Capitalism: Religion of Envy

Uploaded 1/21/2022, approx. 13 minute read

Capitalism is the religion of envy. It is founded on negative affectivity, rage, anger, envy.

But envy rules them all.

So today I would like to discuss the relationship between capitalism and envy, and how each drives the other and vice versa.

Conservative sociologists self-servingly marvel at the peaceful proximity of object poverty and ostentatious affluence in American or for that matter Western cities. Income inequality is reified in gated communities. Living riots do erupt from time to time, but these are reactions either to perceived social injustice or to political oppression.

Consider, for example, the latest Black Lives Matter movement or the El Oves. The French Revolution may have been the last time the urban Saint Culeau raised the fuss against the economically enfranchised.

In other words, what I'm trying to say in so many words is that economic inequality does not actually drive protests, demonstrations, riots, let alone revolutions. People revolt and rebel because they don't have what to eat. They don't have bread. Prices have gone up too much. They're treated unjustly. They're discriminated against. They're politically oppressed.

But they don't rebel and riot and protest because of the existence of rich people.

And this Pacific coexistence conceals a maelstrom of envy.

Behold, the rampant schadenfreude, which accompanied the antitrust case against the predatory but loaded Microsoft. Observe the glee which engulfed many destitute countries in the wake of the September 11 atrocities against the United States, the epitome of triumphant prosperity. And witness the post-modern castigation of avaricious chief executive officers.

Envy. Envy is the name of the game. It is a pathological manifestation of destructive aggressiveness. And it is distinct from jealousy. They're not the same thing.

The Oxford English dictionary, the new Oxford English dictionary, the precise title is the new Oxford dictionary of English, defines envy as a feeling of discontented or resentful longing roused by someone else's possessions, qualities or luck. Mortification and ill will occasioned by the contemplation of another's superior advantages.

Yeah, that's envy. Envy is destructive. Jealousy is constructive.

When you're jealous of someone, you try to emulate and imitate them. You try to learn from them. When you envy someone, you want to tear them down. You want to reduce them to size. You want to drag them to your level. Misery, love's company.

Pathological envy, the fourth deadly sin, is engendered by the realization of some lack, some deficiency, or inadequacy in oneself.

The envious begrudge others, their success, their brilliance, happiness, beauty, good fortune, wealth, spouse, you name it. Envy provokes misery, humiliation and impotent rage that have to be shared. They spread, they metastasize.

There's nothing more dangerous to my mind than envy.

The envious copes with his pernicious emotions in five ways.

Number one, they attack the perceived source of frustration in an attempt to destroy it. They strive to reduce it to their size.

Such destructive impulses often assume the disguise of championing social justice or social causes, fighting injustice, touting reform or promoting an ideology.

But the idea is to destroy those who frustrate you because they're more than you. You don't want anyone to be more than you.

The second technique that envious people use is they seek to subsume the object of envy by imitating it, emulating it, but in a way that destroys the object of envy, makes it vanish.

In extreme cases, they strive to get rich quick through criminal scams or corruption. They endeavor to outsmart the system and shortcut their way to fortune and celebrity.

And the third technique is to resort to self-deprecation. These envious people idealize the successful, the rich, the mighty and the lucky, and they attribute to them superhuman, almost divine qualities.

At the same time, these envious people humble themselves.

Indeed, most of this strain of the envious end up disenchanted and bitter, driving the objects of their own erstwhile devotion and adulation to destruction and decrepitude.

There's another technique that envious people use.

They experience cognitive dissonance.

These people devalue the source of their frustration, the reason for their envy.

They devalue other, more successful people, richer people, more powerful people. And they devalue them by finding faults in everything they most desire and in everyone, their envy.

And finally, some envious people avoid the envious person.

And so the agonizing pangs of envy, avoidant withdrawal behaviors, are very common as a reaction to envy.

Envy is not a new phenomenon.

Belliarius, the general who conquered the world for Emperor Justinian, was blinded and stripped of his assets by his envious peers.

Belisarius and Justinian, they created a new world order.

