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Opinion
Tyler Cowen

Resentment of the Wealthy Is Not a Policy

Why the various plans to get the rich to pay more taxes won’t be as popular as the Democrats think.

Spreading vacation resentment.

Spreading vacation resentment.

Photographer: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP

A lot of people resent the wealthy, especially lately, and according to polls they like some of the latest plans to take away the money of the rich. Maybe so. But most people still admire the wealthy, especially if they got that way by working hard, and that’s why I think these plans will turn out to be less popular than Democrats now believe.

At least in the U.S., most envy is local, and not directed at the super-rich. When it comes to income inequality — and unequal outcomes more generally — people tend to worry about their high-school classmates, their in-laws, their neighbors and their colleague down the hall, who perhaps received a bigger raise or a nicer office. Those are the resentments that turn into true grudges, not the wealth gap between you and Bill Gates.