09 March 2009

To Begrudge

The "Notable & Quotable" section of last Thursday's Wall Street Journal featured a good quote:

Bertrand de Jouvenel, writing in 1951 about popular attitudes toward income inequality in "The Ethics of Redistribution":

The film-star or the crooner is not grudged the income that is grudged to the oil magnate, because the people appreciate the entertainer's accomplishment and not the entrepreneur's, and because the former's personality is liked and the latter's is not.  They feel that consumption of the entertainer's income is itself an entertainment, while the capitalist's is not, and somehow think that what the entertainer enjoys is deliberately given by them while the capitalist's income is somehow filched from them.[Note 1.]

1.  Wall Street Journal, 5 Mar 2009, p. A17.


Burgess Laughlin said...

The writer made his observations nearly 60 years ago. Nothing has changed except that, in the USA, the political consequences are worse.

A natural question would be: How did our society get to the point where (1) a few outstandingly productive entrepreneurs do exist and (2) many envious voters want to "redistribute" the income those entrepreneurs have produced. Both conditions need to be explained.

I suspect the answer would involve a history of ideas going at least back to Plato.

Stephen Bourque said...

Yes, Burgess, I think you're right. Envy is behind some of the oldest stories in the world.