Sunday, June 27, 2004

Envy, Politics, Economics and GPAs

Richard A. Epstein, writing on "It's Win-Win situation, Even if Some Win More Than Others", concludes that: "The threat of skepticism to human progress must be rejected. In its place I would adopt what might be termed a 'non-envy principle': If there are two states of the world, such that everyone in state A is better (or at least as well) off as everyone in state B, then choose world A, even if the resulting inequalities leave some people envious. Don't grouse because Bill Gates is richer than the average Microsoft employee -- instead celebrate the productive processes that continue to bring substantial benefits to all of us across the board."

Point taken. And it is probably the case that more Americans aspire than envy. If true, this is a remarkable achievement -- as well as an engine of further economic progress as well as an antidote to much poisonous politics.

People will always grouse -- and will always rediscover the truth that "material wealth does not bring happiness". Yet, talk is cheap and it is their actions that matter.

It is the American culture of striving that David Brooks celebrates in On Paradise Road. Many were weaned on the politics of envy in their schools but quickly disregard it on graduation. Brooks explains this by noting that undergrads have a bemused view of the professoriate's left-leaning, accepting it much like people had always associated absent-mindedness with the role.

He also notes that undergrads have discovered the benefits of their mentors' liberal mind-set: it means that -- in certain discussions, exams, papers -- anything goes and poor grades are less of a threat. Grade inflation.