Too Much Clarity

     In his treatise The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality, the great Ludwig von Mises makes reference to “the cousins:” i.e., the relatives and assorted hangers-on of the families of the great industrialists:

     Even in these lucky families, the qualities required for the successful conduct of big business are not inherited by all sons and grandsons. As a rule only one, or at best two, of each generation are endowed with them. Then it is essential for the survival of the family’s wealth and business that the conduct of affairs be entrusted to this one or to these two and that the other members be relegated to the position of mere recipients of a quota of the proceeds. The methods chosen for such arrangements vary from country to country, according to the special provisions of the national and local laws. Their effect, however, is always the same. They divide the family into two categories-those who direct the conduct of affairs and those who do not.
     The second category consists as a rule of people closely related to those of the first category whom we propose to call the bosses. They are brothers, cousins, nephews of the bosses, more often their sisters, widowed sisters-in-law, female cousins, nieces and so on. We propose to call the members of this second category the cousins.

     Von Mises notes that the cousins often engage themselves in envy-powered activities that oppose and vilify the productive labors of the bosses:

     Many cousins believe that they have been wronged by the arrangements regulating their financial relation to the bosses and the family’s firm. Whether these arrangements were made by the will of their father or grandfather, or by an agreement which they themselves have signed, they think that they are receiving too little and the bosses too much. Unfamiliar with the nature of business and the market, they are-with Marx-convinced that capital automatically “begets profits.” They do not see any reason why those members of the family who are in charge of the conduct of affairs should earn more than they. Too dull to appraise correctly the meaning of balance sheets and profit and loss accounts, they suspect in every act of the bosses a sinister attempt to cheat them and to deprive them of their birthright. They quarrel with them continually.
     The cousins are enthusiastic in supporting strikes, even strikes in the factories from which their own revenues originate. It is a well-known fact that most of the “progressive” magazines and many “progressive” newspapers entirely depend on the subsidies lavishly granted by them. These cousins endow progressive universities and colleges and institutes for “social research” and sponsor all sorts of communist party activities. As “parlor socialists” and “penthouse Bolsheviks,” they play an important role in the “proletarian army” fighting against the “dismal system of capitalism.”

     Consider Hank Rearden and his no-account brother Philip. Consider Anders Forslund and his playboy offspring Jay. While those are fictional examples, among the real-world descendants of the great producers of times past are many who have turned viciously against their beneficent forebears and their industries.

     Of course, one need not be related to a notable figure to envy him. Quite a number of persons are violently envious of Elon Musk. Few of them have launched an industry…or a satellite. While this should require no explanation, as usual C. S. Lewis has provided one:

     The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I’m as good as you.
     The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus induce him to enthrone at the centre of his life a good, solid, resounding lie. I don’t mean merely that his statement is false in fact, that he is no more equal to everyone he meets in kindness, honesty, and good sense than in height or waist measurement. I mean that he does not believe it himself. No man who says I’m as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept.
     And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation. Presently he suspects every mere difference of being a claim to superiority. No one must be different from himself in voice, clothes, manners, recreations, choice of food: “Here is someone who speaks English rather more clearly and euphoniously than I — it must be a vile, upstage, lah-di-dah affectation. Here’s a fellow who says he doesn’t like hot dogs — thinks himself too good for them, no doubt. Here’s a man who hasn’t turned on the jukebox — he’s one of those goddamn highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were honest-to-God all-right Joes they’d be like me. They’ve no business to be different. It’s undemocratic.”

     [From Screwtape Proposes A Toast]

     There’s a reason envy is considered a capital sin.


  1. Was this essay prompted by the headlines today informing us that a judge chose to strip Musk of his $40B+ salary because it was “too much?”

    1. No, it was essentially random. Spur of the moment. A dollop of early-morning inspiration…or desperation, according to your tastes. A quirk, you see. No hard thought before, during, or after its composition. Simply a test of a proposition I’ve long entertained (because it absolutely refuses to take a hint and go home):

      “How great a disproportion of quoted material can I incorporate into a piece without losing the reader’s attention?”

      I await the results.

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