Home / Free Market / Don’t Let the Politics of Envy Make You Less Free and a Lot Poorer
Print Friendly and PDF

Don’t Let the Politics of Envy Make You Less Free and a Lot Poorer

Written by Gary North on May 28, 2012

I have written about envy and its effects for almost 40 years. I was first alerted to the problem in an article written by Murray Rothbard: “Freedom, Inequality, Primitivism, and the Division of Labor.” He summarized the findings of the book written by a sociologist whose name I knew well, Helmut Schoeck. Schoeck had co-edited a series of books I owned, published by the William Volker fund in the early 1960s. I bought the book, and it had a profound effect on my thinking.

The book’s thesis is this: envy is different from jealousy, and it is even more destructive. Jealousy is where someone says: “You have what I want. I cannot get it on my own. So, I am going to take yours away from you by force, preferably through politics.”

Envy is different. Envy is where someone does not say anything, but he thinks the following: “You have what I want. I know that I can never get it. I am going to destroy what you have, so that you will not be able to enjoy it.” It is the politics of arson.

Schoeck made an observation: you can negotiate with somebody who is jealous. Maybe you can figure out a way that you could share some of what you have, and he will be bought off. This is surely what goes on in modern politics.

The author made another point: you cannot negotiate with somebody who is envious. The fact that you are in a strong enough position to offer him something of value further enrages him. He resents the fact that you have so much that you might be willing to give up a little of it in order to placate him. It is your position of strength that angers him. He wants to strip you of any sign of superiority over him. He does not want to become beholden to you. If he gained anything as a result of a negotiation, he would still feel as though you were in a stronger position than he is. He would far rather see you devoid of whatever it is that you have than gain anything from you.

In other words, you can deal with the jealous person; you cannot deal with the envious person. Envy is therefore a sin that it is almost impossible to deal with in somebody else.

The problem is, it is very difficult to deal with in ourselves.


The Bible offers a  few cases of outright envy, but the story of Satan that English-speaking people are most familiar with is the story of envy. It is summarized in the one line from Milton’s Paradise Lost that educated people remember. Satan makes this claim: “I would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.” This is the essence of envy. The devil had a good deal going for him in heaven. But he chose to rebel. It was better to be thrown out of heaven and cast into hell, in his thinking, than it was to remain in heaven. Heaven offered a great lifestyle, but not for someone driven by envy.

The point that Rothbard made over 40 years ago was this: socialism is driven by envy, not jealousy. He wrote: “Helmut Schoeck’s Envy makes a powerful case for the view that the modern egalitarian drive for socialism and similar doctrines is a pandering to envy of the different and the unequal, but the socialist attempt to eliminate envy through egalitarianism can never hope to succeed” (p. 287). To the extent that socialism is based on envy, this assessment is correct. Therefore, it does no good to attempt to get a settlement with envy-driven people who are promoting socialism. You cannot persuade them by showing that socialism is less efficient than capitalism. They do not care that they would be richer under capitalism than under socialism. They realize that socialism is a system for tearing down people who are more successful. Therefore, you cannot placate a socialist who is driven by envy.

I am convinced that most people regard certain forms of economic intervention as a benefit to them. Most people who promote larger government are jealous people, but not envious. They think that others have gotten rich at their expense, and all they are really after, they insist, is a way to settle the score. They will settle for getting more of what somebody else possesses. They see politics as a way to negotiate a better deal for themselves at the expense of the minority of rich people.

Nevertheless, there is a hard-core of academic and intellectual leadership within the socialist movement that really is driven by envy. They really are not convinced by the fact, which they have believed since 1991, that capitalism is more efficient than socialism. They still are outraged by inequality, and they would rather destroy the capitalist system than negotiate with it. They would rather live in hell than live in heaven, because heaven is a place of inequality.

I do not think most socialists believe this. This is why we do not find many socialists any more. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has been clear to socialists around the world that socialism leads to economic poverty. It took the collapse of the Soviet Union to convince a majority of socialists of this position. So, most of them really are more driven by jealousy than envy. They are out to steal from the rich rather than destroy them.

I find that the problem with envy afflicts conservatives as much as it afflicts socialists. In fact, I am of the opinion that it afflicts them even worse than today’s socialists. Let me explain.

(To read the rest of my article, click the link.)

Continue Reading on www.garynorth.com

Print Friendly and PDF

Posting Policy:
We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, vulgarity, profanity, all caps, or discourteous behavior. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain a courteous and useful public environment where we can engage in reasonable discourse. Read more.

8 thoughts on “Don’t Let the Politics of Envy Make You Less Free and a Lot Poorer

  1. ProundPatriotToo says:

    Great article, but it always amazes me that the powers that be at this time, have the money, i.e.., Pelosi is almost worth (now) 100 mil, Obama's wealth was just published, 10 mil, the Kennedy's, etc. But they than turn around and criticize others (the right) that they have too munch money, i.e. Romney, Bushes, Trump, etc. Why can't the general public see and realize how ill these people are and that the bottom line is laziness and jealousy on their part, period? The left and the moochers are mentally ill.
    Obama is 10 mil richer than he ever was before and he spent 100,000 of our tax dollars on training his dog Bo? No joke.

  2. Jo baldin says:

    All politicians have wealth behind them… They take money from everyone from insurance salesmen to teacher associations… America doesnt elect poor people & unknowns. It’s a fact!

  3. ssh49tn says:

    This is why they don't like the 10 commandments either , 'cause God told us 'thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife', nor anything else he has for that matter. Get out & work & EARN what he has, (except the wife, lol!) Plus they don't like 'thou shalt not steal' either, since the majority of politicians are stealing the taxpayers blind!

  4. Gary North needs to read more carefully before he posts stuff. This article is dated 4/18/2011 (look up in the right corner and you'll see the date). The BATF has already gotten spanked on this one. So it's nothing to worry about.

  5. The biblical commandment against coveting does apply here but there's another biblical passage that applies as well: the parable to cast the mote out of thine own eye first.

    If we, as Americans, and our lawmakers (in their infinite wisdom) have determined that it's universally immoral for me to pay a 12-year-old kid $1 per day to produce widgets in my factory, then it seems only fair that foreign manufacturers be held to the same standard. Otherwise we become either hypocrites or racists: a Chinese child's life is of so little value that he needs no education or protection from unsafe working conditions, but an American child's life is so much more valuable?

    Which, if we come full circle, the question becomes: maybe government shouldn't be allowed to meddle in private industry?

  6. Your comment must be approved by the site admins before it will appear publicly.
    This is the reason I seldom go here and by the number of comments it appears this site is effectively dead.

    In order for a post to have any exposure it must appear in a timely fashion. Delaying it for "moderation" means the time spent composing was a waste of time.

  7. Wealth isn't a possession it's a contract enforced by government that "wealth" needs to pay for. Both wings confuse income with wealth. The left demands income be confiscated and redistributed to those who have none and the right doesn't understand what "wealth" actually is. I've been hammering away on this point for years and have yet to receive one counter argument from anyone.

    Taxing wages is slavery plain and simple. The west has become a collective of plantations. S………ism took over America a long time ago and we've reached the tipping point. The election of Obama it probably our last wake up call. Our nation will not survive if we don't start dismantling the bureaucratic Monster created by both parties to regulate and control individuals.

    Consumers need to be protected and government has an obligation to do so but is has to be in a principled way.

    Separation of power is the only safeguard that works. The founding Fathers recognized this truth, and wrote the Constitution in harmony with the principles it was derived from. The destruction of the Constitution took a long time, right and left are both to blame. The time has come for a return to limited government that recognizes the individuals domain.