South Africa – the Politics of Envy

Imagine the South African President, or any public representative for that matter congratulating a business for recording exceptional profits or, even for just surviving under difficult trading conditions?

How about celebrating the local trader or Spaza shop owner for the contribution they have made to the economy?

Those accolades seem to be retained for sportspeople (who can become huge commercial enterprises in themselves), or individuals who have become prominent due to charitable or voluntary pursuits, or who have given ‘selflessly’ for a current popular ideology.

It is as if altruism is lauded, yet the pursuit of material abundance and achievement is wrong, embarrassing or something which does not fit into the concept of Ubuntu*.

There is one fact in today’s world that many people find unsettling: We all prosper because of the greatness of the few. Each new step forward in humanity’s journey is the result of a few great minds.

By definition, the great will always be the few. And it doesn’t matter what field we are discussing.

The scientist who discovers a new cure for disease will be outnumbered by the millions who will need the cure.

The great musician will be outnumbered by the fans who adore him or her. There will always be more readers than authors; more students than teachers; more workers than employers, more consumers than producers.

That the minority are always needed by the majority encourages a sense of resentment—a dislike for the fact that they are needed.

From this springs all sorts of political movements driven by envious resentment.

The National Socialism of Nazism, is one example, Apartheid and the selective Socialist Verwoerdian policies are another. So too is the Zanufication of Zimbabwe.

Those who do not reach the levels of societal achievement drink long at the well of resentment and are attracted to ideologies based on envy and sometimes even hatred.

These ideologies promise them that the “first shall be made last.” They promise people that the “exploiters”, that is those who achieve abundance and material wealth, will be humbled, if not destroyed.

Freedom embraces achievement at all levels. It allows the man or woman who does a job well to succeed.

For this reason we do the work we do. And, in a free society, we trade with one another.

Right-wing ideologies tend to argue that the masses should serve the great.

Left-wing ideologies, such as those espoused by the ANC** tend to argue that the great should serve the masses.

A society based on civil rights and economic freedom rejects both concepts and embraces voluntary exchange: trading value for value. A free society would abolish slavery, whether done in the name of the achiever or in the name of the people.

Francis Scheaffer, author and philosopher wrote:

“Both resentment and achievement have existed throughout history, in all societies, although in widely varying degrees. When the morality of achievement predominates, civilizations flourish in commerce, in the arts, in science; they erect great monuments and are remembered in future times as magnificent eras. When the morality of resentment gains the upper hand, civilizations decline and eventually perish. A civilization is the sum total of all the achievements of its people, and as achievement becomes increasingly discouraged, scorned, and even persecuted; the forward momentum of society is quickly halted and then ultimately reversed.

As a civilization ascends, it is inevitable that its progress and growth will be non-uniform. Societies that have insisted on equality at all costs (resentment made law) are not so troubled by this problem, since they never experience significant economic growth. When a civilization experiences such growth over a period of decades or centuries, those who have contributed the least develop powerful resentments as they find themselves significantly behind those who have worked, saved, risked, and prospered. These resentments are not positive or laudable in any way.”

Sound familiar?

The sociologist Helmut Schoeck in his work Envy noted that the envy motive could be useful in politics. He wrote that its usefulness is derived as follows:

“All that is needed, in principle, is to promise the envious the destruction or confiscation of assets enjoyed by the others; beyond that there is no need to promise anything more constructive. The negativism of envy permits even the weakest of candidates to sound reasonably plausible, since anybody, once in office can confiscate or destroy. To enlarge the country’s capital assets, to create employment etc. requires a  [very different] program. Candidates will naturally try to make some positive proposals, but it is often all too apparent that envy looms large in their calculations. The more precarious the state of a nation’s economy at election time, the stronger the temptations for politicians to make ‘redistribution’ their main plank, even when they know how little margin is left for redistributive measures and, worse still, how likely they are to retard economic growth.”

The only way to achieve wealth is to increase productivity, but socialism does not do that. It does not make the workers more productive. It simply takes from those who produce more and gives to those who produce less.

The productive lose incentives to produce and some join the queues with hands out begging. When a society has fully plundered its own people, it then uses such concepts as “social justice” and “equality” to emotionally blackmail other wealthy nations. Even this is short term. Ultimately the advocates of envy destroy the wealth producers.

Washington Sansole, a  prominent Zimbabwe judge, said that under Robert Mugabe the rule of law was destroyed and “We have had no racial reconciliation. Whites are still blamed for having better houses, better jobs, better education, but the [people blaming whites] forget that in nearly 20 years there should have been enough time to get the situation right.”

F.A. Hayek, in his book The Constitution of Liberty, wrote: “It is just not true that human beings are born equal;… if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual positions;. . . [thus] the only way to place them in equal position would be to treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are, therefore, not only different but in conflict with each other.”

There are in the world people with varying levels of ability. And no amount of education can change that. So if we do not have equality of ability, how do Socialists achieve equality of results? The only method left is to tear down the achievers. This is why Mao had the intellectuals attacked. This is why Pol Pot attacked the educated. Is this why the ANC are slowly demonising the thinkers  and wealth creators in South African society?

