Rich Man’s Envy

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An op-ed piece in the New York Times identifies the reason why American’s work so hard. “Rising inequality,” writes Dalton Conley, “causes us to work more to keep up in an economy increasingly dominated by status goods.” Mr. Conley fails to notice that inequality alone does not motivate anyone. Even the perception that someone is better off than me does not motivate me unless it leads to a desire to be better off, too. What Mr. Conley describes is not inequality but envy.

…a poll of New Yorkers found that those who earned more than $200,000 a year were the most likely of any income group to agree that “seeing other people with money” makes them feel poor.

I think you would be hard pressed to find a better description of envy: wanting more because others have it not because it will benefit you.

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