Charlie Munger Said Everything Has Improved By 600% But People Are Less Happy Than They Were When Things Were 'Way Tougher'

Charlie Munger, the veteran investor and right-hand man to Warren Buffett, passed away recently. He was popular for his financial acumen and outspoken views on happiness & societal progress.

In his last appearance at the Daily Journal's annual meeting in 2023, Munger shared his bewilderment over the pervasive discontent he observed in contemporary society, despite historical advancements.

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"People are less happy about the state of affairs than they were when things were way tougher," Munger stated, reflecting on his experiences during the Great Depression. He emphasized the stark contrasts between the hardships of the 1930s and today’s relative comfort, yet noted a general sense of dissatisfaction that seemed illogical to him.

Munger, who was 98 at the time, also criticized the role of envy in modern discontent. He pointed out that for much of human history, life was exceedingly harsh and limited, with no amenities like air conditioning or modern medicine. "It's weird for somebody my age, because I was in the middle of the Great Depression when the hardship was unbelievable," he remarked.

Supporting Munger’s observations, recent studies suggest that approximately 75% of people feel envious of others within a given year, a sentiment amplified by social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. These sites often showcase only the most positive aspects of people’s lives, exacerbating feelings of jealousy and discontent.

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Munger also referenced Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, who argues that the quality of life has significantly improved globally over the past two centuries. Pinker cites longer life spans and reduced global poverty as evidence, though critics claim his perspective overlooks ongoing issues like wealth inequality, violence, and political instability.

Despite these advancements, Munger expressed frustration over the continued focus on wealth and income inequality, which he believed stemmed largely from envy. "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," he explained.

Echoing Munger’s observations, Warren Buffett also acknowledged the significant improvements in modern living standards during a 2022 interview with Charlie Rose. Buffett highlighted that even the least affluent enjoy a better quality of life than John D. Rockefeller once did, citing major advancements in medicine, education, entertainment, and transportation. 

The late billionaire also touched upon the debate over wealth distribution, criticizing politicians who advocate for increased taxes on the ultrawealthy, such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Munger, with an estimated net worth of $2.2 billion, opposed these measures, arguing that some degree of inequality is intrinsic to a free-market economy.

While people objectively have it better in many ways than previous generations, it isn’t necessarily easy for everyone. According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau reported by Time in 2023, the national poverty rate in 2022 reached 12.4%, a significant increase from 7.4% in 2021. This rise highlights the need to address issues of inequality and ensure that everyone benefits from societal advancements. 

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