The economics of envy

Here’s a typical bit of leftist rubbish: Wealth concentration near ‘levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties,’ study finds. Such studies, and no doubt accurate to the third decimal. But suppose we just change the heading a bit:

Wealth levels near ‘levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties,’ study finds

Take the bottom ten percent today and their standard of living is much much higher than the top ten percent was then. They eat better, have better transportation (say cars and roads), improved entertainment (and right in their own living room) and live in larger, more spacious homes with an endless increase in labour-saving gadgetry.

The level of income inequality is invisible. It requires someone to try to measure two entirely different populations in entirely different periods of time, when in neither there are statistics that will actually measure what they are trying to find. But even if you could measure income inequality, so what? There will always be rich and there will always be poor. The rich today undoubtedly have more goods and services at their command than did the rich in the 1920s. But so do the poor.

What does not change is the level of envy among a large proportion of the population who are made bitter by the success of others. Envy is the worst of the seven deadly sins and there is no known cure. But the envious are everywhere and will take their revenge on the rest of us if they can.

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12 Responses to The economics of envy

  1. max

    At least a handful of writers have begun to recognize explicitly the all-pervasive role played by envy or the fear of envy in life and in contemporary political thought. In 1966, Helmut Schoeck, professor of sociology at the University of Mainz, devoted a penetrating book to the subject.²

    There can be little doubt that many egalitarians are motivated at least partly by envy, while still others are motivated, not so much by any envy of their own, as by the fear of it in others, and the wish to appease or satisfy it.

    But the latter effort is bound to be futile. Almost no one is completely satisfied with his status in relation to his fellows. In the envious the thirst for social advancement is insatiable. As soon as they have risen one rung in the social or economic ladder, their eyes are fixed upon the next. They envy those who are higher up, no matter by how little. In fact, they are more likely to envy their immediate friends or neighbors, who are just a little bit better off, than celebrities or millionaires who are incomparably better off. The position of the latter seems unattainable, but of the neighbor who has just a minimal advantage they are tempted to think: “I might almost be in his place.”

    The Urge to Deprive Others

    Moreover, the envious are more likely to be mollified by seeing others deprived of some advantage than by gaining it for themselves. It is not what they lack that chiefly troubles them, but what others have. The envious are not satisfied with equality; they secretly yearn for superiority and revenge. In the French revolution of 1848, a woman coal-heaver is reported to have remarked to a richly dressed lady: “Yes, madam, everything’s going to be equal now; I shall go in silks and you’ll carry coal.”

    Envy is implacable. Concessions merely whet its appetite for more concessions. As Schoeck writes: “Man’s envy is at its most intense where all are almost equal; his calls for redistribution are loudest when there is virtually nothing to redistribute.”

  2. Greg

    My definition of Socialism: When you covet your neighbour’s ox but you don’t have the guts to steal it yourself so you demand that the government steal it for you.

  3. the not very bright Marcus

    I get envious that Olympic level athletes, who train and are so dedicated, can run faster than me. The government should do something about it.

  4. Russell

    The “marketing” of envy was almost absent in the twenties. These days the MSM are completely driven by marketing rather than “truth” and that is really the major reason they are now so OTT leftist. MSM will not survive without a disgruntled audience and envy is THE major snowflake emotion that they can rely on.
    Why does “… a person with negative net worth is not necessarily penniless.” sound so much like marketing-speak and emotional fearmongering to me?
    And you really know this envy marketing is happening when you remember that the Washington Post who published that article is owned by richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos. IMHO, there’s one guy who could do with some wealth redistribution.

  5. bespoke

    I think its a deflection from the contemporary issue is how much does the top ten percent interfere with the daily lives of the rest of the population.

  6. John Constantine

    My desire to have the entire Australian oligarchs Class blown from the guns in a public celebration of mob justice isn’t because they have imported mass millions of enraged military age revolutionary freedom fighters to scrub their crappers and vacuum the lawns of their decamillion dollar demesnes.

    The crony socialism that corruptly enables our kleptomaniac autocrats to sign unswerving compliance with global tyranny to dynamite our power plants and replace them with chicom peoples liberation army slave labour solar panels isn’t the only reason to hang draw and quarter them.

    The depraved dash our deposed despotic dictators make to the Manhattan Island glory holes of their United Nations drives some desire to defenestration.

    Basically, it is the unctuous godless sneering commo contempt our upper elites have for the proles they sell out to genocide, for cents in the dollar, that makes medieval malicious mayhem the only sane response to an insane situation.


  7. Leo G

    I suspect the author regards the opportunity cost to the wealthy of investing in commerce as wealth used solely on self-gratification providing no value to others.

  8. Ellen of Tasmania

    I don’t want to downplay the use that socialism (and advertisers) makes of man’s propensity to envy – we are invited on all fronts to the seven deadly sins.

    But nor do I want to downplay the consequences of crony-capitalism (crapitalism) which we now live under, to place more money and power into the hands of a few.

    It is a time of great blessing with the many advances in engineering, medicine and technology etc., but that doesn’t mean we can be complacent about the economic system we live under. We should be fighting for small, accountable government and honest money.

    Envy is wrong, but judgement upon a corrupt government system is not.

    Peter Schiff went down amongst the Occupy Wall Street crowd to try and explain some of this:

  9. mem

    Most of my compatriots are, or have been public servants. Among them all, I am regarded as the right wing capitalist because I’m in business. When confronted with the information that they are in the top ten to twenty percent income earners bracket, they usually go a bright shade of red then shift the conversation sideways. My point is that many people still carry a perception of themselves as being poor even though they are now wealthy.

  10. John A

    Envy is the worst of the seven deadly sins and there is no known cure.

    GK Chesterton: It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting. It has been found too difficult and not tried.

  11. Jumping Jack

    Re John Constantine’s post – Wow.
    It is almost like the ruling class are pushing all the left-wing stuff as a clever and disingenuous defense of their own lofty position. Perhaps a controlled burn. If they really got what they say they want (revolution), they would be gone.

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