Another gem from Kevin Williamson, In Defense of Wealth and The Wealthy
Today’s staple was yesterday’s luxury: Jane Austen did not live in a cave, but she wrote at a time when beef was a luxury or near-luxury often out of the reach of the poor, and now it is something to be had on the McDonald’s dollar menu. How did that come to pass? It is not as though some new kind of cow were invented in 1817 that solved the problem of beef scarcity. The consumption enjoyed by wealthy people spurs investment in the goods and services the wealthy demand, and markets are often — though by no means always — pretty good at democratizing consumption. Some of that is pretty straightforward manufacturing economics: producing the first widget is pretty expensive but, once you have set up the widget factory, producing the 10-millionth widget is radically less expensive. Research and development targeted at high-margin products for the wealthy ends up enabling consumption of the same goods by less-wealthy people, which is why damned few Millennials have ever rolled down a car window, and no teenager today knows what to do with a telephone that plugs into the wall and has a rotary dial. Jamie Dimon may fly around on JPMorgan’s private jet, but J. P. Morgan himself never hopped on an airplane for a three-day weekend in Las Vegas the way a lot of ordinary schmucks can afford to do today. The glamorous connotations of the term “jet set” may sound faintly ridiculous in a world in which Spirit Airlines exists, but we have jet service for ordinary people because we had it for wealthy people first. And if the wealthy in our time prefer to fly private, that is about $5,000 an hour out of their pockets into the pockets of the people who make that rarefied luxury possible.
There is the unplanned and unintended benefit of making luxuries into ordinary items. Such spending primes the pump on some items, but it is not an essential element for progress. When wealth is generated to provide consumers with products and services they want we all benefit; when wealth is generated by rent seeking behavior most of us lose.