The Gospel of Envy
“Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy.”
The first Roman Emperor, Augustus, was the most powerful man of his time. His Empire encompassed the entire Mediterranean Sea, and according to some modern estimates, his net worth today would total $4.6 trillion. Yet for all of that, he never owned a refrigerator. He also didn’t have a car, an HD television, internet access, a smartphone, central heating, a personal computer, and many other modern luxuries we take for granted today.
Today, the average American is better off than the most powerful Roman Emperor of all time. This includes poor Americans. Most Americans living below the poverty line in 2001 had central air conditioning, a microwave, cable television, and two or more television sets; as of 2003, almost 75% of those below the poverty line owned at least one motor vehicle, and 14% owned two or more; and today, poor Americans also have more housing space per person than the average European (Sowell, Wealth, Poverty, and Politics). Given this unprecedented prosperity, what explains the allure of socialism?
If you listen to the likes of Senator Bernie Sanders and newly minted Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, you would think that America is a hell-hole. We’re constantly lectured about how it’s “unacceptable that the richest country in the world can’t afford X” (with X usually being free education, free healthcare, and several other unicorns). The one unifying theme in all these lectures is almost always “inequality.” Earlier this August, Sanders tweeted: “Count to ten. In those ten seconds, Jeff Bezos, the owner and founder of Amazon, just made more money than the median employee of Amazon makes in an entire year. An entire year.”
But why should the average Amazon worker care about Jeff Bezos’s salary? Census Bureau data from the past two years shows that median U.S. household income climbed 3.2% from 2016-2017, for a total of $59,039, following an even larger growth of 5.2% in 2015. The combined increase from 2015-17 marks “the biggest such rise since the 1960s.
That’s all well and good, you may say, but wages are still stagnating for the lower classes. Amazon workers should, apparently, be justified in railing against Jeff Bezos. The left, unable to ignore the rising tide of prosperity, has started promoting a myth that real wages haven’t budged at all since the 1970s. Even the eminent New York Times, to cover its tracks, warns that if wages should rise, the gains will likely “be too short-lived to make a lasting difference”—after all, “the next recession is lurking out there.” This sort of narrative is malicious and false.
Those who bemoan supposed “wage stagnation” ignore that non-wage benefits “have expanded dramatically since 1979—so dramatically that ‘they could amount to as much as 30 or even 40 percent of the workers’ earnings.’” These benefits include “everything from paid vacation to health care coverage.” Simply looking at tax returns also ignores the decline in prices relative to wages: the time spent to acquire key household goods “has declined massively since 1979: 52 percent for refrigerators; 95 percent for microwaves; 65 percent for gas ranges; 71 percent for gas grills; 94 percent for convection ovens; 61 percent for dishwashers.”
But this doesn’t matter to your average, garden-variety socialist; the membership of the Democratic Socialists of America has ballooned to 40,000 after Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory, and over half of millennials would prefer to live in a communist or socialist country over a capitalist country. It’s hard to believe that, less than a decade ago, there was an uproar over the Huffington Post publishing an article titled “President Obama Should Embrace the Socialist Label.” If the 2016 Democratic primary is any indication, 13 million Americans today are ready to embrace the socialist label.
What explains this fascination with a toxic ideology that’s responsible for tens of millions of deaths? American socialists appear not to care about the rising standard of living; rather, they seem to be motivated more by envy of the wealth and success of others.
King Solomon warns us that “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Proverbs 27:4). Who, indeed? If you live a comfortable life with a healthy income, why would you care that Mark Zuckerburg makes more in a day than you make in a year? If you have a car, a house, and an HD television, why would you care that Leonardo DiCaprio has a yacht?
If President Trump waved a magic wand tomorrow, and every single American’s income were doubled, would socialists be happy? Would they rejoice at the higher standard of living? No; rather, they’ll bemoan that now, income inequality is worse than ever. Sure, Peter now has a six-figure salary, but Paul just went from being a millionaire to being a billionaire. The income gap would be worse than ever. Presumably, these same people would prefer to live in a socialist country like Venezuela or Cuba, where everyone is equally poor.
There is an old Romanian joke about two farmers who lived next to each other. One of the farmers was relatively well off, and had a goat; the other was poor, and only owned a small plot of land. The poor farmer prayed to God every single day, for fourteen years, to help him out of his predicament. Eventually, God took mercy on the farmer, and showed up to him in a dream. “O, poor man, I have heard your cries for mercy. How can I aid you? Would you like your own goat? A bigger farm? A palace? Simply speak, and I’ll grant it to you.” The farmer looked at God incredulously. “Are you joking? I only want the neighbor’s goat to die!”