Deadlier Than Cancer

“The whole gospel of Karl Marx can be summed up in a single sentence,” argued economics journalist Henry Hazlitt long ago:

“Hate the man who is better off than you are.”

Continued Hazlitt:

Never under any circumstances admit that his success may be due to his own efforts, to the productive contribution he has made to the whole community. Always attribute his success to the exploitation, the cheating, the more or less open robbery of others. Never under any circumstances admit that your own failure may be owing to your own weakness, or that the failure of anyone else may be due to his own defects, to his laziness, incompetence, improvidence or simple stupidity.

“Hate the man who is better off than you are…”

History is a detailed diary of this very hatred…

The French Revolution, Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution, China’s Cultural Revolution — perhaps America’s unfolding cultural revolution of its own.

We cite but some examples.

They all set out to correct wrongs. But they mostly end up stripping rights.

The right to life itself is often among them.

Today we study the acid emotions of jealousy… and envy.

Man’s False Vanity

Men fancy themselves thinking creatures ruled by hard, icy logic.

Yet we maintain it is a false vanity, a mere conceit.

Men lasso reason and logic primarily to serve their hormones, their vanities… and their delusions.

That is, men enlist logic to affirm their emotions.

Men are capable of thought, it is true. But they are infinitely more capable of emotion.

Has logic ever plunged a man into love… or into war?

Has logic ever written a poem… or elected a president of the United States?

Has logic ever torn down a statue?

Is it logic on nightly display in Portland, Oregon — or is it emotion?

It is the emotions of jealousy and envy that fetch our attention today…

Jealousy Is Not Envy

Jealousy and envy are not identical. They are siblings — yet they are not twins.

No less a luminary than Aristotle clarified the distinctions between them. Jealousy even has its high and legitimate purposes, said he.

It pricks a man’s pride…  and spurs him on to higher attainments.

Envy — in contrast — only spurs him to evil. For envy is “base”:

Jealousy is both reasonable and belongs to reasonable men, while envy is base and belongs to the base, for the one makes himself get good things by jealousy, while the other does not allow his neighbour to have them through envy

“More men die of jealousy than die of cancer,” argued a lesser luminary than Aristotle — Joseph Kennedy.

Perhaps he meant more men die of envy than die of cancer.

And is not envy one of the seven sins that are deadly?

But let us turn now to jealousy…

“The Sparrow Knows Its Place Is Not Among the Eagles”

It is said a man is jealous of his betters. But it is only partly true.

The average man harbors no jealousy towards the great man.

He has no jealousy for the Alexanders… the Caesars… the Napoleons of this world.

These are men stamped from a finer metal, a nobler metal. And the average man recognizes that it is not his metal.

The sparrow knows its place is not among the eagles.

We speak of course as a sparrow. We are no eagle.

No, the subject of the average man’s jealousy is his peer — the average man.

True Jealousy

The average man is not jealous of the champion golfer who once shot 60… but the fellow duffer in his weekend foursome who once broke 80.

He is not jealous of the movie actor who hauls in the unattainable beauty… but the insurance salesman who hauls in the pleasant-enough looking gal — the 7/10 gal.

Nor is the average man jealous of a Jeffrey Bezos with his billions. He may envy a Jeffrey Bezos with his billions. But he is not jealous of him.

He is instead jealous of his neighbor who is moving up to a nicer neighborhood.

The Sage of Baltimore — H.L. Mencken — once defined a wealthy man as “a fellow who earns $100 more than his wife’s sister’s husband.”

Be assured… that $100 burns the wife’s sister as acid might burn her.

Poverty Is Relative

Today’s poorest Americans wallow in greater opulence than all but richest Americans 100 years ago.

Before air conditioning — for example — even the industrial titan hemorrhaged sweat on furnace summer days.

Today, 80% of “poor” households enjoy the kindly, cooling influence of the air conditioner.

Automobile ownership set the rich apart through the 1930s. Not until the 1950s did mass auto purchasing spread to the middling classes.

Today, 75% of America’s poor roll around in automobiles. 30% of the same poor own two or more.

And television? Television was once a luxury, a luxury consisting of grainy images delivered in five channels.

Nearly all of today’s poor own a television. 40% own televisions with wide plasma screens. All are dizzied by endless viewing options wired in by cable or satellite.

“A Smartphone in Every Hand”

Half the poor own a personal computer… offering today’s poor a “wealth” of information that would stagger yesterday’s rich.

And FDR’s chicken in every pot is today’s smartphone in every hand.

Meantime, obesity was once a hallmark of wealth. Today it is largely a scar of poverty.

Slate’s Jordan Weissmann in summary:

When it comes to consumer goods, low-income families might have it better off than ever. The poor can buy cheap cellphones and televisions that would have seemed like fantastical luxuries to yesteryear’s rich. Microwaves and air conditioners are standard. Food is relatively inexpensive, as is clothing.

That is, the poor have advanced materially on a hundred fronts. And America’s poor are enveloped by luxuries that would marvel yesteryear’s rich.

Yet men focus not on what they have… but on what they do not have…

“Poverty Often Has a Rich Imagination”

The poor man of today does not compare his lot with the rich man of yesterday. He compares his lot with the rich man of today.

And compared with the average poor, today’s rich live in exotic luxury, flamboyant luxury.

They soar on wings of leisure… jet from one good time to the next… have life by the snout.

This the poor man sees. His imagination doubles and triples what his eyes take in — and multiplies his jealousy.

Poverty often has a rich imagination.

He may watch the rich at play on a 50-inch plasma television screen. This, as he luxuriates in air-conditioned comfort and munches microwaved meals.

That is, he feels poverty’s sting surrounded by amenities yesterday’s rich could scarcely conceive.

Yet it brings him no comfort. For man is a creature eternally grasping…

The Next Rung of the Ladder

His eye is forever glued to the next rung of the ladder… the prettier plum just out of reach… the greener grass on the yonder side of the fence.

A poor man may set his cap for the middle class.

If by grace he attains it, he soon develops an itch. And discontentment bubbles within him.

For he becomes uncomfortably aware of the floor above him. And so he begins another merry chase up the ladder.

There is always another rung.

Here we do not criticize. We merely observe.

After all, it is man’s ceaseless striving that accounts for all material progress.

And we have our eyes on a grail or three beyond our outstretched grasp.

But maybe, just maybe, on some distant tomorrow… a fellow can take ease in his own inn, however modest… wherever he finds it.

It seems he will find it in no other.

We all might recall the wisdom of ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus:

“Our envy always lasts longer than the happiness of those we envy.”


Brian Maher
Managing editor, The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning