Who is Rich?
By Arnold Kling
David R. Henderson and Charley Hooper argue that most of us are rich.
Except for the few hundred thousand who are homeless, the Americans whom the U.S. government defines as poor live exceptionally rich lives. In most ways, their lives are better than those of kings and queens just 200 years ago. Consider the quality and quantity of our food, clothing, refrigerators, televisions, washing machines, stereo systems, and automobiles. King Louis XIV of France had a greenhouse so he could eat oranges. The poor in this country can eat an orange every day, regardless of season. King Edward III of England could summon the royal musicians to play music. The poor in this country have a wide variety of music at their command, 24 hours a day, played note-perfect every time. Edward III lived in a dark, smelly, cold castle. Even the worst houses in this country are more comfortable and have electric lights, too. Care to live without showers and flush toilets? The kings of England and France had to. Next time you see a Shakespeare play in which kings and princes cavort, remember that royalty in Shakespeare’s day had rotten teeth, terrible breath, and body odor that would make you keel over.
John Rawls made a splash by arguing that we should imagine ourselves being born as the worst-off person in society. What Henderson and Hooper are saying is that of all human beings ever born, even the poorest Americans are in the top one percent.
For Discussion. Looking at the comparisons across countries and across time, evaluate the impact on the standard of living of income redistribution vs. economic growth.