A typically wise observation from Don Boudreaux


This is also a rather clever observation. We're told that both wealth and income inequality are rising strongly, that this is of course terrible, and that this leads to rioting in the streets and the stringing up of plutocrats from lamp posts. Yet when we look out our windows we see a distressing lack of the wealth swinging gently in the breeze, all the Occupy folk have gone home to polish their nose rings and there just doesn't seem to be a mass frustration with matters at all. How can this be? When the clerisy tell us that the world should be in flames and yet it remains resolutely unburning? The answer is, as Boudreaux points out, that wealth and income inequality are a lot less important than we're told they are:

One reason, I’m sure, is that rising inequality in monetary incomes or wealth is NOT the same thing as rising inequality in economic welfare (extra emphasis intentional). It’s not even close – although rare is the “Progressive” who acknowledges the reality that changes in income (or wealth) are not identical to changes in consumption-ability (that is, to changes in real economic well-being). Inequality of monetarily reckoned income or wealth can rise while inequality of consumption opportunities can fall.

We might want to worry about consumption inequality, if that does indeed become too extreme.But we've not particularly got very much of that in our current society. Sure, the plutocrats can have hot and cold running yachts and £10,000 bottles of champagne. But no one thinks that it's particularly important that they can and we don't. We've not particularly got a shortage of even a serious limitation on what we do care about the consumption of. A roof over our heads, decent food, nice clothes and so on and on. The rich may have nicer pants but they still put them on one leg at a time and they're still only wearing one pair at a time too.

The economically important form of inequality is that of consumption opportunities. And one good reason why we've not got those riots in the streets is simply that we've got a lot less of that than we do income or wealth inequality.