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Envy, the State, and My Fellow Man

September 28, 2011

Tags Free MarketsInterventionism

Lance Armstrong

As a former competitive cyclist (not to be confused with world-class cyclist), I have opinions about other cyclists and on cycling in general. In particular, I have strong opinions of Lance Armstrong.

Now I am not an Armstrong fan — far from it. My reasons are personal, related to how I feel Armstrong (someone I have never met) has treated those around him (also folks I have never met). It is all third-hand, anecdotal evidence, but sufficient (in my mind, anyway) to indict and convict him of ill behavior. I am not a fan of Armstrong and make no apologies for my position.

In a libertarian world, I am free to hold an opinion of anyone, even if that opinion is not grounded in what you consider hard evidence. My opinion is mine, and mine alone. You may passionately disagree with me, concluding my opinion falsely condemns another. However, we can peacefully hold our separate opinions and (if we so choose) interact, trade, etc. On this, I hope, we can agree.

The state's investigation into Armstrong's supposed use of performance-enhancing drugs has nothing to do with righting a wrong. Theft and aggression are not at issue here. With regard to the state's action, no private party is seeking redress. Agents of the state simply have it in for Armstrong. And they are using my tax dollars to make him suffer. As I see it now (this opinion is also based on third-hand, anecdotal evidence, but heavily influenced by experience), these agents of the state are letting envy drive their investigation. So what else is new?

Initially, my envious side found a sense of justice in the state's attack on Armstrong — he was getting the comeuppance I felt he so rightly deserved. However, the state is punishing Armstrong absent any conviction — absent any proven crime, for that matter. Since the state is free to spend as it sees fit, it is reasonable to assume that Armstrong is forced to spend a similar amount in his defense. So the battle is not over the facts and truth, the battle is over (inter alia) who runs out of money first — with the state's printing press easily defeating Armstrong's limited resources. So a necessary result will be the destruction of much of his wealth, regardless of whether the doping allegations are true or not.

Helmut Schoek, in his excellent book Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior shows that the state uses envy to strengthen its position and further its agenda. The case against Armstrong is but one recent example.

If you do not believe the state fuels, and is fueled by, envy, just consider my initial reaction, or the reaction of others, when the state first goes after someone held in contempt.

Now envy comes in many flavors, so do not conclude that I am envious of Armstrong's success or wealth. My feelings were more aptly attributed to Schadenfreude, where one takes pleasure in the distress or misfortunes of another.

That the investigation into Armstrong's possible use of performance-enhancing drugs appears to be the vendetta of envious agents of the state should have been a cue that my feelings stemmed from Schadenfreude and did not arise from some sense that justice was being done.

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Nevertheless, I initially succumbed to temptation and enjoyed watching Armstrong suffering his fate at the hands of zealous, vindictive agents of the state. So I quietly cheered them on, as if the investigation, and the financial and personal pains resulting from it, were just punishment for the ill behavior that led to my earlier personal indictment and conviction of him.

I admit my error, and I once again recognize the subtle pull of the state — where the state is the assumed righter of wrongs, especially for wrongs that are not based in property aggression. In addition, I recommit to holding the state in contempt when it acts as a capricious force of envy.

We must all continue to strive for the same. We must never seek the state as a force to punish someone for the sake of envy. And we must never cheer the state's evil endeavors, whether publicly or privately. On this, as well, I hope we all can agree.


Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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