We get jealous easily, and a simple trend line can set us off in the worst way. Take income inequality for example. It seems that the top 1% of earners are well on their way to owning 99% of the world’s wealth, and that can’t be a good thing, comparatively speaking that is. We tend to see the uber rich as real-life incarnations of Scrooge McDuck, with a yacht the size of the Titanic, a country estate as large as Epcot, and a vault with gold coins a mile down and a mile wide where they can take a daily swim. It’s all about contrasting our stuff with their stuff, and it is the imagery that really counts. That the rich recklessly spend much of their money, while reserving the rest in boundless and inert pools of cash is a neat image, and can be solved in two ways. One is by taking their toys away from them, or two, by taking the money that they use to buy their toys. The latter solution is the familiar tax the rich gambit, where the rich pay their fair share to the government, like nearly all of it. The former solution, which I prefer, is to take the toys away, and restrict them to living in modest cobblestone huts, take simple vacations in the Ozarks, and paddle only in canoe sized yachts. They get to keep their gotten gains, whether ill or not, and no vault diving allowed!
Jeff Bezos in better times
The issue is that even if a Bezos like character gets his rocket liner, private island, and mega-yacht replaced by a cobblestone hut, 1956 Volkswagen, and a canoe, in either case he is only spending a fraction of his wealth. The rest of it is not in some bottomless money pit, but in the business enterprise that coined them their gold. We would be just fine with capitalists who were more in line with Bob Cratchit than Ebenezer Scrooge, but either way the real question is whether individual or social goods are the most important. It is this tension between private and government spending, or between individual and societal goods that is most important, and this is apportioned between all individuals and ultimately transcends mere envy. As for the jealousy part, that’s something we just can’t help, however a cobblestone equity act is something we can all buy into, while keeping us comfortable when we buy into Amazon stock, whether it is denominated in tender vittles or tender offerings, whose relative virtues will be always debated.