Progressives and the Politics of Envy


For a Liberty Fund conference on "The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality," I've been reading selections from Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour (1966) by sociologist Helmut Schoeck. Schoeck cites a 1954 article from The Economist which asks the intriguing question:

Would it be a hardship, or an injustice, if, while everybody had plenty, some people had more than plenty? If £3,000 a year, say, were the minimum income, would it be monstrous if some people had £30,000, or £300,000?

The egalitarians apparently think it would be monstrous. Ask them why, and they reply with that noble bromide "social justice." But this is merely a politician's periphrasis for "envy." Social justice is a semantic fraud from the same stable as People's Democracy. It means that when everybody has plenty it is right to hate people who have more.

Now lots of people in the past have proposed establishing a guaranteed minimum income in the United States including President Richard Nixon. Economics Nobelist Milton Friedman suggested a negative income tax which would have operated somewhat like today's Earned Income Tax Credit.

So just as a thought experiment–setting aside the very real problems of work disincentives, administration, and tax rates–here's the question: If every individual American was guaranteed an income of $40,000 annually (indexed perpetually for inflation), would it be a hardship or an injustice if some Americans earned $400,000, or $4 million, or $400 million per year?