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.

Envy is the worst and most corrupting

Steve Hayward has a post that deals with one of favourite books on one of my favourite topics: Helmut Schoeck’s Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior, from which he pulls this quote:

It would be a miracle if the democratic political process were ever to renounce the use of the envy-motive. Its usefulness derives, if for no other reason, from the fact that all that is needed, in principle, is to promise the envious the destruction or the confiscation of assets enjoyed by the others; beyond that there is no need to promise anything more constructive. The negativism of envy permits even the weakest of candidates to sound reasonably plausible, since anybody, once in office, can confiscate or destroy. To enlarge the country’s capital assets, to create employment etc., requires a more precise programme. Candidates will naturally try to make some positive proposals, but it is often all too apparent that envy looms large in their calculations. The more precarious the nation’s economy at election time, the stronger the temptations for politicians to make ‘redistribution’ their main plank, even when they know how little margin is left for redistributive measures, and, worse still, how likely they are to retard economic growth.

Then in the comments there was this which I thought rounded out the point:

I have been maintaining for some time now that the Democrat party platform basically incorporates all of the Seven Deadly Sins. The envy is obvious, as noted above. Sloth is seen is the idea of easily obtained welfare or a “universal basic income” granted to everyone just for existing. Pride in their overwhelming belief that they are so much better and wiser than “normals.” Lust from their championing any and every sexual aberration and perversion. Gluttony is embodied in the idea that one should be able to do everything and have everything, never having to deny oneself any pleasure or experience or pay for it themselves (free college and healthcare are just the beginning), and avarice plays its role in their desire to have the state take what everyone else has produced. And anger … well, just look at their attitude towards their inability to elect Hillary and their hatred of Trump. But I do think that the worst and most corrupting of all these is envy.

Envy is the only one of the seven deadly sins that provides no personal gain. You get nothing by being envious – unlike say from gluttony or lust – merely bile and self-loathing. But it works wonders for politics on the left in its own repulsive way.

The poisonous malignancy of the left

This is how we start the year with this set of predictions form Dennis Prager: The left will make 2019 a dark year. These are not people of kindness and charity, seeking the greatest good for the greatest number. They are selfish power-hungry vermin without a trace of goodwill or human kindness. There is history enough to learn about what happens if a community is put into the hands of a Mao, Lenin or Castro, but there they line up, moronic fools, whose self-hatred and envy of others drives them into madness and their own ultimate self-destruction. This is part of what is written at the link but the whole piece is short and worth your time.

There is nothing Trump or any member of his administration has done that is comparable to Hillary Clinton’s use of her own email server while U.S. secretary of state, or her destroying tens of thousands of emails after they were subpoenaed by Congress, or foreign governments’ and corporations’ paying vast sums of money to Bill Clinton and The Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. Nor is there anything Trump or anyone in his administration has done comparable to the Obama administration’s use of the IRS to suppress conservative nonprofits; its selling guns to Mexican drug cartels, at least one of which was later found at the scene where a Border Patrol officer was killed; or the lies it told about the cause of the murder of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi. Yet any suggestion by Republicans that these activities be investigated is effectively shouted down by the Democrats and the media. And let’s not talk about the real collusion in 2016 – between the FBI, the State Department, the Clinton campaign and the Obama White House, using material sourced in part from the Russian government – to undermine the Republican candidate for president and his presidency. The mainstream media aren’t interested in that.

In other words, the Democratic Party and the media will do to American political life what it has done to the arts; the universities; the high schools; the Boy Scouts; race relations; religion; the happiness of so many women (misled by feminism regarding marriage and career); the moral fabric of American life (morality reduced to feelings); late-night television; mainstream Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism; pro football; and the sexual innocence of the young: It will poison it.

Bringing harm to others is socialism’s primary goal

A comment on a thread at Powerline on Liberalism is just resentment and envy sanctified where the video showed up as well. After eight years of PDT, even if the astounding success of his first year as President continues for the following seven, you will hear exactly the same. That is what this post is about:

I recall a recent twitter conversation that I engaged in. Basically it was a discussion on the outcome of a social experiment where people were given a choice between two alternative income distribution models.

The first one, choice A, had the highest level of income capped at say 100,000, had a fairly tight distribution across the quartiles, with the lowest being something like 10.

The second one, choice B, allowed for a very small number of individuals to earn 1,000,000 followed by a much wider distribution of quartiles, with the lowest being something like 100.

People were asked to choose which distribution they preferred, and I think they chose option A over option B by more than 2 to 1. This was the case even though it was clear (and perhaps emphasized) that everyone in option B had more money, with the poorest having effectively 10 times the purchasing power over option A.

While that result is astounding in and of itself, the replies on the twitter thread were even more interesting because there were so many people who offered strained and painful rationalizations as to why choice A was better. One I recall insisted that choice B was worse because the purchasing power would be reduced back to A levels since the economy would just reset to the higher levels of wealth due to inflation or something.

My comment ultimately was that all the rationalizations were just thin cover, and that the real reason for the choice was plain old envy of the top. Now I’d have to go back and find the thread to be sure, but I seem to recall the gentleman who started the thread insisting that the authors of the experiment made it clear that the 100 to 10 ratio at the bottom levels really did imply B had 10 times the buying power of A, but that it clearly didn’t matter to the outcome.

I find this result to be a fascinating insight into the irrationality of human economic/moral intuition, and how jealousy and envy play such an outsized role in shaping it.

Socialism has never done anyone any good, other than the handful of leaders who eventually climb to the top of the pyramid. But the envy that drives it will never go away, which is why the socialist impulse will also never go away. For the rest of us, what is crucial to remember is that the motivation behind the rhetoric is in no sense benevolent, but as malevolent as the human heart can be.