This Week @ Yale: Equality Uber Alles!

For those of you in the New Haven area, I’ll be returning to Yale on Thursday afternoon (if the airlines and weather cooperate!) for the next in my series of lectures for the William F. Buckley Program at Yale, this time on the subject “The Endless Quest for Social Equality.” The actual lecture has taken a different—and I guarantee more provocative!—direction since the description written for the early announcement below, which I wrote months ago before the mid-term election and the arrival of our Savior Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she of the 70 percent income tax rates.

If the print in this announcement is too small, the lecture will be at 4:30 pm in WLH 116, located at 100 Wall Street near the middle of the Yale campus. There is coffee and light snacks available, which will be nice on what is like to be a cold day, though I expect I will warm up the place plenty.

Among other things, I am going to argue at length that the current furious egalitarian mood of the left is really just a case of envy run amok, but envy is something social scientists don’t study any more, largely because it would discredit the program of the left. In looking around for scholarship on this point, I stumbled across a terrific 1966 book by a German scholar named Helmut Schoeck, Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior. I can’t believe I never came across this book before now. It is stupendously good.

There are too many great parts of his argument o summarize or quote (though I may make a series out of this topic), but here’s one:

It would be a miracle if the democratic political process were ever to renounce the use of the envy-motive. Its usefulness derives, if for no other reason, from the fact that all that is needed, in principle, is to promise the envious the destruction or the 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 more precise programme. 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 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.

Schoeck’s book is chock full of passages like this, every one of them making you think right away of AOC. And I’ll have lots of other fun stuff, including some fun from Thomas Sowell, and a cameo appearance from Kurt Vonnegut. My plan all along has been to slowly ratchet up the provocation level of my lecture series, slowly boiling the liberals frogs of Yale until it is too late to mount a protest.

Not to worry if you don’t live in the New Haven area or if it is too cold to come: I’ll post the lecture as a Power Line podcast probably next week.

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