But the peers of Belisarius couldn't tolerate his ascendance.

So they took away all his possessions and then they gouged his eyes.

I and many others have written extensively about envy in command economies.

Envy is not likely to diminish either.

It tends to grow. It feeds on itself. It's a perpetual mobile. It's self-perpetuating.

In the 18th century, the political philosopher and novelist Jean-Jacques Rousseau made a distinction between Amour-Propre and Amour-Propre.

Amour-Propre involved striking a balance between regard for one's own welfare and well-being and the empathy that one owed and felt towards other people.

It was another phrase for self-love, self-regard, self-respect and self-awareness, all positive qualities.

Amour-Proper was all about grandiose and what we call today malignant narcissism.

An unseemly conflation of self-gratification and considered rottenness and the insatiable need to be reflected in the gaze of others is the only path to self-actualization and self-knowledge.

Amour-Propre was transformed, had been transformed into Amour-Proper, but the acquisition of property and the greed and envy that the acquisition of property inevitably provoked and bred in others.

Property, therefore, had converted the world into a cesspool of narcissism.

In his book Facial Justice, Hartley describes a post-apocalyptic dystopia, new state in which envy is forbidden and equality extolled and everything enviable is obliterated.

Women are modified to look like men and they are given identical, better faces.

Tall buildings are raised to the ground.

Joseph Schumpeter, the prophetic Austrian-American economist, believed that socialism will disinherit capitalism.

In his book Capitalism, Socialism, Democracy, Schumpeter foresaw a conflict between a class of refined but dirt-poor intellectuals and the vulgar but filthy rich businessmen and managers.

They virulently envy and resent.

So intellectuals resent rich people and envy them according to Schumpeter.

And there is going to be a clash of civilizations in a way between intellectuals and businessmen and rich people.

Samuel Johnson wrote, he was dull in a new way and that made many people think him great.

The literati seek to tear down the market economy which they feel is so disenfranchised and undervalued, them.

They feel in the market economy as though they are devalued, they're not properly appreciated.

Hitler, who fancied himself an artist, labeled the British on the heels of Napoleon, a nation of shopkeepers, in one of his bouts of raging envy, he quoted Napoleon.

Ralph Ryland, the Kenneth Simon Professor of Free Enterprise at Robert Morris University, quotes David Brooks of the Weekly Standard who christened this phenomenon bourgeoisie phobia.

And Brooks said, the hatred of the bourgeoisie is the beginning of all virtue, wrote Gustav Flaubert.

He signed his letters bourgeoisie phobos to show how much he despised stupid grocers and their ilk.

Through some screw-up in the great scheme of the universe, their narrow-minded greed had brought them vast wealth, unstoppable powerand growing social prestige.

So the hatred of rich people and even the hatred of the middle class is not a van Mises, the anti-capitalist mentality. Van Mises wrote, many people, and especially intellectuals, passionately loathe capitalism.

In a society based on caste and status, the individual can ascribe adverse fate to conditions beyond his control.

In capitalism, everybody's a station in life depends on his doing. What makes a man rich is not the evaluation of his contribution from any absolute principle of justice, but the evaluation on the part of his fellow men, who exclusively apply the yardstick of their personal wants, desires, and ends.

It's a pretty idealistic view of capitalism. It doesn't take into account, for example, the rent economy.

Anyhow, van Mises continues, everybody knows very well that there are people like himself who succeeded where he himself had failed. Everybody knows that many of those he envies are self-made men who started from the same point from which he himself had started. Everybody is aware of his own defeat.

In order to console himself and to restore his self-assertion, such a man is in search of a scapegoat. He tries to persuade himself that he failed through no fault of his own.

It's the system. He was too distant to resort to the base tricks to which his successful rivals owe their ascendancy, he tells himself.

The nefarious social order does not accord the prizes to the most meritorious men. It crowns the dishonest, the unscrupulous, scoundrel, the swindler, the exploiter, the rugged individualist.

So this is van Mises representing the view of the common men, the envious men.

