Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Season of Envy

Is income inequality a problem for you? Does Tiger Woods's $78 million "take" in 2013, Tesla CEO Elon Musk's $78 million, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon's $21 million or McDonald's CEO Don Thompson's $9.5 million somehow mean less for you?

If you believe the headlines, lots of folks have much bigger problems with the pay packages of CEOs whose companies provide cheap fast food, all manner of affordable consumer items, and employment for millions than they do the fortunes of those who gain from product endorsements and the sales of tailpipe-less cars.

Pragmatically-speaking, I can't help but wonder if all that many folks are truly up in arms over the chasm separating their lifestyles and those of millionaire CEOs? Seriously, no small percentage of the would-be victims of today's grand injustice illusion are the folks who purchase their essentials from companies lead by the likes of McMillon and Thompson. Do people really not see the benefits bestowed on society by the world's largest producers and employers? Some apparently, and strangely, don't. Which sparks in me yet another wonder: Would those who bemoan the good fortune of the leaders of the companies they most frequent harbor such resentment were it not for the rhetoric of politicians and pundits? I wonder if the political aspirant who---no one can deny---fans those flames of resentment, isn't the arson who lit them to begin with?

The late Helmut Schoeck, in his enlightening 1966 book Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour said no. Schoeck taught that envy long pre-dates the rise of the politician and the CEO; that envy is, in fact, innately human---which, therefore, presents a potent platform for even the weakest of candidates.

So then, is this election year headline obsession with "inequality" really about some great capitalism-spawned social injustice, or is it, per Schoeck below, a resort for politicians who---skilled in "the use of the envy-motive"---have little else to run on? In my view, it's the latter:
It would be a miracle if the democratic political process were 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 a 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 state of a 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.


  1. Your Comments
    Excellent point. The great divide is perpetuated by the political Left. This is another example of big government stepping in to make the masses feel they need government help to reap the rewards of folks who have worked hard to achieve what they have. In other words, they will take a handout to mask their inability to work for something they want or need.

  2. […] is of no help to incumbents was either a stroke of sheer luck or utter genius (per my recent essay The Season of Envy). Piketty is capitalizing on Capital in the Twenty-First Century big time! And kudos to […]

  3. […] Right or wrong, she’s taking an historically politically-profitable position. She’s playing the age-old envy card. You’d think the public would grow tired of being promised the goods supposedly concentrated […]

  4. […] and Ukraine) is always a concern. And those vote-garnering initiatives—while politicians play the envy card—can do a real number on business sentiment. Meaning, the target is on the back of business. […]