We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“Even those who have never taken seriously utopias of classless societies and pure socialism have been seduced in the course of the last 100 years into falsely concluding that the critical role in society is the perogative of envious dispositions whom a single concession would supposedly placate…The time has surely come when we should stop behaving as though the envious man was the main criterion for social and economic policy.”

- Helmut Schoeck, Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour, page 427. In the light of last week’s terrible UK budget and its levelling intent, his book repays reading. It often enrages egalitarians when they are told that much of their views are a rationalisation for envy, but that rage perhaps suggests that such a charge touches on a truth they would rather not contemplate for long.

13 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Hayek (in Constitution of Liberty(Link)) and Mises (Anti-capitalistic mentality (Link)) talked about this, too. Not to mention the character of Ellsworth Toohey(Link) in Rand’s The Fountainhead

  • Linda Morgan

    The time has surely come when we should stop behaving as though the envious man was the main criterion for social and economic policy.

    Or as though any who would placate the envious should attempt it with resources taken by force from the envied or unknown others.

    It often enrages egalitarians…

    Egalitarians are free to open their own doors and their own pockets, to persuade the like-minded to do the same, and to stay out of the social and economic matters of the naturally unconcerned.

  • Ayn Rand called it “The Age of Envy” thirty-eight years ago.

  • Laird

    Schoeck’s book has long been on my reading list, but I haven’t yet gotten to it. I suppose it should be moved up in the rankings.

  • kentuckyliz

    This envy shows up in the comments section in response to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s appeal that the UK not chase off talented productive people with high taxation.

    ENVY GALORE.

    Eat the rich!!!

    Expat commenters were posting that they paid only 10-14% taxes in HK and Singapore.

    If you’re vewwy vewwy qwiet you can hear the giant sucking sound.

  • Paul Marks

    In John Rawls’ “Theory of Justice” (which Hayek admited to having never read – which may well explain his false opinion of Rawls) it is denied that state “distribution” (what others call “redistribution”) of income under the “justice as fairness” doctrine is based on envy. Rawls does this by redefining the word envy, so that having one’s self esteem undermined by seeing someone else with a lot more material goods is not envy.

    The normal breathtaking dishonesty of the academic elite. Although the minority of academics who value truth do denounce the dishonesty – see (for example) Antony Flew’s work on Rawls.

  • Paul Marks

    Of course the doctrines of Plato’s children in the universities go down to the schools (via the teacher training colleges) and out into the word – both by the half remembered things that so many people carry with them into adult life, and by the reinforcement of the media (media folk typically being closer to the university folk than, say, people who go off to work in manufacturing and so on).

    I am told that the above is not true in Bavaria (in spite of that land having state education) – but I do not know enough of the Bavarian situation to be able to make a judgement.

  • Brad

    From the department of splitting hairs –

    I don’t know if it’s necessarily so much envy in terms of “that guy has more than me” is the true root, but that “I deserve more” regardless of where other people are at, regardless of how much a particular person already has.

    People naturally clip and retain their own press releases about their successes, and they clip and retain other people’s failures. So whereever they are at financially they calculate that they deserve more as compared to the other guy. It’s really a lack of full knowledge in the price-setting market place. The result is if the market isn’t giving them what they think they deserve they will vote for someone who will (profess) to take it and reallocate it. This is how the Middle Class has been sucked into the subsidy vortex – by and large the Middle Class isn’t pantingly envious of those above them, but they still think they deserve more than they have and have swallowed the Statist transfer bait.

    In a nutshell it isn’t necessarily the “98-2″ split of the Gilded Age that fuels modern Socialism, it is conning the masses into thinking that everyone can be above average – everyone jockeying to be in the top 25th percentile. The only similarity is the attendant lack of understanding economic reality and its immutable laws.

  • veryretired

    I’m sorry, but this idea—”It’s all just envy”—is like a cheap tabloid headline, sensational and, ultimately, misleading.

    The reality is much deeper and much more complex, which is why, I suppose, the envy bumper sticker is popular as a shorthand way of dismissing a belief matrix that is both primitive and very, very dangerous, instead of the more difficult process of truly engaging the problem.

    The collectivist side does this as well, dismissing the success of wealthy capitalists as being merely a fulfillment of greed, instead of dealing with the complex motivations of someone who may have spent years of exhausting creative mental effort to produce a product or service that leads to great riches.

