Libertarians often view contemporary calls for economic equality with some skepticism, and rightfully so. When legislators enact wealth redistribution policies for the sake of equality, they are often simultaneously involved in promoting unequal market conditions, fixing the legislative framework to benefit key companies in particular industries at the expense of their competitors. Constituencies tacitly or even explicitly support this cronyism through lobbying, certain state-supported union activities and by criticizing competition within their industries. What sort of social forces contribute to this phenomenon? Among all the emotions and attitudes which mediate our behavior, one stands out as extremely relevant to this question: the emotion of envy.
The late Austrian-German sociologist Dr. Helmut Schoeck, in his masterful 1969 sociological text Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior, attempts to form a broad theory of social behavior based on the emotion of envy. Two major arguments he advances in the text are that envy is an inescapable element of all human societies and that excessive envy can severely limit a society’s capacity for economic development.