One look at the Occupy Wall Street folks mourning the passing of Steve Jobs should confirm this.
…despite appearances to the contrary, there is no evidence that people are bothered by economic inequality itself. Rather, they are bothered by something that is often confounded with inequality: economic unfairness. Drawing upon laboratory studies, cross-cultural research, and experiments with babies and young children, we argue that humans naturally favour fair distributions, not equal ones, and that when fairness and equality clash, people prefer fair inequality over unfair equality.
I once heard this phenomenon mentioned by a social critic who believed the problem was that poor people weren’t angry enough because they believed themselves not as poor, but as temporarily not rich.
And I thought the guy was an idiot. We all want to better our lives, few of us experience the sort of deep-seated jealousy and envy which would drive social change necessary to enforce equality over fairness, and most of us who are trapped in our lives are not trapped because of successful people, but due to a system which can be very unfair.
Now if most people can wrap their minds around the idea that systemic unfairness can often arise from the best of intentions, we may make some progress. For example, the excessive implicit marginal rates poor people pay in taxes and lost benefits (often reaching $1.40 for each additional $1 earned) that causes poor people to (rightfully) conclude working is not worth it–comes from an overly generous welfare system built with the best intentions but which gave no thought to what happens when someone wants to start making money.
(I’m not arguing against a generous welfare system, by the way. I’m arguing that we need to rethink the phase outs of things like food stamps and the earned income tax credit–even if that means allowing those who are not poor to qualify for a limited form of these programs.)