In An Age of Soaring Inequality, Life Will Get Better and Better

Imagine if Jeff Bezos had been born in 1864 instead of 1964. What a tragedy for Americans if so, and realistically for humankind.

If born 100 years earlier there’s no debating that Bezos would have entered the world with the same energy as he did 100 years later, and there’s similarly no debating that he wouldn’t have made his mark in some way. But what a loss for humanity. Think about it.

Bezos realistically came into his own in a commercial sense in his thirties. Imagine if he’d come into his own in the 1890s versus the 1990s. To say that technology was exponentially more primitive in the 1890s is quite the understatement, at which point it’s worth thinking about how few people would have been touched by Bezos’s genius if he’d been born in 1864.

While there’s once again no arguing that energy and ambition would have taken him far in the 19th and early part of the 20th century, he wouldn’t have become nearly as rich simply because the frontiers of technology back then would have so substantially limited his commercial reach. It’s all worth thinking about as economics writers like Dylan Matthews ask whether we’re in an age of inequality. One can only hope. That is so because soaring inequality is an unquestionably bullish signal.

Indeed, while members of the left reflexively denigrate it, and while almost as confused members of the right implicitly denigrate it (see Phil Gramm’s newish book making a case that government handouts shrink inequality, as though handouts are good and inequality bad) with all their hapless attempts to prove it doesn’t exist, the reality is that rising inequality is a beautiful sign of freedom.

The freer the people the more inequality there is, as individuals get to showcase their unique skills and intelligence in the marketplace. It’s in countries where people aren’t free that individual initiative is stifled, and progress is halted. Which is why rising inequality would be a good thing even policy types could prove that it’s bad for the masses. Freedom is its own virtue.

Except that no serious person would or could ever make a serious case that inequality has a negative impact on the masses. Quite the opposite. See Bezos yet again. Thanks to the marriage of his entrepreneurial genius with the massive technological leap that was and is the internet, people the world over are able to access the world’s plenty with a click of a computer mouse. Those same people similarly have access to the world’s collection of music and movies compiled over many generations.

Which requires us to yet again transport Bezos back in time, to 1924. There were rich people in 1924, including staggeringly rich people, but there were limits to their wealth. With transportation and communication much less advanced than both are today, the ability of the innovative to reach the masses was limited. Imagining for a second if Bezos had similarly started Amazon in Seattle, but in 1924. If so, it’s no limp speculation that his business would have had hundreds of millions and perhaps billions fewer customers, the range of services would have been world’s less, and the geographical reach of a 1924 Amazon might have been limited to Seattle itself. There’s quite simply no getting around the reality that technological limits of old would have a restrained an older Bezos.

All of which hopefully answers the question about whether we’re in an age of inequality. Of course we are. The internet that made Bezos a global name continues to grow in terms of speech and reach, along with other technologies existing and in the future that will more and more make it seem that every innovator in the world lives next door to all of us. In a world that will be increasingly shrunken by technology, wealth will skyrocket as the geniuses serve more and more of us. A beautiful world indeed.

Republished from RealClear Markets


  • John Tamny

    John Tamny is a popular speaker and author in the U.S. and around the world. His speech topics include "Government Barriers to Economic Growth," "Why Washington and Wall Street are Better Off Living Apart," and more.

Scroll to Top