Envy is bad and even worse when government encourages it

John Locke FoundationFrom George Leef:

That’s the message of Don Boudreaux’s letter to the editor of the NYT below. Those who capitalize on this base emotion to obtain fame and power for themselves are despicable people.

The letter:

Editor, The New York Times

620 Eighth Avenue

New York, NY 10018

Dear Editor:

Asserting that “The best argument for putting inequality on the back burner is the depressed state of the economy,” Paul Krugman explains why this “best” argument fails (“Why Inequality Matters,” Dec. 16).

The problem, however, is that Mr. Krugman misidentifies the best argument against using government to reduce inequalities of incomes in a market economy. That argument has nothing to do with the state of the economy and everything to do with the dangers and immorality of public policies driven by envy.

We rightly condemn parents who teach children to envy the possessions of others; we properly censure parents who encourage children to steal rather than to produce and earn for themselves. If envy and thievery are antisocial, unethical, and worthy of condemnation when practiced at the individual level, they do not become social, ethical, and worthy of applause when practiced collectively through government.


Donald J. Boudreaux

Professor of Economics