There is a common phrase in English: "I really envy you." It is harmless. It is actually a kind of compliment. A person has done well. The other person acknowledges this.
Yet in some cultures, the phrase would be considered a threat. In such societies, envy is never mentioned except as something totally evil. There is a widespread fear of it and its effects. People believe that either the gods or practitioners of "the evil eye" are ready to bring hexes or curses (economists say, "negative sanctions") against anyone who gets too high in society, other than agents of the gods. People who are successful therefore
hide visible signs of their success. They accumulate wealth in forms that are not easily detected.
One result is that people with wealth hesitate to cooperate with those who do not have wealth. They separate themselves, out of fear of being envied. They do not want the stigma of visible wealth. So, they do whatever they can to avoid contact with people who might become envious. This reduces the division of labor. People who could learn about what it takes to become productive are not given the opportunity.
In 1966, the German sociologist Helmut Schoeck wrote a classic book, Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior.
He argued that envy is the root cause of socialism and other forms of compulsory wealth redistribution.
Most people think the cause is jealousy. The jealous person says: "You’ve got something I want. I’m going to take it away from you." Schoeck said this explanation misses the more intransigent underlying outlook: envy. "You’ve got something I want. I can never possess it. So, I’m going to destroy what you have. I don’t want anyone to have it until everyone can have it."
This is the outlook of the ugly person who throws acid in the face of the good-looking person. The acid-thrower is no better looking, but he has pulled the good-looking person down to his level.
Schoeck said that a jealous person can be bought off. He is willing to settle for a piece of the other person’s action. The envious person can’t be bought off. The fact that someone else is in a position to buy him off enrages him. His sin therefore is self-reinforcing.
Envy undergirds socialism, Schoeck argued. He therefore concluded that it is impossible to buy off hard-core socialists by offering to share a larger percentage of national wealth with them. They will not go away. They will demand all: complete equality. Will this undermine economic production? They don’t care. They are not jealous. They are envious.
Schoeck recognized that envy was one of the medieval church’s seven deadly sins. He believed that generations of preaching against envy was one of the pillars of Western economic growth – one that has not been widely recognized.
The politician who calls for extortionate taxes on the rich or on corporations, even though he knows that the wealth of the rich is re-invested to provide jobs and tools to the less rich, is an example of the politics of envy. The politician would rather that the economy have low growth or no growth rather than allow the rich person to retain most of the income that is produced by his capital.
One of the strongest motivations behind socialism is that it is offered to the masses as a way to tear down the rich. Socialists favor socialism even they know the poor will be worse off. For decades, academic studies showed that poor people were worse off under socialism because of the low economic growth of socialist economies. But not until the Soviet Union collapsed did socialists finally admit that the failure of socialism was comprehensive, not just
comparative and the fault of external circumstances. Then they turned to ecology as a justification for imposing controls on the economy.
There are armies of these envy-driven bureaucrats who are drawing upper middle-class salaries in regulatory agencies all over the world. Their job, as they see it, is to put entrepreneurs in their place. If this harms consumers, what is that to them? The important thing is to retard the expansion of business, because that retards the creation of personal wealth.
From "Envy and Poverty," "Envy and Oil," and "'Poverts' Love To Say No" by Gary North
Envy—true envy—is one of the most insidious evils that can afflict a civilization. Envy is not mere covetousness—not just the desire to steal or illegally obtain another person's goods. Envy is that grinding resentment of another person's advantages. It's the sin that cannot be placated. Envy is a destroyer.
Jealousy is defined as "solicitous or vigilant in maintaining or guarding something: The American people are jealous of their freedom." Covetousness says: "He's got it. I want it. I'll steal it and use it for myself." Envy says something far worse: "He's got it. I want it. I know I can never get it. I'll destroy it, so that nobody can have it... ever!"
Modem socialism is the politics of envy. The socialist knows that there aren't enough rich people to support all the poor people of the world. He knows that government programs of wealth-redistribution cannot uplift the vast majority of men. But that doesn't convince him to abandon socialism. He likes socialism because he thinks that socialism will make it impossible for the "wealth-poverty
gap" to exist, not because the poor have risen, but because the rich have been pulled down to the level of the poor. Envy is the politics of economic devolution.
When envy becomes the foundation of politics, the whole society is threatened. Men cannot trust their neighbors. Men lose faith in the ability of civil government to protect their property and their futures. Men become secretive. They hide their resources from prying eyes. They reduce their cooperation with others. The concept of brotherly love is abandoned.
If Western Civilization is to survive, let alone prosper, we must overcome the politics of envy. However, this will take time, and it will also take capital (including moral capital). Honest, productive men need to protect themselves from the political destroyers.