There are several libertarian-ish economists on the internet who argue against focusing on inequality. One common argument I've seen is that it is better to be a poor person (in America) in 2017, than to be the richest man a century or two ago. That poor people today have a better life than oil barons like J.D. Rockefeller. Thus rather than focus on relative inequality, we should pursue rising standards for everybody, even if it increases inequality.
As far as arguments go, it's not a bad one, especially if we focus on non-status, or more material elements. But that's not what I want to discuss today. Let's just take that argument as a given, and put ourselves in the same mindset as these economists.
So then we have the following sequence of logic:
- The richest person in 1870 had a worse standard of living than a poor person in 2017.
- The richest person in 2017 has a better standard of living than a poor person in 2017.
- Therefore, in some year between 1870 and 2017, the richest person in the world had a standard of living roughly equal to a poor person in 2017.
What year do you think that was? What's the point in time where you would choose to be the richest man in the world rather than a poor person in 2017? What is the missing invention or innovation which makes all the difference?
I think the best candidate is 1955, when Jonas Salk invents the polio vaccine. I think that removes the last major scourge of childhood illnesses (which strike rich and poor alike). After that point, I think the richest person in the world can approximate most innovations that a poor person in 2017 has access to, or can live without those innovations. As awesome as computer games are, I don't think they make up for millions of dollars.
What's your candidate for this inflection point?