In the virtue of prosperity, Dinesh D'Souza accuses prosperity and capitalism of inspiring vice and temptation. Inevitably, it provokes envy in the poor and depravity in the rich, he says.

With only a modicum of overstatement, capitalism can be depicted as the sublimation of envy, as opposed to a destructive envy, sublimation of jealousy, I'm sorry. So capitalism can be depicted as a sublimation of jealousy, channeling jealousy in socially acceptable ways, as opposed to destructive envy. Jealousy induces emulation and constructive work. Consumers responsible for two-thirds of America's GDP, gross domestic product, consumers' ape role models and they vie with neighbors, colleagues and family members for possessions and the social status that possessions endow.

Productive and constructive competition among scientists, innovators, managers, actors, lawyers, politicians and the members of just about every other profession. This productive and constructive competition is driven by jealousy.

The eminent Nobel Prize-winning British economist and philosopher of Austrian descent, Friedrich von Hayek, suggested in the Constitution of Liberty that innovation and progress in living standards are the outcomes of class envy. The wealthy are early adopters of expensive and unproven technologies. The rich finance with their conspicuous consumption the research and development phase of new products.

The poor, driven then by jealousy, imitate the rich and create a mass market which allows manufacturers to lower the prices.

But jealousy is premised on the twin beliefs of equality and a level playing field.

I am as good, I am as skilled and as talented as the object of my jealousy goes, the subtext.

Given equal opportunities, equitable treatment and a bit of luck, I can accomplish the same or even more.

Jealousy is easily transformed to outrage, enrage and worse, violence.

When these presumptions, these assumptions, equality, honesty, meritocracy, fairness, a level playing field, when these assumptions prove wrong, fake, an illusion, a delusion.

In a paper recently published by Harvard University's John M. Olin Center for Law entitled executive compensation in America: Optimal Contracting or Extraction of Rents: The authors argue that executive malfeasance is most effectively regulated by this outrage constraint.

In other words, executives should be terrified of popular reaction to their malfeasance like nepotism, cronyism, embezzlement and so on.

The authors of the paper write, directors and non-executive directors would be reluctant to approve and executive would be hesitant to seek compensation arrangements that might be viewed by observers as outrageous.

One great example of wishful thinking, I can say, envy drives capitalism, not jealousy.

Jealousy is a constructive emotion. It's an emotion that pushes people to better themselves, to exceed themselves, to transcend themselves. Envy pushes people to destroy other people, institutions and entire societies.

Capitalism's primal sin is that it is founded on envy, not on jealousy.

The emulation and imitation of other people is rendered impossible by behaviors which corrupt and distort the marketplace and the allocation of resources, behaviors such as rent seeking, undue influence on politics by the rich plutocracy and the collusion between politicians and the rich.

So the playing field is not level. It's not level at all as we see by the skyrocketing of inequality, income inequality.

The playing field is heavily skewed and tilted and biased. And laws, legislation which was supposed to have amended or corrected or somehow modified, restored somehow, justice and equity is not being implemented because politicians are in the pocket of the rich.

And so sooner or later, this whole thing is going to blow up. Not because proto-capitalism and later capitalism are bad ideas. They're actually excellent ideas.

But because there's no single capitalist society on earth. It's exactly like socialism and colonialism. They're great ideas on paper, but there's never been a communist country or society ever.

What happens is elites hijack ideologies and capitalism is, of course, an ideology. It's an ideology which pertains to marketplaces and their regulation and the signals that prices send.

So the elites hijack ideologies and then subvert them and distort them and contort them beyond recognition.

We are living in oligarchies all over the world. The USSR was in oligarchy, not a communist country. The United States is in oligarchy. There's not a single communist or capitalist country in the world.

And this raises the very interesting question. Maybe ideologies are merely a form of escapism, opium to the masses, exactly like religion. Maybe they're kind of secular religions, intended to blind you to the harsh realities.

The harsh reality is the 1% rape the 99% repeatedly. And they get very angry if the 99% don't find it enjoyable. And they bribe the 99% with smartphones and trips abroad in economy class. And the 99% is you and me. Enjoy.

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