Tuesday, May 01, 2018

in defense of envy: the bad sister of greed

When you read conservative and libertarian economists, you will inevitably, at one time or another, run into an interesting paraodox: the envy paradox. While greed among this type is the good bad emotion, and has been since Mandeville, envy is the wicked sister, the bad bad emotion which we must shame.
Right away, it seems that this makes little sense. If you dub envy “aspiration”, hey presto, it becomes a virtue. The Horatio Alger striver, realizing that capitalism is the best of all systems and the thing to do is to swim upstream and rescue the bankers daughter, is mucho applauded – while the woke Horatio Alger union organizer or (heavens) community organizer who aspires to a more equal society by, say, limiting the amount of wealth possessed by the wealthy, using the democratic tools at hand, are falling for the bad bad emotion of envy.
It is a curious twist. Even more curious, though, is the economists blindness, on a massive, ideological scale, to the economics of envy in capitalism. Because for the neo-classical economist, one thing is clear: advertising is an epiphenomena that has no effect on the market.
This ludicrous position comes out of a deeper, structural ludicrousness about preferences and the sovereign consumer. Advertising messes up the gig.
In any case, in the real world, unfortunately, it is not envy of the expropriators that rules, but envy as a driver of, for instance, creating fan bases for parity products. Wipe out envy and where is the housing market going to be? And how are we gonna sell pepsi, or SUVs?
Whenever you see an economist who is quite comfortable with greed and the most egregious forms of human exploitation suddenly become all Ten Commandments about envy, you have caught a glimpse of the ideology of the beast. The apologists of capitalism can’t help themselves.

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