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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

On Appeasing Envy

By Henry Hazlitt

Any attempt to equalize wealth or income by forced redistribution must only tend to destroy wealth and income. Historically the best the would-be equalizers have ever succeeded in doing is to equalize downward. This has even been caustically described as their intention. “Your levellers,” said Samuel Johnson in the mid-eighteenth century, “wish to level down as far as themselves; but they cannot bear levelling up to themselves.”

And in our own day we find even an eminent liberal like the late Mr. Justice Holmes writing: “I have no respect for the passion for equality, which seems to me merely idealizing envy.”

At least a handful of writers have begun to recognize explicitly the all-pervasive role played by envy or the fear of envy in life and in contemporary political thought. In 1966, Helmut Schoeck, professor of sociology at the University of Mainz, devoted a scholarly and penetrating book to the subject, to which most future discussion is likely to be indebted.

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