Envy of success exposed?

June 22, 2006

From Reason magazine:

Burn the Rich

An old Russian joke tells the story of a peasant with one cow who hates his neighbor because he has two. A sorcerer offers to grant the envious farmer a single wish. "Kill one of my neighbor's cows!" he demands.

Research by two British economists, Daniel Zizzo of Oxford University and Andrew Oswald of Warwick University, suggests there is a good bit of truth behind that joke. In a recent study, Zizzo and Oswald ask, "Are People Willing to Pay to Reduce Others’ Incomes?" "The short answer to this question is: yes," they report. "Our subjects gave up large amounts of their cash to hurt others in the laboratory."

...

Perhaps players who received extra cash in the game devised by Oswald and Zizzo, analogous to the inheritors of great fortunes, are seen as somehow "cheating." This perception may incite the leveling instincts that apparently lurk within the human heart.

Socialists often claim that capitalism is based on humanity's worst impulses, greed and selfishness, despite the fact that people who live in societies that participate in markets tend to be more generous and cooperative than those who don't. Oswald and Zizzo's research suggests that socialists who believe that their ideology appeals to humanity's better instincts have it backwards. Envy is behind the leveling spirit of socialism. A truly generous and rational soul would wish others well, especially if they have done no one any harm.

Only an open society in which people clearly see that they have an opportunity to rise seems capable of containing and channeling humanity's envy instinct. The task for champions of freedom is to encourage people to want more cows for everybody.


Read the whole article here:
http://www.reason.com/rb/rb061902.shtml

(Hat-tip Foreign Dispatches)

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