In an otherwise interesting article examining how vibrant, growing societies should expect unhappiness as a useful by-product and driving force, Robert Samuelson slips this nugget into his refutation of John Kenneth Galbraith’s “The Affluent Society”:
It’s often said that only the rich are getting ahead; everyone else is standing still or falling behind. Well, there are many undeserving rich — overpaid chief executives, for instance. But over any meaningful period, most people’s incomes are increasing. From 1995 to 2004, inflation-adjusted median family income — for families precisely in the middle — rose 14.3 percent, to $43,200, the Federal Reserve says. People feel “squeezed” because their rising incomes often don’t satisfy their rising wants — for bigger homes, more health care, more education, faster Internet connections.
We feel like we’re falling behind, when in fact we’re progressing rapidly. Whatever the reason we accept the lie, be it politicians, academics, or our own intellectual laziness, the myth about the “good ol’ days” doesn’t die. So, why is it that we must accept, without any other objective criteria, that chief executives are a) overpaid and b) undeserving of the incomes they earn? Perhaps an example from Mr. Samuelson would be useful. Without one, I can only assume he wishes to fall into the trap of believing whatever media story appears on the morning paper’s front page. Why?
Everything else he wrote in the article suggests that the free market works best for satisfying (and creating) needs. This is deemed “good”. But how can we accept that it’s good if the we toss around negative adjectives with only subjective criteria as support? The chief executives negotiated a contract with their employers. We must assume both sides are happy. To a country’s citizens who are not shareholders of the company, the results should count for squat. Don’t like the executive’s pay? Don’t do business with the company. That might even work towards filling unhappiness associated with prosperity.
Making baseless claims about the exception that proves the rule only provides the statists with incorrect ammunition.