Last month I wrote about creating more jobs by not worrying about inequality and putting aside class envy. One reader responded by asking whether I truly understood the debilitating effects of inequality and the anger it can cause. Oh yes, I know.
My earliest memories are of my mother's envy. She had five siblings, all of them married, all living close to each other in Massachusetts, so every other Sunday evening they assembled for bridge games that rotated among the various homes. When it was our turn I got to set out the candy dishes, sneaking more than my share of Brach's sugared fruit slices, chocolate gold coins, M&M king-size peanuts, and Tootsie rolls.
Dressed in my plaid knee-length shorts, my belly pushing against the fabric of a button-up shirt, with dark socks and dark leather shoes finishing the look, I listened to my mother interrogating her sisters about any new clothes they were wearing: "What's something like that cost?" or "Where did you buy it?"
My mother had married a smart man who was poor. Her sisters had married uneducated entrepreneurs who became rich. They lived in "split-level homes"—I wasn't sure what they were, but they were bigger and better than our snug apartment. They had wall-to-wall carpeting. We had peeling linoleum.
My mother's sisters played mahjong, but at age 41, once I hit the fourth grade, she went back to work as a secretary, this time in a tannery. The smell was bad but the sense of defeat was worse. Her sisters had the good life. She had dictation. I had a bicycle put together out of scrap metal. I wouldn't ride it in front of other kids with their Schwinns. I coveted.
The 23rd Psalm famously begins, "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want." In junior high and high school I wanted everything and had no trust that God would provide anything. Since I had always lived in an apartment on one floor, I coveted houses with both an upstairs and a downstairs. We had a black-and-white television. I coveted a color one.
In September 1968, I put my two polyester sweaters in a suitcase and headed off to college. My roommate was a New Yorker who had brought his own dresser just to hold all his luxurious woolens. I was mad at him from day one.