record.

We are continuously improving as a species, and there is no evidence to suggest that these improvements will stop. The human race has fought and improved its circumstances since the beginning of time.

The wealth gap is a distraction. There will always be people richer than you or more successful than you. Focusing on it keeps you from making a better life for yourself.

You’re Living the Good Life

You can argue until you’re blue in the face how things should be. That is not what this article is about. This article is about how things are. Abandon all hope of changing the world. It’s much easier (and more productive) to change yourself instead.

It’s the most peaceful time in world history. Access to food, water, and shelter are at all-time highs. You have access to thousands of hours of free education to improve your life and learn new skills. The stock market is history’s largest money-making machine, and it’s now accessible to anyone with some spare change and an internet connection.

If you are reading this, you have the power and the ability to improve your life. I believe in you.

Now ask yourself again… does the wealth gap really matter?

Thanks for reading!

Featured photo source: Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

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10 thoughts on “The Wealth Gap is a Scapegoat”

  1. This was actually really interesting. For me, I believe wealth inequality is absolutely wonderful (not using the distorted media’s definition to mean *how much* wealth is unequal instead of the actual definition to mean different wealth) but the high spread between the richest and the poor is not wonderful.

    This also goes to show that what others are doing has no bearing to you and there’s always a positive to everything. Our standard of living is slowly but surely increasing.

    1. Thanks, David. I believe that the target of focus is key. By focusing on the gap between rich and poor, we forget how good things have gotten. When we view the world compared to history instead, we can be grateful with how much our lives have improved.

  2. Interesting, but research does how that the wealth gap has become wider over the past few decades after reducing after WWII in the U.S. The real question is does Bezos or Musk need another $1B or does that $1B go further if it is spread over 1M people at $1,000 per person.

    1. The question isn’t whether they need it or not. Of course they don’t. They’re rich enough to live 1,000 lifetimes in luxury.

      I would argue that they deserve it. Billionaires don’t print their own money. They provide a service or product that people are willing to pay for. If you don’t want to see rich people get rich, you can stop buying their products.

      But that misses the whole point of the article. The point is how it affects you, the reader. The constant comparison to people wealthier than you is self-damaging. There’s always going to be someone richer than you. It’s better to focus on your own progress and track your personal successes. That’s how you win.

  3. Billionaires did not become billionaires in a vacuum. They benefited from having a literate workforce, a public expense. There goods travel on safe roads, another public benefit that we, the citizens, have paid for. I could go on . Furthermore, underpaid employees receive SNAP benefits (food stamps) and Medicaid, another public expense. Surely it is not too much to expect the one percent to pay their fair share in light of this. Warren Buffet famously stated that he is in a lower tax bracket than his receptionist.
    Additionally, billionaires are able to use their vast wealth to perpetuate inequality, mainly through campaign donations, especially the ‘dark money’ contributions funneled through pacs. To claim the amount of wealth controlled by the richest Americans had no effect on the general public is therefore disingenuous.

    1. Yes, billionaires need the help of thousands of different people. They also invest millions of their own money into machinery and equipment that give employees a job to do.

      And the employees work voluntarily for these companies. Nobody is forcing them to do anything, they made a choice.

      But again, you’re missing the point. The point I’m trying to make is that we can complain about the wealthy or you can work to make yourself wealthy. Only one of these gets results.

  4. I’m curious if you’ve read Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker – he makes similar points regarding the general misconception of inequality.
    “Inequality is not the same as poverty, and it is not a fundamental dimension of human flourishing. In comparisons of well-being across countries, it pales in importance next to overall wealth. An increase in inequality is not necessarily bad: as societies escape from universal poverty, they are bound to become more unequal, and the uneven surge may be repeated when a society discovers new sources of wealth. Nor is a decrease in inequality always good: the most effective levelers of economic disparities are epidemics, massive wars, violent revolutions, and state collapse. For all that, the long-term trend in history since the Enlightenment is for everyone’s fortunes to rise. In addition to generating massive amounts of wealth, modern societies have devoted an increasing proportion of that wealth to benefiting the less well-off.”

    Over the last 60 years, GDP per capita in the US has increased by around 15% in real terms. Social spending during the same time as a % of GDP has nearly tripled.

    I’m not saying that income inequality isn’t something to worry about. Rather, that at times we need to choose perspective over information, trends over tweets.

    1. I haven’t read that, but it sounds like something I’d be interested in. Inequality is a natural part of life. Even if you were able to redistribute the world’s wealth equally to each person, we would be unequal again in a matter of years. Equality is impossible when freedom and skill disparities exist, and vice versa.

      “Since practical ability differs from person to person, the majority of such abilities, in nearly all societies, is gathered in a minority of men. The concentration of wealth is a natural result of this concentration of ability, and regularly recurs in history.”
      – Will and Ariel Durant, “The Lessons of History”

  5. Great points and perspective. I actually get upset that this is even something people talk about. I am A-okay with Bezos, Gates, Musk, and all of them having an insane pile of cash, as they’ve made truly priceless contributions to the world that I haven’t made. (And while they may pay taxes at a lower rate relative to their wealth, they do actually still make up the vast, vast majority of tax dollars paid.) It’s far more important that we have equality of opportunity than equality of results. There’s definitely more work to be done when it comes to the former. But the latter? Some people don’t want to go to college or graduate school, some don’t want to work in lucrative fields, some don’t want to work crazy hours. And that’s okay! We all have it really, really good.

    1. You’re absolutely right. There’s more work to do in order to give everyone the same opportunities, and I believe it begins with education. People will always be different than one another, so some will naturally rise above. Everyone, including me, is capable of achieving much more than they think.

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