Inequality: Why aren’t the poor storming the barricades?

MATT MILLER of the Washington Post has a hunch: there hasn’t been a “broader revolt” of the underclass against rising income inequality, he writes, because the poor don’t experience inequality as intolerable. Pointing to a Cato Institute report by Will Wilkinson (a fellow blogger for DiA) from 2009, Mr Miller suggests that “technology’s impact on quality and prices complicates the way people perceive these matters and how we should judge them”:That’s because the surging income gap often masks a narrowing difference in the actual consumption experiences of the rich and the rest of us. ‘At the turn of the 20th century, only the mega-rich had refrigerators or cars,’ [Wilkinson] wrote. ‘But refrigerators are now all but universal in the United States, even as refrigerator inequality continues to grow.’…The difference between the rich man’s $11,000 Sub-Zero ‘monument to food preservation’ and the poor man’s $550 fridge from IKEA is smaller than the difference between being able to enjoy fresh meat and milk and having none. ‘The Ikea model will keep your beer just as cold as the Sub-Zero model,’ he wrote dryly.This argument has the ring of a truism, which should elicit suspicion. Yes, any refrigerator is an infinite improvement on none. And, as Mr Wilkinson wrote, “a widescreen plasma television is a delight, but a cheap 19-inch TV is enough to allow a viewer to …

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