Envy and Resentment
By Arnold Kling
Here’s my outlandish theory: that economic resentment at the bottom of the top 1 percent of America’s income distribution is the new wild card in public life. Ordinary workers won’t rise up against ultras because they take it as given that “the rich get richer.”
…[But] If people no smarter or better than you are making ten or 50 or 100 million dollars in a single year while you’re working yourself ragged to earn a million or two – or, God forbid, $400,000 – then something must be wrong.
Thanks to Greg Mankiw for the pointer.
My own observation, from working in business, is that people always compare themselves to similar individuals who earn more. “That guy down the hall takes a longer lunch than I do, but he makes $5000 more.” They never compare themselves to similar individuals who earn less. “I’m lucky to be making $4000 more than so-and-so, given that what he does contributes more to the company.”
I think it’s deeply ingrained in us to believe that many other people are getting more money (for a given level of skills and effort), better sex, and more satisfaction out of their jobs. So the bookstores are lined with volumes purporting to explain how you could be like those mythical others.