Spoiler alert, contemporary you and I win, but the victory is incomplete. Rockefeller retains one advantage to this day, and one Boudreaux acknowledges: Rockefeller could buy unprecedented expansiveness -- houses, land, and opulence -- that's still beyond the reach of all but a sliver of the population. You or I can't challenge Rockefeller on bigness and quantity, but that's not Boudreaux's point, which is that you and I can challenge and beat Rockefeller on quality and variety.
Nearly every good and service available today is of superior quality (automobiles and dentistry are a mere microcosm) than anything Rockefeller could have bought 100 years ago. What's more, so much of what you or I can readily avail ourselves – smart phones, highways, air travel, food choice, and on and on -- were unavailable to Rockefeller. The little things in life on the margin are frequently difference makers. Even Rockefeller unlikely wore clean, laundered clothes every day. This is a trifle, but only because we take clean, laundered clothes for granted. In Rockefeller's day, clean, laundered clothes were a luxury. And if Rockefeller wore clean, laundered clothes everyday, they were not as clean as your clothes are today.
To Ritholtz, it's all relative. How would a 1916 me stand up to a 1916 John D. Rockefeller. Here, Ritholtz conjures a favorite of mine H.L. Mencken: "Wealth - any income that is at least one hundred dollars more a year than the income of one's wife's sister's husband." Wealth comparisons matter only in context of the here-and-now, so our antagonist reasons.
If I had been alive in 1916, would Rockefeller been able to attract more women and sire more children than I could? The answer is yes. I am alive today. Is Bill Gates able to attract more women and sire more children than I can? The answer is again yes. Do I care? The answer is no.
No matter to which epoch I was transported I would always find inequality among individuals, such is the reality of life.The relative attractiveness and value of my talents and physical appeal would wax and wane from epoch to epoch. Some epochs I'd compare more favorably to the Rockefeller of the day: others I'd compare less favorably.. Relative comparisons will always exist, but so what? Ritholtz is simply identifying an identity. None of this has anything to do with Boudreaux's post. Boudreaux is dealing with the absolute.
Relative or absolute isn't the real issue, though. Inequality is the real issue. “The obvious point here [Boudreaux's post] is that we are doing better than the richest man of a century ago," Ritholtz says. "Yet there's a subtext (which becomes pretty clear by looking at the comments on the post): That all of this talk about wealth and income inequality -- an important theme in this year's presidential election -- can and should be ignored.”
Ritholtz claims a “subtext” in Boudreaux's post that doesn't exist, so there is nothing to ignore. As is so often the case, members of Ritholtz's class fret excessively over income inequality. Rarely do the prols concern themselves with income inequality. Jacqueries rarely arise organically, and when they do, they're rarely sustained.
Perhaps the subconscious mind is burdened with guilt and fear. Those in Ritholtz's class express (or really feign) concern over income equality to self preserve: Crony capitalism, quantitative easing, relentless inflation, political patronage favor Ritholtz and the “wealth management” ilk over the prols. I understand why someone in a moment of introspection might feel unease about wealth disparity..(Class warfare does exist, to be sure, but it's not the Marxist strain Ritholtz's imagines:The war isn't between the bourgeois and the proletariat; it's between the producers and the parasites.)
Ideology also keeps Ritholtz awake at nights. Yours to be specific: “Today, one of the biggest impediments is simple ignorance and slavish devotion to ideologies," Ritholtz tells us. "Whether it’s irresponsible opponents of childhood vaccination or the global-warming denialists, the single most threatening force to human progress is relentless stupidity.”
Is to oppose forced childhood vaccination (not childhood vaccination) an example of slavish devotion to an ideology? Is it stupidity? I suppose you could argue that the science overwhelming supports the efficacy of vaccinations, but does it? Medical science, it turns out, is as biased as everyone. You think medical research is unbiased, and therefore conclusive, think again (and read here).
Then there is the shopworn “denial” assertion on global warming. We all know what and with whom “denial” is associated. You don't believe the planet is warming, then you're slotted into the same category as the delusional minority that doesn't believe what a slick-haired, small-mustached megalomaniac did to six million of his countrymen 75 years ago. (Pardon me for not mentioning his name, but I prefer not to invoke Godwin's Law.)
Words have meaning, and Ritholtz uses them incorrectly. There is no “denial” on change – temperature or climate. Yesterday it was 50 degrees Fahrenheit; today's it's 55. What's to deny? It got warmer, but why and how? That's what the inquisitive mind wants to know. And if it appears the answer offered is ladled with agenda and bias, then the skeptical mind wants to know and will ask: What are the variables considered; can they be held constant to accurately measure? How and where are temperatures measured? Are the models biased? Is the prescription worse than the affliction? That's not denial, that's intelligence.
Ritholtz is right to acknowledge that progress isn't guaranteed. Mankind has gone centuries – even millennia – with nary a budge. But Ritholtz is wrong to blame stupidity, which has been in ample supply since time immemorial and will be amply supplied until the sun goes black. Stupidity, though, is a genuine threat only when it can be legislated to afflict the non-stupid. The ability and willingness to legislate stupidity – privilege, subsidies, monopolies, taxes, tariffs, manipulation, regulations, wars, and on and on – has multiplied exponentially thanks to the relentless Fabianist march ushered in 100 years ago with the Progressive Era.
Of course,stupidity, like greed, always resides with the other person; never with the person looking back from the mirror. So when Ritholtz warns, “The forces gathered in resistance to progress are as formidable, maybe more so than at any time in many years. Let’s hope voters understand this in the 2016 election,” I can't help but think of another H.L. Mencken quote: “The kind of man who wants the government to adopt and enforce his ideas is always the kind of man whose ideas are idiotic.”
With all that said, would you prefer to live in today's world as you are or would you prefer to live in the world circa 1916 as the richest man?