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Collection: Charlie Munger - #219 'It's Not Greed That Drives The World, But Envy.'



This question comes in from Steve who says, what worries you most about our economy and the stock market? And on the other hand, what makes you optimistic?


Well, you have to be optimistic about the competency of our technical civilization.

But there again, it’s an interesting thing. If you take the last 100 years, 1922 to 2022, most of modernity came in in that 100 years. And then the previous 100 years, that got another big chunk of modernity.

Before that, things were pretty much the same for the previous thousands of years. Life was pretty brutal, and short, and limited, and what have you. No printing press, no air conditioning, no modern medicine. And I don’t think we’re going to get things that are in what I call the ‘real human needs'.

Think of what it meant to get – say first you got the steam engine, the steamship, the railroad, and a little bit of improvement in farming, and a little bit of improvement in plumbing. That’s what you got in the 100 years that ended in 1922.

The next 100 years gave us widely distributed electricity, modern medicine, the automobile, the airplane, the records, the movies, the air conditioning in the south. And think what a blessing it was.

If you wanted five children, I mean if you wanted six children – If you wanted three children, you had to have six, because three died in infancy. That was our ancestors. Think of the agony of having to watch half your children die. It’s amazing how much achievement there has been in civilization in these last 200 years and most of it in the last 100 years.

Now, the trouble with that is that the basic needs are pretty well filled. In the United States, the principal problem of the poor people is that they’re too fat. That is a very different place from what happened in the past. In the past, they were on the edge of starving.

And what happens is – it’s really interesting is with all this enormous increase in living standards, and freedom, and diminishment of racial inequities, and all the huge progress that has come, people are less happy about the state of affairs than they were when things were way tougher.

And that has a very simple explanation. The world is not driven by greed, it’s driven by envy. And so the fact that everybody’s five times better off than they used to be, they take it for granted. All they think about is somebody else having more now and it’s not fair that he should have it and they don’t.

That’s the reason that God came down and told Moses that he couldn’t envy his neighbor’s wife or even his donkey. I mean, even the old Jews were having trouble with envy. So it’s built into the nature of things.

It’s weird for somebody at my age because I was in the middle of the Great Depression and the hardship was unbelievable. I was safer walking around Omaha in the evening than I am in my own neighborhood in Los Angeles after all this great wealth and so forth.

So and I have no way of doing anything about it.I can’t change the fact that a lot of people are very unhappy and feel very abused after everything’s improved by about 600% because there’s still somebody else who has more.

I have conquered envy in my own life. I don’t envy anybody. I don’t give a damn what somebody else has. But other people are going crazy by it. And other people play to the envy in order to advance their own political careers. We have whole networks now that they want to pour gasoline on the flames of envy. I like the religion of the old Jews. I like the people who were against envy, not the people who were trying to profit from it.

But if you stop to – think of the pretentious expenditures of the rich. Who in the hell needs a Rolex watch so you can get mugged for it? You know, I mean it's – yet, everybody wants to have a pretentious expenditure. That helps drive demand in our modern capitalist society.

My advice to the young people is don’t go there. To hell with the pretentious expenditure. I don’t think there’s much happiness in it. But it does drive the civilization we actually have. And it drives the dissatisfaction.

Steven Pinker of Harvard is one of our smart modern academic. He constantly points out that everything’s gotten way, way better, but the general feeling about how fair it is has gotten way more hostile. And as it gets better and better, people are less and less satisfied. That is weird but that’s what’s happened.



[YAPSS Takeaway]

Conquered envy in your life and you will have a much happier life.

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