Article in Newsweek on America’s obsession with income inequality…from 1952
March 13, 2014
The below article entitled “The Age of Envy” was published in Newsweek on December 29, 1952 on the pervasive feeling of envy that lay at the core of numerous policies being put forth under the guise of “inequality of income and wealth.”
It was written by free-market journalist Henry Hazlitt, best known for his classic “Economics in One Lesson,” and excerpted from a collection of his Newsweek articles from 1946 to 1966. All emphasis is ours.
(AP File Photo)
…Envy has been an attribute of human nature from the dawn of history. But it has always hitherto been regarded as a sin. Ovid thought it “the meanest of the vices.” The Bible calls it a “rottenness of the bones.” “From envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness,” says the Book of Common Prayer, “Good Lord deliver us.” Yet today envy is glorified as a virtue. Politicians advocate measures, not because they will bring any material benefit to anyone, but on the ground that they may assuage the public envy which they themselves have helped to inflame. Hitler promised that nobody would be permitted to have an income of more than 1,000 marks a month or be allowed to live on the income from investments. Franklin D. Roosevelt once proposed a limit of $25,000 a year on incomes.People sometimes become Socialists or Communists through a desire to abolish poverty, but when their ill-conceived schemes fail to bring this result, their feeling too often degenerates into mere hatred and envy of the rich. The success of Marx sprang from his contemptuous dismissal as “utopianism” of all peaceable or constructive attempts to relieve poverty, and from his naked appeal to hatred, envy, and class warfare against the well-to-do and successful.The prevailing ideology today is a diluted form of Marxism, even on the part of many of those who think themselves anti-Marxist or anti-Communist. The emphasis of most “welfare state” proposals today is on hurting or impoverishing the rich rather than on helping or enriching the poor. Most of these measures surely accomplish the former, and usually the opposite of the latter. They level down, not up.Envy is the main drive behind the present fantastic tax rates on the upper-income brackets. “It should be remembered,” writes David McCord Wright, “that these high progressive rates have almost no revenue significance. They yield only a pittance compared with other taxes and the size of the government budgets. They are merely the reflection of ‘ethical’ prejudice.” It may be added that these rates, by choking incentives and draining savings, do incalculable harm to workers and to the poor. They retard the very growth of capital upon which the growth of productivity and real wages depends.All this is even truer of the present rates of death and inheritance taxes. Even belligerently New Deal economists admit that such taxes “are unimportant as revenue producers, having as justification only our desire for less inequality of income and wealth”—in other words, the present passion for leveling down.The main drive behind the so-called excess-profits tax is also to appease envy. The tax ignores the vital function of profits as the chief incentive to efficiency and economy and the regulator of production. It promotes waste and reduces war output. It is defended by such high-sounding slogans as: “No one must be allowed to profit from war.” It would be just as logical to say that no one must be allowed to profit from sickness, or from death, or from arson, or from crime, and for that reason to refuse to pay doctors or undertakers or firemen or policemen. This is envy masquerading as a passion for justice. The general rule of free enterprise is not unjust. It is “to each in accordance with what he contributes; to each what he creates.” The way to achieve maximum output for war is to reward each in proportion to the value of his output.