In ancient Greece Aesop told fables which contained lessons in morality. One such tale was about the nature of envy. He wrote:

“Two neighbours came before Jupiter and prayed him to grant their hearts’ desire. The one was full of greed, and the other eaten up with envy. So to punish them both, Jupiter granted that each might have whatever he wished for himself, but only on condition that his neighbour had twice as much. The greedy man prayed to have a room full of gold. No sooner said than done; but all his joy was turned to grief when he found that his neighbour had two rooms full of the precious metal. Then came the turn of the envious man, who could not bear to think that his neighbour had any joy at all. So he prayed that he might have one of his own eyes blinded, by which means his companion would become totally blind.

In her writing, Ayn Rand described how various pieces of legislation, backed with Socialist rhetoric, slowly confiscates the wealth and rights of the most capable in society.

Enterprises were nationalized and their control turned over to individuals whose only ability was to please the ruling powers. This led to a downward spiral where each new regulation led to a greater crisis requiring more and more legislation in a vain attempt to reverse problems the regulations created in the first place.

Both Apartheid and Socialism severed the connection between creativity and distribution. In the one you benefited because you were white. In the other you benefit because you are poor.

It is the right [not the obligation] of the achiever to share and help those who are not well off. But, once the principle of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” is enshrined in law, Socialism wins.

Socialism has won in South Africa because the advocates of free enterprise  have allowed the morality of Marxism, perversely couched in the concept of Ubuntu, to dominate.

An ethics of economic freedom requires the promotion of individualism and the right of the individual to live for his own sake. Current South African style Socialism and past Apartheid policies deny both.

Under Apartheid there was no individualism, just a vague concept of group rights. This meant that the individual must live for the sake of the ‘Volk’.

Under current South African Socialism, rights are parcelled out according to needs, and the individual must live for the sake of the collective. Both systems are similar forms of statism. Both deny individual rights. Both oppose free enterprise. Both end up prejudicing the poor, not assisting them..

And the only way to destroy evil ideas is through the power of good ideas.

 Excerpts and selected edited passages used under kind permission of James Peron – author of  Zimbabwe: Death of a Dream.
*Ubuntu – African dialect meaning ‘humanity to others’. Also defined as ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’
**ANC – The African National Congress, ruling political party in South Africa as at 2012.

Showing 6 Comments »

  1. Good stuff. pulls you screaming out of your pre-concieved comfort zone.

    Comment by Guest — 16 August 2012 @ 1:04 am

  2. Well written and very thought provoking!

    Comment by Sandy — 16 August 2012 @ 3:01 pm

  3. Captivating.

    The reality is that people have different needs and abilities as you have said, and accordingly they operate from the perspective of the group in which they identify themselves. The person who has great pressing need operates his life from the view of the short term because his need is immediate and he is less interested in the global view or what benefits an economy, but just how to feed his family and earn an income. There are individuals with political aspirations who ride the coat tails of this hungry tiger, to extend the metaphor, and who are well off but realise that it is much easier to coopt themselves into championing the needs of the less fortunate and benefit from the desperately, hungry and jobless masses to create their own prosperity.

    There is no one size fits all political solution. All systems have their limitations and serve one group moreso and at the expense of another. Human nature has a gravity that is not lofty or especially moral, but, collectively we make an effort to achieve a moral altitude and it is rewarding when we do so.

    In order to get the cooperation of the masses and to make them productive, one has to find out what is their highest vision and show them an achievable path to realise that.

    Comment by Rapidrecall — 16 August 2012 @ 3:21 pm

  4. “Whites are still blamed for having better houses, better jobs, better education, but the [people blaming whites] forget that in nearly 20 years there should have been enough time to get the situation right.
    ”It was a few days ago that I was pondering this very thought.I let my mind wander back to Robin hood days, and before, there has always been the doers, and those that watch the doers …do.
    There are those skilled in farming , or wood or metal craf,t and those who understand and in fact enjoy numbers as in book keepers and accountants.
    I started to be able to see more, the roles of each person in society.
    Your key word ENVY is almost not pushed enough.
    Its wanting what is on anothers plate that is at the root of much human discontent.

    In my work as a counsellor i have clients who are completely caught up in the locus of external evaluation. So the neighbors new car is a challenge for them to get their new car. or possibly steal one if all else fails ,.When the locus shifts to one of internal evaluation, and being grateful for what is in the now in their lives, its a different matter.

    Great article Ron. I could go on , it has a lot of meat on the bone.
    Namaste . marc Maingard

    Comment by Marc — 16 August 2012 @ 5:06 pm

  5. Well thought out and well written, Ron. I know it is the liberal “in thing” to bash apartheid, but the reality is that despite its petty failings it did favour the Productive…and at the end of the day…is that so wrong?

    Hence it was no accident that SA became, in about 40 years from 1948, the most developed country in Africa. The Sasols, the freeways, the systems of transport, the sophisticated infrastructure were no accident, nor were they the result of abundant natural wealth…the DRC has ten times the wealth that SA does in terms of minerals, agricultural potential, transport potential (4000 km of navigable waters) etc….but it is the most backward of countries due to its human failings and lack of any system of organisation.

    It is a salutory lesson to take stock of what has actually been achieved in SA since 1994 in terms of economic development on a macro scale. A hell of a lot has been destroyed, in terms of educational and health facilities……but…..

    The once thriving Israeli- funded – and-built irrigation scheme at Sada, near Queenstown, that now lies derelict and in tatters is a monument to the politics of envy you talk about.


    Comment by Nickjames — 16 August 2012 @ 6:52 pm

  6. Bravo

    Comment by Schalk Dormehl — 17 August 2012 @ 10:17 am

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