What is Envy?
Envy is an emotion experienced by inferior people wishing the failure of
successful people. The essential condition for envy to arise is not an
objectivity of scarcity, as so many think, but rather a subjective inability to
have. People driven by envy can’t stand someone else enjoying a benefit
they are not also able to enjoy it. Jealousy is craving after something
that belongs to someone else; envy goes a step further - it is wanting to
prevent others from enjoying something that you can’t have.
Egalitarians are driven by the sin of envy, which is institutionalized in
the redistributionist state. This is the dastardly impulse to destroy what
you do not or cannot have. Those who believe in the politics of envy, for
example, don’t care that the welfare state doesn’t materially benefit the
poor in the long run, so long as the rich are hurting from all the taxation.
Any attempt to equalize wealth or income by forced redistribution must only
tend to destroy wealth and income. The envious are more likely to be
mollified by seeing others deprived of some advantage than by gaining it for
themselves. It is not what they lack that chiefly troubles them, but what
others have. The envious are not satisfied with equality; they secretly
yearn for superiority and revenge.
This is the actual effect of steeply progressive income taxes and
confiscatory inheritance taxes. These are not only counterproductive
fiscally (bringing in less revenue from the higher brackets than lower rates
would have brought), but they discourage or confiscate the capital
accumulation and investment that would have increased national productivity
and real wages. Most of the confiscated funds are then dissipated by the
government in current consumption expenditures. The long-run effect of such
tax rates, of course, is to leave the working poor worse off than they would
otherwise have been.
The effect of trying to appease envy is to provoke more of it.