Wealth has Benefitted the Few

December 9, 2009

Good words from the 1840s written by a guy I never heard of (Thomas Babington Macaulay), but apparently Don Boudreaux, author of this blog post has.  Thank goodness for wikipedia (which makes a lot of information, that even the wealthy didn’t have easy access to in the 1840s, available to almost anyone for free):

It may well be, in the twentieth century … that numerous comforts and luxuries which are now unknown, or confined to a few, may be within the reach of every diligent and thrifty workingman.  And yet it may then be the mode to assert that the increase of wealth and the progress of science have benefited the few at the expense of the many.

He was right.   As Janet Jackson asks, “what have you done for me lately?”  We have a tough time recognizing just how much better off we are than previous generations or people living with us in our world today. Current generations forget how much better off we are than when they were younger.  I can’t imagine life without the internet or cell phone, yet I lived a good deal of my life without those things.

As a kid, whenever I complained of a minor discomfort the older generations would tell of how they walked to school backyards through 10 foot drifts of snow with nothing but newspapers tied around their feet.  Or, if I left some food on my plate, there were starving children in other parts of the world that would love to have it.

But, somehow the very same people who saw fit to point out magnificent luxuries that I took for granted often forget about those when discussing the inequities they see today.

As Einstein said, it’s all relative.   The trick that causes this is using the immediate haves and have nots as the basis for comparison.

If you compare the medical care Teddy Kennedy received while fighting cancer to what a poor schmuck like you or I would receive, your sense of fairness may be challenged.  However, compare the treatment that a poor schmuck would receive to what Teddy Kennedy would have received 5, 10, 15 or 40 years ago and you’ll realize that poor schmucks have it pretty good.

And in another 5 or years, the treatment Kennedy received will likely be in reach of poor schmucks.  I know, I know…that doesn’t help the poor schmucks today.

But, sure it does.  Again, what poor schmucks receive today is better than what Kennedy would have received 5 to 10 years ago.  In fact, poor schmucks today should be thanking the Kennedys of 5 – 10 years ago for testing out the stuff which made it possible to be available now.


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