Cease complaining about wealth inequality and high quality of life

Billionaire Charlie Munger thinks we should all be a lot happier.

Munger, the longtime investment partner and friend of fellow billionaire Warren Buffett, says he doesn’t understand why people aren’t happier with what they have today, especially compared to tougher times throughout history.

“People are less happy about the way things are now than they were when things were a lot more difficult,” Munger said earlier this year at the annual meeting of the Daily Journal, the newspaper company where he is a director.

Noting that he was growing up in the 1930s when Americans everywhere were struggling, the 98-year-old said: “It’s weird for someone my age because I was in the middle of the Great Depression when the hardship was unbelievable.”

During that annual meeting, Munger complained that envy was a driving factor for too many people today. Before the early 19th century, there were thousands of years when “life was pretty brutal, short, limited and whatever. [There was] no printing press, no air conditioning, no modern medicine,” he said.

Last but not least, Munger’s sense of widespread envy in today’s world might be right: Recent studies show that about 75% of people are jealous of someone else every year.

Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are particularly effective at stirring up feelings of envy or jealousy, often connecting us with people who only offer highly curated insights into the positive developments in their lives.

At the meeting, Munger referenced the work of Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, who argued that the quality of life around the world had improved dramatically over the past century or two, citing evidence such as longer life expectancy and reduced global poverty .

Critics of Pinker’s work say his views are oversimplified and ignorant of the negative aspects of modern life, from growing wealth inequality to persistent violence and political instability – factors that can still cause genuine suffering.

In 2019, Munger downplayed the impact of wealth and income inequality, claiming the politicians who are “yelling about it are idiots”.

Some politicians, such as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, have called for tax increases for the ultra-rich in recent years. Munger and his estimated net worth of $2.2 billion would likely be subject to those increases.

The billionaire has in the past expressed skepticism about higher taxes on the rich, even arguing last year that some inequality is a necessary aspect of a free market economy. At this year’s Daily Journal annual meeting, he added that most people’s concerns about wealth inequality and criticism of the ultra-rich are “motivated” by envy.

“I can’t change the fact that a lot of people are very unhappy and feel very abused after things have improved about 600% because there’s always someone who has more,” Munger said.

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