Stop complaining about wealth inequality, life quality

Billionaire Charlie Munger thinks we should all be a lot happier.

Munger, a longtime investment partner and friend of fellow billionaire Warren Buffett, says he doesn’t understand why people today aren’t more content with what they have, especially compared to more difficult times throughout history.

“People are less happy about the state of affairs than they were when things were more difficult,” Munger said earlier this year at the annual meeting of the Daily Journal, the newspaper company where he is a director.

The 98-year-old noted that he came of age in the 1930s, when Americans everywhere were struggling: “It’s strange for someone my age, because I was in the middle of the Great Depression when the difficulties were incredible.”

During this annual meeting, Munger complained that jealousy is a driving factor for too many people today. Before the early 1800s, there were thousands of years where “life was very brutal, short, limited to what you had. [There was] no printing press, no air conditioning, no modern medicine,” he said.

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If nothing else, Munger’s sense of the pervasiveness of jealousy in today’s world might be right on the money: recent studies show that about 75% of people are envious of someone else in any given year.

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are especially effective in provoking feelings of jealousy or envy, often connecting us with people who only offer very well-organized glimpses of positive developments in their lives.

At the meeting, Munger pointed to the work of Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, who argued that the quality of life around the world has improved dramatically in the past century or two, citing evidence such as longer life expectancy and reduced global poverty.

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Critics of Pinker’s work say his views are oversimplified and ignorant of the negative aspects of modern life, from growing wealth inequality to the continued existence of violence and political instability — factors that can still cause real suffering.

In 2019, Munger downplayed the effects of wealth and income inequality, declaring that politicians who were “shouting about it are idiots.”

Some politicians, such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have called for tax increases on the ultra-rich in recent years. Munger and his estimated net worth of $2.2 billion would likely be subject to such increases.

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The billionaire has expressed skepticism about higher taxes on the rich in the past, even arguing last year that some inequality is a necessary aspect of a free market economy. At the Daily Journal’s annual meeting this year, he added that most people’s concerns about wealth inequality and criticism of the very rich were “motivated” by jealousy.

“I can’t change the fact that a lot of people are very unhappy and feel very wronged after everything has improved by about 600%, because there is always someone else who has more,” Munger said.

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