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Greed's Bad Sister

When you read conservative and libertarian economists, you will inevitably, at one time or another, run into an interesting paradox: the envy paradox. While greed among this type is the good bad emotion, and has been since Mandeville pointed out the virtue of the vices in a system of markets, envy is the wicked sister, the bad bad emotion which we must shame. The reply, when one criticizes some billionaire, often rings this chime: you are envious!
Myself, I'm envious as hell. And you can't take the truth (I'd shout back, Jack Nicholson style).
Envy is just justice on a bad hair day.
Prima facie, the diabolization of envy and soft focus on greed makes little sense. If you dub envy “aspiration”, hey presto, it becomes a virtue. Sell the sports car, sell the high end restaurant, use the envy - this is 101 Marketing. 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.
In part, this is due to a cute little twist among the neoclassicals. For various ideological reasons, and to keep their models of consumer preference from looking like a child's notion of how babies are born, one thing has to beclear: advertising is an epiphenomena that has no effect on the market. When J.K. Galbraith pointed out that this is to laugh, the neocons got together and agreed that Galbraith was a poopyhead.
Their ludicrous position comes out of a deeper, structural ludicrousness about preferences and the sovereign consumer. Advertising does count - as pure information. These people, I should remind you, pretend to tall us about the economy.
In any case, in the real world, unfortunately, it is not envy of the working class 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.