Acton Institute Powerblog

Envy: A Deadly (Economic) Sin

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Victor Claar, Acton University lecturer and professor of economics at Henderson State University, will give a talk tonight in Washington, D.C., hosted by AEI, “Grieving the Good of Others: Envy and Economics.”

If you are in the area, you are encouraged to attend and hear Dr. Claar as well as two respondents discuss the topic of envy and its moral and economic consequences.

Here’s a description of the event:

Critics of capitalism often argue that this economic system is irretrievably tainted by the sin of greed. They claim that by empowering government to “spread the wealth around” we can free ourselves from the tyranny of greed, purging the influence of sin. But are they right? At this event, Victor Claar, associate professor of economics at Henderson State University, will discuss the role of envy in collectivist and redistributive economic systems. Beginning with an explanation of the classic theological understanding of envy, Claar will argue that “grieving the good of others” is an unavoidable aspect of social democracy.

Update: The audio and video of the AEI event is now available. (There’s a nice plug for Acton University at the beginning.)

Tomorrow Dr. Claar will also be appearing as part of The King’s College Distinguished Visitor Series in NYC.

Dr. Claar is co-author of Economics in Christian Perspective: Theory, Policy and Life Choices as well as author of the Acton Institute monograph, Fair Trade? Its Prospects as a Poverty Solution.

As Dr. Claar will elaborate, the question that epitomizes envy, which is defined as “sorrow at another’s good,” is the self-centered concern, “What about me?” For fans of the hit TV series Lost, I can think of no better illustration of this than the turn from envy to malevolence in this climactic confrontation between Ben Linus and Jacob from the conclusion of season 5:

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Robert Packer

    It is so dishonest to portray those who want economic justice as envious.

    The concentration of wealth is almost back to “Guilded Age” levels and we see articles like this that are basically saying the same thing Limbaugh says on his show.

    I just wonder how far the author is willing to go. He is essentially repeating extreme right wing economic cliches while pretending to be moderate.

    As a life long Catholic who remained loyal to the faith because of their message of caring for the poor i am more than a little surprised.

  • Patrick

    I purchased Dr. Klaar’s lecture on Envy from the last Acton Institute and found he supported his points with research and relevant authority. Investigating the role that envy plays in political and economic life is as important as looking at any of the other seven deadly sins’s role in our culture. It wasn’t long ago that greed was considered a source of our economic woes.
    Mark Twain’s comment on tainted money (and I paraphrase) that “it tain’t yours and tain’t mine,” shows a sense of the core issues that envy plays in greiving the wealth, power, reputation of others.
    Joy and the ability to rejoice at the good another is a good antidote to sadness of envy.

  • Roger McKinney

    Robert, it is no more dishonest than portraying capitalism as they system of greed. And the concentration of wealth is not up to the level of the guilded age, it never has been much different. Look up charts of historical levels of the gini coefficient. Nothing has changed in about 200 years.