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Thomas Sowell on the Dangers of Promoting Anger and Envy amid the Poor

thomas sowellHere is just one expert from a true philosophical masterpiece on issues of social justice. Thomas Sowell in The Quest for Cosmic Justice pages 78-79 considers the dangers of misguided envy as promoted by warped visions of reality in many pursuits of Social Justice.

“For the currently less fortunate members of society, the costs of envy can be especially high when it misdirects their conceptions and energies. Where poorer people are lacking in human capital—skills, education, discipline, foresight—one of the sources from which they can acquire these things are more prosperous people who have more of these various forms of human capital. This may happen directly through apprenticeship, advice, or formal tutelage, or it may happen indirectly through observations, reflection, and imitation. However, all these ways of advancing out of poverty can be short-circuited by an ideology of envy that attributes the greater prosperity of others to “exploitation” of people like themselves, to oppression, bias, or unworthy motives such as “greed,” racism, and the like. Acquisition of human capital in general seems futile under this conception and acquisition of human capital from exploiters, the greedy, and racists especially distasteful.

Often members of poorer racial, ethnic, or other social groups can acquire the needed human capital more easily from more fortunate members of their own respective groups than from others. However, the ideology of envy can also make their own more successful members suspect as “traitors”—and therefore also ineligible as either role models or direct sources of advice, skills, or other human capital. What such an ideology does essentially is paint the less fortunate into their own little corner, isolated from potential sources of greater prosperity. To the more fortunate, resistance or rebuffs to their attempts to help the less fortunate may be no more than a passing annoyance but, to the less fortunate themselves, this failure to acquire available human capital can be fatal to their own prospects.

Whole societies may remain mired in needless poverty, not only because envious visions have created a bogus explanation for their poverty that distracts them from readily available means of becoming more prosperous, but also because envy and fear of envy within these societies inhibit individual striving and innovation.”

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