    In the west, the antagonism toward wealth is largely based on two converging features of our culture, among others:

    One, the very real fact that for most of mankind’s history, wealth was accumulated by virtue of birth and /or political connections, and not very much by the kind of creative effort one would find in a modern company developing a new heart pacemaker, for example; and

    Two, the doctrinal antipathy of the Christian faith towards the accumulation of wealth as a moral failing, although this view, as in so many other matters, was truly more ” honored in the breach than the observance”.

    One of the great failings of our educational system is the lack of appreciation by our youth of the extraordinary and ahistorical developments in western culture that have led to the current society in which too much food and too little back breaking labor to burn off the calories is considered a major problem.

    Shannon Love at C-boyz has a post up right now regarding the huge whoop-de-doo about the deaths from swine flu. The gist is that it is a sign of our amazing accomplishment in the field of health care, and public health particularly, when this relatively minor flu outbreak can generate so much attention.

    The mindset we are dealing with in this “envy” situation is engaged in some very unhealthy mental contortions that are every bit as significant, if not more so, than some emotional angst over the fact that other people have bigger houses and fancier cars.

    First and foremost, we are dealing with the denial of individual creativity. This issue is critical, as many of our schools actively teach against it, extolling the “social” model of achievement as a purely collaborative activity, in the collectivist sense, in which individual contributions cannot be identified.

    If no one ever really creates anything, then no one is due a larger share of the proceeds than some other member of the group. Taken to its conclusion, as it usually is, society is the creator, and society should get the benefits to distribute as it sees fit.

    In one way or another, you can find this assumption, often unspoken, serving as one of the building blocks of a great many of collectivism’s economic and social assertions.

    Secondly, as part of the claim that there is no individual creativity that deserves and has earned greater than average rewards, it is critical for the collectivist mindset to obscure and even deny the social operation of the law of cause and effect.

    While generally still amenable to the scientific use of the axiom, its extension into the realm of economics and commercial activity is fiercely opposed. Instead, any instance of economic success or failure is buried in obfuscation and convoluted analysis, the end result of which is inevitably that the situation is too complex for any definitive answers as to who did what or who was responsible.

    The exception, of course, is that business people are always responsible for any bad things, and any good things they might do are tainted by their all consuming greed, which, as all good collectivists know, is their only posible motivation.

    Read again, if you have a copy of Atlas handy, the description of the young metalurgist who attaches himself to Reardon at one point in the book. Pay especial attention to the description of his mental processes—a formless plasma of half-developed assertions and assumptions, with no framework of coherent philosophy or epistimology with which to structure the random collection of facts and theories floating around aimlessly in his mind.

    Look now at the world around you. Observe the political posturing, the demands for action without planning or thorough debate, the arrogance of men and women who have never managed as much as a fast food franchise demanding control over world-wide economic entities.

    This catastrophic obscenity is not simply about envy, but a systematic denial of many of the rational tenets upon which our entire social and economic system rests.

    As with any complex structure, if you remove the weight-bearing elements, the structural underpinnings that support the rest of the edifice, a collapse is inevitable.

    But to admit of that possibility would require our collectivist bretheren to admit that cause and effect does exist, and operate, in the economic and social spheres every bit as fundamentaly as it does in engineering or architecture, and that is an admission that cannot, ever, be made.

    Timmmmmberrrrrrr!

  • Laird

    A lot of words, veryretired, and I suppose generally accurate, but “envy” does a very nice job of encapsulating the outcome, if not the cause, of the current gestalt. “Sensational” it may be; “misleading” it is not.

    Of course, envy as a rationalization for social policy only applies to the thoughtless rank-and-file “egalitarian” statist. For our political masters the true objective is simply power, nothing more or less, and socialism is a fine way for them to attain, retain and expand it.

  • Paul Marks

    It is true that SOME of the people who express dislike of the rich do so because they really do think that the riches are gained by corrupt means.

    I remember my father having no problem at all with people who inherited their wealth – he was happy for their good luck.

    But should a person claim to have gained wealth by hard work and really gained it by subsidy of favour………..

    Of course this age of bailouts has only brought into the open what has been happening for so many decades on a smaller scale.

    If people are lent money that is not 100% from real savings then the money must come from somewhere.

    Neither fractional reserve banking nor Central Bank support of it are really “costless” for people not in the magic circle of favoured individuals and corporations.

  • M

    I was just reading a H.L. Mencken article from the 20s where he notes how liberty and democracy are foes. In the last third of the article, he goes after liberals. His final words:

    ‘The liberty to have and hold property is not one that they (liberals) recognize. They believe only in the liberty to envy, hate and loot the man who has it.’

  • Midwesterner

    M, can you link that article? If not, can you give us the title? It sounds like an interesting read. Thanks.