What's the point of absolute wealth?
I've heard many variations on this hypothetical question before: Would you rather be middle class in the United States now, or be in the top 1% of income in 1900?
I used to always think the answer was clear, that you'd rather be middle class now with all of our modern wonders.
But now I'm not sure, and in fact I increasingly lean the other way, that relative wealth is the name of the game.
Of course it'd suck to go back to 1900 and not have internet and air conditioning and all that, but in the hypothetical you'd be ignorant of all that, so who cares. Just like we're ignorant now of the wonderful things we'll have in the world of 2100. One day we'll look back at the year 2014 and laugh at our short life spans, unimpressive technologies, and barbarous medical practices. It's always the bad old days (from a future perspective).
Relative wealth confers clear benefits. Relative wealth is likely to come with power and status and other things that humans strive for.
Anyway, I don't think think it's black and white, but there's a standard line of conservative/libertarian thinking which likes to point out that inequality doesn't matter, because in the United States, even most of the poor are rich by global and historical standards.
But being rich by historical standards seems like poor a poor consolation for actual poverty.