When people can see with their own eyes that a talented person made a great fortune fair and square, they tend not to resent it.
Gregory Mankiw, via Ari Kohen, whose excellent response includes:
For my own part, I don’t resent any of the (many, many, many) people who make more money than I do. But I also won’t buy the claim that there’s something intrisically better about them when I compare them to me or to people who aren’t doing as well financially as I am. What seems more likely to me is that under different circumstances we’d all wind up in different places on the economic ladder and that kind of messes with the whole notion of what someone deserves.
I’m interested in Mankiw’s choice of the word “resent”. He chooses Robert Downey, Jr. as an example of the deserving ultra-rich. Like Ari, I don’t resent Robert Downey, Jr. for receiving $40,000,000.00 to act in a movie. I think he’s a decent actor and hope for the best for him and his strangely-named children. Is he “deserving”? I don’t think he’s undeserving.
But if you had $40,007,000.00 and you were trying to justly divide it between two deserving people, how would you divide it? Let’s say one is Robert Downey, Jr. The other is a single mother who’s working three part-time jobs and trying to raise two kids after her husband was shot by the police in a case of mistaken identity. And say you really liked the Iron Man movies. What percent do you give to Robert Downey, Jr.? And isn’t there a point where it just seems grossly unfair?
(Source: The New York Times, via kohenari)