Poverts Love To Say No

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offers no definition for “povert.” It should.

A povert
[PAHvurt] is someone who has not had much economic success, and
who then justifies this failure in his own mind by denying that
economic success is either desirable or legitimate. A povert praises
poverty as a way of life.

In almost
all cases, a povert is middle class, meaning a middle-class American,
meaning wealthy beyond most men’s dreams, today or in the past.
He is a rich person by the world’s standards, but unsuccessful
in his desire to keep up with the Joneses. So, he dismisses the
Joneses as misguided.

tend to be envious. They resent the success of others. They delight
in seeing successful people fail, or even better, lose what they
possess. Even if they are made worse off by the failure of the
successful, they rejoice.

One of the
strongest motivations behind socialism is that it is offered to
the masses as a way to tear down the rich. Socialists favor socialism
even they know the poor will be worse off. For decades, academic
studies showed that poor people were worse off under socialism
because of the low economic growth of socialist economies. But
not until the Soviet Union collapsed did socialists finally admit
that the failure of socialism was comprehensive, not just comparative
and the fault of external circumstances. Then they turned to ecology
as a justification for imposing controls on the economy. Someday,
I may write an article, “From Katyn to Kyoto.”

Three decades
ago, Murray Rothbard introduced me to Helmut Schoeck’s masterpiece,
(1969). Schoeck, a sociologist, had made a comprehensive study
of envy and its negative effects on societies. Rothbard wrote this regarding the
inevitable failure of socialism to eliminate envy.

Schoeck’s Envy makes a powerful case for the view that
the modern egalitarian drive for socialism and similar doctrines
is a pandering to envy of the different and the unequal, but the
socialist attempt to eliminate envy through egalitarianism can
never hope to succeed. For there will always be personal differences,
such as looks, ability, health, and good or bad fortune, which
no egalitarian program, however rigorous, can stamp out, and on
which envy will be able to fasten its concerns.

There are
armies of these envy-driven bureaucrats who are drawing upper
middle-class salaries in regulatory agencies all over the world.
Their job, as they see it, is to put entrepreneurs in their place.
If this harms consumers, what is that to them? The important thing
is to retard the expansion of business, because that retards the
creation of personal wealth.


The famous
response of Mark Twain regarding tainted money — ‘taint yours,
‘taint mine — gets to the point. Money is tainted by how people
get possession of it. It is not the source of the tainting.

The povert
assumes that money is the source of the tainting. Therefore, he
is willing to forego it, just so long as a successful person has
to forego even more of it. He feels good about himself in his
moral stand against tainted money.

Years ago,
a church was given $175,000. The pastor wanted to build a day
care with it. The day care would have brought in well over $250,000
a year, with at least $40,000 going to the church. But the rumor
got out that his wife might become the day care’s director. A
faction was determined to keep her out. They voted to build a
gymnasium with the money. As soon as it was built, most of them
transferred their membership. The pastor soon left the church.
Then the building was turned into a poorly designed school. It
generates a fraction of the money it would have, had it been designed
as a day care. But the members got what they wanted. The pastor’s
wife never got the position, assuming that she would have, which
was never publicly discussed.

another man approached his congregation to ask to be able to rent
space for a day care. He was ready to pay a good rent. The congregation
is shrinking. It can barely pay the pastor’s salary. But the church’s
elders turned down the offer. “We just don’t feel good about this,”
they told him. In short, they would much rather lose the church
than let him make $80,000 a year, which he probably would have.
The important thing for them was that no one in the congregation
might put the money-losing empty building to a profitable use,
which included young child evangelism.

Last February,
I mailed an ad to 10,000 pastors showing them that they could
increase their churches’ budgets by over $50,000 a year, and double
their salaries, if they put the empty church building to use as
a day care, Monday through Friday. Not one of them did it.
They complain about low budgets. They talk up young child evangelism.
But when it comes to solving their financial problems, they refused.
Why? Fear of envy is a big reason. Their churches are filled with
poverts, and they know it. They don’t want trouble.

In contrast,
when I went to my mailing list and to this site to offer a free manual on how to start and run a Christian day care,
about 20 people (out of perhaps 150,000), all of them laymen,
decided to move forward on a starting day care. They are not pastors.
They are not church board members. They are not poverts. So, the
thought of earning $100,000 a year and owning a $60,000 a year,
paid-off $500,000 facility in 15 years did not appall them.


I have learned
the hard way that success is deeply resented, not just by your
run-of-the-mill socialist but by people who proclaim their devotion
to “the free enterprise economy and the American way of life.”
Schoeck argued a generation ago that preaching in the West reduced
the influence of envy, but it took almost two millennia to get
this idea across.

Today, the
tax-funded school system has undermined the message of Christianity
that envy is morally wrong. The result is a society of voting
poverts who are ready and able to pull down anyone who gets ahead.
They are ready to keep the Joneses from getting ahead, even if
this also keeps them from getting ahead. No personal price is
too high to “put the rich in their place.”

18, 2004

North [send him mail]
is the author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.freebooks.com.
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