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Enough Already with Envying those Who are Monetarily Relatively Rich

In my latest column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review I make the case for greater recognition of the reality that observed differences in income reflect – to a degree unappreciated in the popular and political discussion – individual choices. A slice:

I spend six hours weekly (and weakly) lifting weights at the gym. The modesty of my effort combines with my age (60) to ensure that I’ll never be as buff as younger guys who spend more time lifting weights than I now choose to spend — and more time than I chose to spend at the gym when I was younger. The result is muscle inequality! And I’m tempted to feel envious. I want to be as bulging-biceped and broad-shouldered as are my young gym-rat friends.

Really, though, how seriously do I want this outcome? I could, even at my age, build more muscle if I spent not six hours weekly at the gym but, rather, six hours daily. Also, I’d have bigger muscles today had I spent more time at the gym when I was younger. But all my life I’ve chosen to spend only relatively small amounts of time at the gym.

These choices were mine and I made them freely. Spending more time at the gym means spending less time working (that is, earning income), less time with loved ones and friends, and less time doing other things that I judge to be worthwhile. The fact that I’d be more buff if being more buff were costless is irrelevant. The reality is that it’s not costless. And so the size of my muscles is largely the result of the ways that I’ve chosen to make trade-offs.

So I resist the temptation to envy men with bigger muscles — men whose muscles, it’s relevant to note, were not built with fiber taken from my muscles. And if muscle redistribution by government were possible, I’d oppose it. The result of such redistribution would be less muscle bulk to redistribute. Would you pump weights for hours each day knowing that a large chunk of what you build will be stripped away and given to someone else? More importantly, I’m not entitled to the confiscated fruits of other people’s efforts.