This interesting article misses a basic aspect of the human experience. For better or worse, we are relative creatures whose sense of identity and well-being is derived through comparing ourselves to others.It would be better to make everyone poorer, because the absence of rich people makes poor people happier.
If you accept that one of the functions of civil society is to strive to maximize the happiness and well-being of its citizens(which I do), then these charts point to happier people in Europe (as is shown in clinical studies). The absolute scale, once basic safety and survial is accomplished, is almost irrelevant.
Given the comparative nature of human psychology, the bottom 10% in the US will be miserable, and the middle will feel cheated. French peasants in 1789 were presumably materially better off than Kalahari Bushmen, but relatively they were destitute. The absolute prosperity of French peasants did not deter them from revolution.
Granting outsize income to outsize effort may maximize GDP in the short run, but societies can rationally choose to balance maximal overall output with moderating inequality. From the perspective of human happinenss (the only one that actually matters in my book), Europe's model is more successful.
15 June 2007
Over at Think of England, I pointed to this comment, but I wanted to note it here, too, because it is such a perfect example of a point of view that, had I not run up against it time after time, I would absolutely deny that any human being could hold. This is just completely foreign to me:
Posted by David at 4:18 PM